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Happy Trails to You - and Birthday Parties Too!
by Jodie Lynn

Well, here we are, right on the edge of the Valentine's Day - or as I like to call it: "I'm-the-Mom-and-I-get-to-be-stressed-out-days!" Not only is Christmas barely over -- but two children in my family will be celebrating birthdays! (Aren't we the lucky ones?)

As I talk with other parents, it's nice to know - I'm not alone. Many of us are in the same boat -- and are paddling towards the "wrap-the-presents-and-bake-the-cake" shore! Actually - wrapping presents and making arrangements for a cake -- is the simple part. Over the years - I've come up with a few workable solutions for birthday stress -- and mess -- to help keep sanity intact! Here are a few:

1. Decide as much as two months in advance for the location of the party. During the mad rush of the holiday season -- many "rooms" will already be booked.

2. Send in your deposit early. To discourage the company from overbooking (which has happened to the best of us) -- call and ask one question every two weeks. It could be about the price of each guest, party favors, drinks, decorations, etc. This will help them to remember who you are -- and know your on your toes.

3. If the birthday boy/girl can write -- let them help with the invitations. Begin this two weeks early to get a head start. Use a pencil to erase mistakes without frustration -- and proceed slowly. Address invitations in sets of three - this will ensure that no famous last words will be heard: "Mom - my fingers are getting cramped! I can't finish!" Or, "Oops, gotta run, my favorite afternoon cartoon show is on the TV."

4. Always send out invitations two weeks before the birthday party. It's perfectly fine to use address labels in the return corner of the envelope. Let the kids help with the stamps.

5. Call guests within one week to see who can come. Nope - I'm not kidding. In today's busy society - if you don't call -- many parents won't. For those who can't come - send out an invitation to someone new that very same day. This will still be within the normal range of courtesy - and you can fill those holes you've probably already paid for at the birthday spot. If you haven't heard from the new guests within three days -- give them a call.

6. Don't buy presents too early. Have your child make up a birthday wish list. It doesn't matter if their age is two or 18 - try to thoroughly explain the part regarding "wish." In fact, have them number the gifts in preface of least to "I want this the most" categories.

7. To avoid confusion on everyone's part -- have them update the list every three weeks. I'm here to tell you -- just as you are set to buy a certain Barbie, Nintendo game or roller blades -- it's changed! (This is currently due to the wonderful world of sale ads in print -- which land on your doorstep unannounced -- and full blown animation advertisements on the TV.)

8. Depending on the age of your child - you might give them an option to choose flavors of cakes, wrapping paper colors, themes, party favors, etc. Just keep this in mind - always preface your statements with: "I'm not promising I'll be able to get the Star Wars theme, etc., - but I'll try my best." This will make sure they don't think you have said the word "promised." By being a little more careful with your choice of words -- it will save a lot of loud -- ear piercing -- whining....and the kids might get upset too.

9. Take your own trash bags to the birthday party. This will allow you to have adequate bags to come back home with the things you want to be kept clean and separated: gifts, pieces to gifts, money, cards, etc.

10. If they force you to choose one of their cakes -- go for the cupcakes. They make less of a mess -- and the size is usually just right for almost all ages. Bring extra napkins to wrap around the cup cakes for added sanitation -- and to help with messy hands.

Now that I've shared my two cents -- the rest is a piece of -- matter of planning. Oh look -- my paddle broke -- how will I ever make it to "wrap-the-presents-and-bake-the-cake" shore? Oh - no big deal - I'll just call my darling husband for help. Well........maybe on second thought - I'd better call for "Pete's Unmistakably Water-resistant Wood Glue Shop." Happy Trails to you -- and Valentine's Day too!

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