We recently celebrated our son’s first birthday party, in honor of his fifth birthday. Yes, you read that correctly – fifth birthday, first birthday party.
Unlike his extremely outgoing older sister, our son does not like being the center of attention and until this year has declined a birthday party that included anyone beyond our family. So you can imagine my excitement when he announced that he would like to celebrate turning five by having a party with friends.
We are a family that strives to keep things simple with limited media exposure, more creativity than consumerism, and lots of unstructured time in nature. It is my hope to create holiday (and everyday) memories for my children that are sweet, simple and special; rich with experience and loving presence, with high-glitz, battery-operated, instant-gratification kept to a minimum.
“I’ve decided I’d like to have my birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese,” my son informed me one afternoon as his birthday approached. “And I’d like to go on a submarine. And I’d like to invite four friends.”
“Oh. Ummm…okay. That sounds fun. How about I talk to Papa and see what he thinks?” (My current “defer and maybe they will forget” strategy, since my kids have totally caught on to, “We’ll see…”)
“Let’s do it!” my husband declared without hesitation later that night. “It’s his first birthday party and it’s what he wants. It will be fun.”
The next day I sent various forms of electronic communication to the parents of the four invited friends: Thursday afternoon after school. Submarine museum in Groton. Pizza and play time at Chuck E. Cheese in New London.
One at a time the responses came back. Everyone was in and the road-trip birthday party was on.
On the day of the birthday party, my husband and I both took the day off from work and carefully plotted out the expedition, which included booster seat collections, bus stop meetings, after school snacks and an extended discussion about who would ride in which car and how we should time our visit to Chuck E. Cheese to minimize the craziness factor?
“I still can’t believe we’re doing this,” I muttered, shaking my head as my husband and I jokingly activated our Wonder Twin powers before heading out the door.
“It will be fun,” he promised me, again.
With Dan Zanes on my iPod and a car full of Whoopee-cushion-induced silliness, I hopped on Route 95 feeling ready, and even a little excited, for the afternoon’s adventures.
“So, who’s excited to tour a submarine?” I asked in my best cheery, camp counselor voice.
A chorus of Me! Me! Me! rang out behind me.
“And who loves Chuck E. Cheese?” I continued.
“I do! I do!” my daughter and her friend shouted from the third row.
“I’ve never been,” announced one of the boys in front of them. “My mom hates Chuck E. Cheese.”
“My dad calls it Chuck Up Cheese,” the boy to his left added. “Because it’s so gross and there are so many germs that you chuck up cheese after you go there.”
I thought of my friends’ Facebook messages earlier in the day as the boys laughed and made throw-up noises.
You are so brave.
I imagine hell is like Chuck E. Cheese.
Our first stop was the submarine museum, which aside from a few challenging questions about missiles and nuclear weapons, was smooth sailing. The tour, which is free, took about 10 minutes and the kids absolutely loved it.
From there it was on to the main event, the “party” at Chuck E. Cheese.
We opted not to have an official party, but my husband did call the manager to make sure it was okay to show up with six children and some cupcakes and call it a birthday party. Not only was it okay, the manager went out of his way to welcome us, giving our son a special birthday sticker and a stack of free tokens.
There was only one other family there when we arrived at four o’clock and we had a blast playing Skeeball and air hockey, shooting baskets, riding virtual roller coasters and tossing footballs before breaking for pizza, water and “dirt” cupcakes with gummy worms. The kid-size Habitrail that runs along the ceiling was also a major hit for the six and under crowd!
The drive home was a mix of goodie bag excitement and long-afternoon exhaustion. Dan Zanes gave way to the soothing voice of Jim Dale reading James Herriot’s Treasury for Children and as I delivered the last child home, I could honestly say that a good time was had by all — including the birthday boy’s very skeptical mother.
The Submarine Force Museum and Historic Ship Nautilus are located in Groton, CT. Parking and admission are free. Both are open daily, except Tuesday.