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The Birthday Party

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 Details:

The Submarine Force Museum and Historic Ship Nautilus are located in Groton, CT. Parking and admission are free. Both are open daily, except Tuesday.

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  • Thanks, Kate. Your boys would LOVE the sub museum. Definitely worth a trip!

    Thanks, Liz. I’m not quite at the “open arms” place with the Barbie party (or the dolls themselves) but I definitely get what you are saying and I’m working my way there.

  • I’m so proud of you, mama! I recently had this discussion with some mama friends, about how important it is, especially now as our kids get older, to validate their needs, wants and desires (vs. what we want for them). And recently, as a family, my husband and I declared a major part of our purpose statment to be supporting one another in living our own authentic lives. So when the 5 year old needs to be be validated in his authentic (and age-appropriate) choice for a Chuck E. Cheese party, you go with it. And the Barbie party is welcomed with open arms. And we trust – somewhat blindly – that all the anti-consumerism, simple, natural values we have been working so hard to impart … that they have stuck too. Love this post!

  • Erin ~ how I enjoyed reading this! Oh, all the things I swore I’d NEVER do before having my children. 😉
    And we’ve been wanting to do the sub museum but thought the boys (and our) attention span wouldn’t be long enough ~ nice to know the tour took only 10 minutes!

    Glad you all had fun while honoring your boys wishes. Love you!

  • I don’t think I could have handled it in a crowd.

    We passed one other couple coming up the stairs as we went down into the sub and that was it! Knowing I could turn around and walk out at any time made a big difference.

  • Erin–I started the tour and then had to turn around partway through, apologizing all the way as I tried to get by people, as I bolted out of there gasping. I got very sympathetic looks by the staff on the deck. I’m sure they’d seen it before! Makes you *really* appreciate submariners! I don’t know how they do it.

    Also… sympathies on Barbie.

  • Amy ~ I was really worried about feeling claustrophobic in the submarine but honestly it was not bad.

    I only had about 20 seconds of discomfort and that was because the temperature changed (got really hot and stuffy) in one section. As soon as we moved on to the next area, I was fine.

    We didn’t do the self-guided audio tour though. I didn’t want to be underwater that long and the kids were perfectly content to just zip through at their own pace.

    Moving through fairly quickly really helped me.

  • Thanks Jeanine!

    We can help each other. My daughter just announced that instead of having the “nature birthday party” she’s been planning for the past couple of months, she now wants to have a “Barbie party.”

    Oh boy.

    Wish me luck…

  • Way to go, Erin!! I swear the universe thought it would be funny to send me a girly-girl and I struggle with “letting” her do some things that I cringe at. I will definitely be thinking of this story next time I am face to face with all that I can’t stand. Is it patronizing to say that I’m proud of you? I am! (But please promise me you’ll never go to Chuck E. Cheese’s on a rainy Saturday in the winter…yikes!)

  • My father-in-law (a former sub navigator) volunteers at the sub museum and we got a long, personalized tour! Much fun (although claustrophobic me bailed on the submarine part). It sounds like a great birthday party.