Thursday, July 14, 2011


This may be a totally silly thing to be thinking about in July when my daughter's birthday is in November, but she regularly brings up her birthday - when is it, what will we do, reenacting her last one - so it's not really out of the blue.

Also, her birthday is one month before Christmas, so every year we have to plan in advance what to give her for her birthday and what to keep for Christmas.

Also, this year in particular, her birthday is going to come about six weeks after we dramatically and irrevocably change her life by introducing a baby brother. K is excited about having a baby brother and will be a good big sister, but she is also used to being our baby and not having to share us with anyone, so I don't think the transition will pass with no insecurity or uncertainty whatsoever. So I'm inclined to want to make this birthday particularly special and sparkly instead of letting it slink past in a haze of diapers and night feedings.

In googling for ideas on birthday celebrations for a four-year-old or how to make a birthday special, however, I found that my idea of "special" doesn't seem to correlate to other people's idea of "special". All I found were suggestions on how to spend more money for a more lavish party...

Which brings me to the fact that K has never had a birthday party as such. Go ahead, tell me how mean I am. The thing is I am really not into massive parties for kids, with bouncy castles, pony rides, clowns and the whole class - or even people the child doesn't know! - invited. It has always seemed odd to me to invite your friends, boss, clients, and so on to your child's first birthday (because I think it's overwhelming and not very meaningful for the child), for example, though I know a lot of people do it.

My ideal party is the immediate family and MAYBE one to two close friends of the child, with cake, candles, singing the birthday song, presents, and possibly a child-oriented, age-appropriate outing.

For K's first birthday I made fairy cakes (hey, we were in England!), we helped her blow out the candle and she opened her presents. We recorded the celebrations for the benefit of the grandparents. One other person was present, simply because we had a houseguest at the time. She helped with photography and such.

For K's second birthday, her Slovak grandparents came to visit. I made her chocolate cupcakes, helped her blow out two candles (or was it a candle shaped like the number 2? can't remember), and she opened her presents. We had a live Skype feed for her American grandmother (we do that for birthdays and Christmas for both sets of parents, it's so very 21st century). We also took her to a soft play area for the first time, where she had a blast.

For K's third birthday, I was willing for the first time to invite a friend or two, but it was just after we moved to Prague from UK, so she didn't have any friends close enough to invite. Instead, I made her a cake, she blew out the candles, we sang, she opened her presents, Skype feed, Slovak grandmother in town, and we went to the Prague aquarium. Which was frankly a disappointment, given how beautiful the Prague zoo is for the same price. Oh well, lesson learned, at least we did something fun. And really, especially with the cake and presents, K had a BLAST. She couldn't stop smiling and posing for pictures.

(As a note, my MIL tried to discourage me from making K a cake - she didn't understand why I would go to the effort of making something myself when I could buy some pastries from a bakery instead. I was shocked at the mere suggestion, which I guess shows that I do have certain Ideas about what good mothers do for their kids' birthdays...apparently a big party isn't required, but a homemade cake is. I already feel like a slacker because I don't know how to do cake decorating the way my mother always did, so my cakes are very tasty but not very decorated!)

So this is basically the pattern that I'm looking to make "special" - not a more extravagant party or gifts particularly, but something extra that a four year old will find magical. We've been looking for slightly more "big girl" gifts, with some success - that's another topic actually, what do you get for a four year old that she doesn't already have (gifts from previous years will last for a long time, like her toy kitchen) and that isn't inappropriate, overly commercialized, branded by Disney or TV characters she doesn't recognize, and so on? Because that rules out most of what I saw in stores on our recent US visit.

So far I've thought of taking K on one of those horse-drawn carriage rides around Prague. They're for tourists, but I've always thought they were cool and I think K would adore it. She loves downtown Prague, sight-seeing, horses, being a princess... The only complication is her birthday is in late November so the weather may or may not be very pleasant. But if we dress up warmly I can imagine a wintry carriage ride as being pretty special.

Alternatively, I've been thinking for a while that K would probably really love to sit down for ice cream in a slightly fancy-looking cafe downtown. There are a bunch that have been restored to their pre-war elegant decorations and seem to be frequented by tourists, so we might not be too conspicuous bringing a child. The complication here is do we bring the baby or not and can we convince a friend to keep him for an hour or two if we decide not to.

