Party planning like a rite of passage

When her daughter turns 10, Guillemette Perrin leaves the party planning in her hands.

My eldest daughter recently hosted a party for her tenth birthday. “Double digits!” she chanted for all to hear. Clearly this was her most significant birthday to date.

She spent weeks agonising over the theme, driving us to distraction worrying about what activities she would organise. In the preceding nine years it seemed we’d already exhausted most viable options. Done was the pool party (the local pool, not ours sadly), done and overdone was the picnic at the park (two or three years in a row, I’m embarrassed to admit), done was the fairy party (and she was too old now) and done was the cinema party.

What was it going to be this year? She toyed with several ideas, researched options on the internet, and talked to her friends. Although attracted to ‘catered-for’ themes such as ‘pampering’ parties, she found they required a dozen or more kids (they were a little on the pricey side, too), and this time she wanted a smaller get-together of her closest friends.

Birthday party ideasShe was stuck and getting very disappointed that she couldn’t find anything suitable. So I suggested she think about her favourite things and find a way to incorporate them into a party format. Captivated by TV cooking shows, and addicted to dressing up (as the clothes strewn on her bedroom floor would attest), she decided to host her own ‘cook and dress-up party’. Her four best friends were invited for a Saturday lunch with a difference.

Before the party, guests and hostess spent many recesses and lunch breaks planning what they would cook, and how. The girls came up with a simple menu of fresh bruschetta and a pasta bake. I was in charge of the cake – this was not negotiable and they knew it. They split tasks, such as chopping vegetables, cooking the pasta, slicing the baguette and assembling the bruschetta, according to ability and interest. Finally, they wrote down their menu plan and handed me a shopping list.

On the day, her friends arrived, aprons in hand. They quickly invaded the kitchen, setting up individual workstations and sticking their printed menus on the splashback. They giggled their way through creating ‘la carte du jour’, with me as the responsible adult a short distance away, ready for any assistance with cooking and oven organising.

The meal tasted good, and the girls savoured their achievement. It was a simple party, and yet the girls had fun and unwittingly learned a lot about maths, measurements, planning, cooking, delegating and negotiating (and cleaning up afterwards – thanks girls!).

But the real twist was this: for the dress-up part of her theme, my daughter had asked her friends to bring their favourite and most beautiful dress. Once the meal was cooked and ready to be served, they changed into their gorgeous frocks. The pride and excitement was palpable as they took their seats. Being a summer party, they were fortunate to enjoy their meal outdoors in the shade of a tree, giggling away until late in the afternoon when the taxis (parents) picked them up.

All I had to do to make the day a winner was provide space for the girls, supervise their cooking and come to the rescue as needed (which wasn’t often) to ensure everything went according to plan. I took photos and then sat back, letting the girls enjoy themselves in a parent-free zone.

Looking back at the photos of my daughter in her pretty dress, laughing with her friends, no doubt talking and venting about school, boys, parents and sister trouble (not necessarily in that order), I realise how much she’s grown. This basic party was like a rite of passage, a symbolic event to help her move from one stage of life to another, signalling, ‘Yes, you are able to create and plan your own party. I trust you to do so from start to finish, and I will support your doing so.’

From a party-planning perspective it was a wonderful and successful day, which cost next to nothing and could easily be adapted for my second daughter. Unlike her sister, she was born in the middle of winter and will not have the luxury of a sunny outdoor lunch. But I’m thinking a cosy picnic on the lounge-room floor, in the glow of the open fire, might do her just fine. And if I survived hosting four knife-wielding girls in my kitchen once, I’m sure I can do it again.

Illustration by Andrea Smith