Gabriel's birthday party was today! A week after his birthday, and his invitees had less than two weeks' notice (sigh) -- but the very small set of kids I could persuade him to invite (he's funny that way, it has to be kids he plays with ALL the time) could all make it.
My excuse for not doing Gabrie's party at home is that it's becoming a pain giving parties at our rental house, but the truth is, I just don't know what to do with seven 7-year-olds. I couldn't get the ice-skating place to call me back, so, right next to the ice rink, I arranged for a party at Strike, an upscale bowling alley.
When we first walked in, I thought I had another Chuck E Cheese situation on my hands -- noisy, screens flashing everywhere, no one at the party check-in desk. But as soon as we met with the party coordinator, everything went great. I couldn't believe how on top of things and helpful the staff were. They serve party junk food and drinks right at the lanes, provide all the plates, forks and napkins, offered to refrigerate the cake, helped me carry stuff and set up the bowling lanes. Staff members stopped by frequently to help and remind me not to stress out and to enjoy it.
They even put up a sign!
The bowling was great, too. They have a modern system that allows you to set "bumpers on" per player (prevents gutter balls). There was also a light metal ramp that was good for the ones who really can't handle a ball, like Julian. They offered me a set of shoes too (and a free glass of wine!), so I bowled also. (I scored a 125, not bad considering I haven't bowled in years and was very distracted!)
The biggest problem was keeping the kids moving. One lane luckily got three of the older taller kids, and they buzzed along well together. The other lane had Gina (who should have been with the speedy lane and blew all the boys away scorewise), and the remainder of the group, who were much slower and goofing around and weren't paying attention to who was up next. Gabriel was one of the worst bowlers, but he had a great time.
One boy's mom brought him late, after soccer practice, and she stayed and was a terrific help, pouring lemonade and reminding who was up next to go. Her son was quite the clown too.
I was torn about whether or not to bring Julian. In retrospect, I shouldn't have. He really was out of his element; the pacing of a group of 6-7-year-olds is much much faster than he could handle, and it took a lot of my attention. But the real reason was that Gabriel didn't really want him there -- it was his day with his friends. I hated it when my father forced my younger siblings on me with my friends. I can make plenty of my own mistakes without repeating my Dad's too.
After the bowling, they moved us to a table where we could sing happy birthday. I brought the cake, but they were prepared with candles and matches, and a manager even took photos! I couldn't believe it. They were SO helpful.
A good-sized group. Between 4 and 8 guests is perfect for a party of kids this age.
I really liked getting to know Gabriel's friends. Two are CDC-mates, two are classmates, one is both, and one is a babyhood friend. If you can judge someone by their friends, I have a pretty neat kid.
The cake was a very last-minute creation, and really last-minute because I zoomed out to buy some premade fondant for the bowling ball a few hours before the party. That took less time than thinking of how to make an edible bowling ball with things on hand.
Given all the time demands and pressure I've been under, decorating a cake could either seem foolish, or, a very necessary diversion. I vote for the latter. Store-bought cakes have their place -- I'm glad I did it for the family party -- but the process is missing. Gabriel had a great time watching me, picking the color for the bowling ball, laughing at the fallen pin, suggesting the "action lines," and reminding me numerous times that one of my cake-decorating mentor friends is much, much, MUCH BETTER AT THIS THAN YOU ARE, MOM!!! (he's right). That's irreplaceable. I don't think I'll ever try to surprise the kids with a cake I decorate, because the real fun is in the making, not the big reveal. Hmm, cake decorating as a metaphor for child-raising!
It wasn't the cheapest way to go, but I would do a party at Strike again in a heartbeat. In fact, I'm looking forward to one!