Even something as simple as a zoo or movie theater trip would be fun, though we hit the zoo too often for it to qualify as life-changingly special and I'm not sure how fun it will be in late November, and there would have to be a really good family movie out at that point, which you can't guarantee.

I'm open to suggestions on something else to do or somewhere to go in or around Prague, especially something that takes into consideration the time of year and presence of infant.

Generally, I've been thinking of scaling back on presents in general in future (for both children) and focusing more on a family outing or experience as above. For the first few years, we didn't have ANYTHING, so we needed everything. A ride-on toy, Legos, books, dress-up clothes, things to play shopkeeper or kitchen, we had none of it, so birthdays and Christmas were essentially opportunities to stock up for K as well as any future children. Now that we have most of the general categories we wanted and most of it K should keep playing with for at least another couple of years, we have less of a need for the "big" gifts and can concentrate on filling in the gaps (for boy baby) and adding on something for bigger kids (for K). I'd rather birthdays and holidays be less about getting a big gift, anyway, and more about spending time together having fun. I'm not opposed to spending money, either on gifts or special outings, but I want to find that magical balance, basically.

I would like to have a very, very small birthday party this year, because I think K is old enough to enjoy it now and see above re massive life changes. I'm imagining one or two friends from preschool coming over to play for a few hours and having a piece of cake.

This is where the cultural and linguistic twist comes in, because I don't know what current birthday customs are in this country! I know what they used to be at least for some people, when people my age were growing up, but I have the impression they may have changed and parties may be more common and such. I am fairly sure that sleep-overs are still pretty much unheard of, but none of my friends are the parents of young children, so they can't really tell me for sure. I would be willing to consider one friend spending the night, but obviously not if the mere suggestion would scandalize the parents!

Also, K's best friend at school is Russian and I'm not entirely sure her parents speak Czech, which would be an additional complication. Haha. I have to figure out some logistics still.

So these are the questions I'm currently considering.

How mean is it that our daughter has never had a birthday party outside the family?

Are we really the only ones who don't do it?

How can we make her first birthday post-sibling something special for her?

What's something fun but reasonable to do in late November with a four-year-old? Bonus points for something offbeat she hasn't done before.

What do other people do for their children's birthdays?

Particularly, what do Czech people do for their children's birthdays? How do I find out?

What kind of toys does a four-year-old play with that a three-year-old doesn't? Bonus points if it isn't Disney themed, involving thousands of small parts or encouraging attitudes I don't think are appropriate for young children, i.e. me and Barbie - and Bratz type dolls even more so - have a very uneasy truce that involves them not coming in my house.

Why can't you buy anything these days that doesn't have a trademarked character (Dora, Cars, Disney Princesses) prominently displayed? Has anyone else noticed that Disney has totally taken over the world?

Was it like that when we were kids?

Why couldn't I find any toy stores other than Toys-R-Us and the toy sections of big box stores in America?

Can anyone recommend me some? Online is ok.

Also, what kind of books does a four-year-old enjoy that we don't already have? Bonus points if they're in Czech or Slovak.

Am I overthinking this? Wait, don't answer that one. Overthinking is totally my thing.

1 comment:

  1. He, it's funny how we have more or less the same ideas about the birthday celebrations, so far we haven't had a big party for any of our children (only my in-laws) and ALWAYS a cake made by me :) So, no you're not mean (or else we're mean together ;)

    Regarding presents, I think 4 is the perfect age to get a first proper bike (with helmet and other safety equipment). Otherwise, puzzles that are age-appropiate, or maybe something she can pick to decorate her own room (a lamp, or some wall stickers?), and she can help placing them too.

    I absolutely love the idea of a carriage ride around the center of Prague, talk about feeling like a princess! I would hesitate to bring the newborn along, since it might get quite chilly, so I would recommend to leave him somewhere.

    For my son, who also turns 4 in November, I'm planning his first "proper" party, I'd like to invite a couple of his friends from school, and a couple of neighbors. I'm thinking of a slight theme (pirates), whith a pirate cake, some paper hats and a pirate ballon for each child. But nothing else, I don't think I need to organize any activities at this point. I'm also planning to bring some sort of cake to school, so he also gets to "celebrate" with his whole class, but that's about it.



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