Planning a Kid's Birthday Party

Planning a 3-year-old's birthday party is similar to playing a game of Tetris. It starts out simple--pieces moving slowly all around you, fitting into place with ease, keeping your stress level to a minimum. But before you know it … BAM! It's moving at mach-5 speed and drops a square block on you when you're in desperate need of a skinny guy. And if you survive that ... BAM! You get hit with a squiggly. And then BAM! …

Game over.

Of course, it's important to note that if your wife hadn't forced you to kick that "nasty" Tetris addiction years ago—you know, the one that caused you to forget her birthday (twice)—you'd have been more prepared for this situation. Wives, huh? Never thinking ahead.

With only two young daughters under my belt (Anna, 1, and Ella, almost 3), my experience with birthday-party planning has been limited. But I've learned enough to know that Dads don't do any of the planning; we are designated "runners." We run to get everything. We run to store to get cake mix and icing. We run to the post office to pick up stamps for the invitations. We run to the bank to ask about the availability of "Birthday-Party Loans" with low, variable interest rates, because—and trust me on this—the event will cost double the GDP of Texas. In other words, we run until our feet are sore, our wallets are empty and our wives are happy.

These are also known as Wedding Vows.

I used to do birthday runs haphazardly, making mistakes and causing headaches for all the parties involved (namely, my wife). Now I abide by these five rules to ensure all goes right:

1. Get a list with instructions on what your wife wants. Without this, I'd be lost. And, like most men, I will never stop and ask for directions.

2. Make sure those instructions are specific—down to brand, color, aisle it's in, cost per ounce, and whether you should use paper or plastic bags. If my wife's list isn't detailed beyond a reasonable doubt about what she wants for the party, I'll undoubtedly get the wrong thing. Case in point: If she asks for 12 extra-large Mylars, there will either be 1) an extremely embarrassing moment for me at the pharmaceutical counter where the pharmacist laughs and points me to the balloon counter or 2) a birthday party filled with oddly shaped "balloons" and extremely uncomfortable in-laws.

3. Take the kids with you. I've found this has the dual benefit of getting in your wife's good graces by giving her some alone time to put finishing touches on the party while also giving you an excuse in case you forget something. Well Dear I had it in my hand ready to buy, but then Anna knocked several bags of Doritos into the shopping cart and I must have accidentally set it down. Note: This will also explain why you purchased seven bags of Doritos.

4. Ask what time you need to be home. It's best to know your ETA before you leave. If you take too long, your bonus points from taking the kids with you will disappear. If you come home too early, you may have to do something senseless like mow the lawn. Knowing when to be home allows you to pace yourself—and to (sometimes) stop off with the kids for ice cream before heading back.

5. Buy extra toilet paper. This has nothing to do with a birthday party run, but it's still good advice that generations of Klems have sworn by.

I'd like to tell you that after the running around is finished, you can kick up your feet, relax and catch up on "Days of Our Lives," but you can't. That's not what good Dads do. Good Dads also put things in perspective. Like when your wife is worried there won't be enough chairs, you offer to un-invite her mother (which is a joke, sort of). When your daughter, the birthday girl, panics that there won't be enough "Dora the Explorer" stuff to go around—even though she's surrounded by Dora invitations, Dora napkins, Dora plates, Dora balloons, Dora placemats, Dora fruit snacks and a Dora cake—you point to the two cans of Dora Spaghetti O's in your cupboard and share one with her. And when your one-year-old is terrified that she's getting left out, you let her eat your half.

While the number one role of a Dad during birthday-party planning is to be a runner, the number one role of a Dad during life is to keep everyone grounded. It's our role to ease concerns, crack jokes and tell our families that all will be OK. It's important to remind everyone that even if we're a couple of chairs short or we forget the Dora windshield wipers or we get a squiggly piece when we need a skinny guy, we'll be fine. The party will be a success. Good times will be had.

And if it all goes wrong, at least we'll have seven bags of Doritos to comfort us.

The Life of Dad is updated every Friday (barring the call of family duties). Thanks for stopping by and following my attempts to be a good dad, husband and co-ed softball player. I hope you visit again. -- Brian

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