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Are kids’ parties really for the parents?

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I recently heard a radio ad describing an archery dealer in Havelock that featured 14 bow-shooting practice alleys inside the store and promoting itself as a kids’ birthday party destination.

Call me cautious, but on the surface this idea sounds a little risky — almost like it would be asking for trouble.

Anyway, the ad got me thinking about my own early birthday parties and the ones held later on for my son, Will, along with other parties he attended. Like everything else, the concept of children’s parties has changed somewhat over time.

There is a critical period of only about four years or so when attending or hosting birthday parties for your children is required and those events might be almost as important as the Santa Claus stuff at Christmas.

As I recall, my early birthday parties were fairly simple affairs held in our backyard and usually involving only a picnic table, cake, ice cream and all the young’uns in the neighborhood, most of whom had arrived at the party shoeless and/or shirtless and sometimes with their mamas in tow.

Although I was too young to remember, my mother told me years later I whined at my first couple parties and wanted everyone to stop singing “Happy Birthday” to me.

When Will got old enough for the birthday party circuit, just like most other families, we attended events held at places like the town swimming pool, the park, mini-golf course, Pizza Inn, Burger King, McDonald’s, the skating rink, the bowling alley and a few similar locales.

Some parties may have involved themes, yet most of the time it seemed like the theme was woven into the venue itself, which is exactly why parties are held at those sites.

I don’t think I ever had an actual themed birthday party myself, although I guess we came close the year Davy Crockett was popular.

While they would rate extremely low by today’s standards, the most popular games played at all birthday parties, including mine, were pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and the clothespin drop into the milk bottle. How’s that for fun and excitement?

We also held parties for Will at some of the traditional places, though more often than not they were held at our home.

One of the better ones centered around Will’s treehouse in the backyard that had features including a trapdoor along with rope and pulley attachments connected to other locations in the yard making things just dangerous enough to be fun.

Another year we tried the sleepover concept that involved 10-12 school classmates and watching movies on the VCR. In today’s world, this idea would no longer be stylish or cool and the kids would not have it — although it worked out fine back then.

We finished up just before dark by loading everyone into the car and heading out for some hot dogs before bedtime.

An angle for a child’s birthday party that can usually work in any era is to feature a clown, magician or some other specialty act.

This concept can easily backfire, though, especially when the parents get too involved by portraying the character like I did when Will was about 5.

Even though my magic tricks were not really too bad, shortly after things began Will headed to the far corner of the yard to sulk since the kids were paying more attention to the tricks than they were to him.

In retrospect, he probably had every right to get upset.

It seems to me like birthday parties for youngsters today have evolved into more of a competition of sorts among parents to see who can have the most unusual, talked-about or attention-grabbing event.

More often than not, the location or theme is more about what the parents want than the kids, but I guess maybe it’s always been that way.

The party is deemed to be successful not by whether the kids had a good time, but whether other parents were impressed. Things are even better if cutesey or unusual photos of the event are posted for everyone to see and envy.

All said, probably the best advice to follow when planning or giving a party is to simply follow your gut feeling and have one that works the best for your child— and above all, try to have a good time, even if it happens to be held in an archery store complete with arrows flying around.

Keith Barnes is a reporter for the Johnstonian News. Email him at