A little while ago, my oldest boy, Arthur turned five. All he wanted was to have a party at our house. In years gone by, I would be searching for appropriately ‘themed’ paraphernalia, all destined for landfill immediately on finishing said event. This year I wanted to do things differently. So i’m going to share with you how we went about making positive changes and some of the (probably irrational) emotions I felt along the way.
What were they all going to do?
I’m not gonna lie, the notion of 20 pumped up five year olds going crazy in our front room, did slightly fill me with dread. I am many things to many people, but I am definitely no children’s entertainer. In the lead up to Arthur’s birthday we have been to several amazing parties with entertainment of some kind or another. Each one brilliant for its own individual reason. Each time, me feeling a little pang of angst wondering how I was going to cope with all these small humans going wild in our house.
Oh and another thing, no one prepares you for this when your kid starts school. The sheer volume of parties that your child will be invited to attend. At first it feels totally awesome that your child has been accepted by his peers and enthused by the idea of attending these somewhat chaotic, but fun nevertheless, events. Well that wear off after about party number 4 and you start to wonder “is this how my weekends are spent for the next 10 years?”. I am yet to answer so please enlighten me with your coping strategies in the comments below.
I digress. So 20 kids, one room, loads of parents (most of whom I don’t really know that well) what were we going to do for TWO WHOLE HOURS?
What Arthur really wanted was a “disco party and party games”, so that he should have I thought to myself. Mmmm what next? My mum, who basically dedicates her whole life to making her children and grandchildren happy (yes she is totally awesome), appeared one day with a disco light she found discounted in the Christmas sales. Basically the thing plugs into the light socket like a light bulb and spins around creating a disco ball type effect. Yes, it really is that good. Alas, yes it is made of plastic. But you know what, it has and will provided hours of entertainment for my unruly bunch and I think that’s ok.
Cue lights, enter 20 smalls, give carte blanche to run wild and voila, party sorted. Almost. No kids party is complete without pass the parcel right? Well that was Arthur’s main request anyway. We used old newspaper for the layers to avoid any wrap.
*Confession* each layer contained a small pack of haribo. I can hear all the screams of “that’s not very blooming eco”. Well no, your 100% right. It’s not. It went against every bone in my vegetarian come aspiring vegan body, but it was a compromise. Arthur made lots of really positive sacrifices for his party (which I’m coming to, so be patient), but he wanted hairibo for his friends. I’m not here to greenwash you all into thinking i’m perfect, because i’m not. Far from it in fact. Equally these were not ‘choices’ I made easily so try not to give me too much of a hard time about it.
Food and Drink
A very important element to all parties, no? Well yes, if you are an adult, or perhaps even a teenager. Not when you’re five. They really don’t care.
We kept it nice and simple. Made pizzas, and my trusty sidekick (aka my mum) made tonnes of sausage and cheese rolls in advance. A few crudities and we were done. Simples.
One thing I really wanted to avoid was any single use plastic cups or bottles. I gave this a lot of thought and came up with the idea to give each child a glass bottle (which I bought from hobbycraft) and a Klean Kanteen reusable straw (from Babipur). Obviously I didn’t want the straws to be used for the party and then end up with 20+ straws to find homes for.
I love making cakes and my mum had a load of random icing colours she had left over from another party. We rolled it all together and it came out like this…
A kind of crazy paving marble effect dragon cake!! It was great to know we’d used up a load of old icing that was otherwise destined to be food waste.
So this brings me to…
The Party Bag
A customary addition to all children’s parties. No kid’s party is complete without one, yes? Well, actually…no. Party bags are often (not always) plastic, so that’s a no no for a start. Full of very small items that will get lost, broken or just chucked within about 24 hours of them reaching the child’s home (if they even make it that far). But, it’s what we expect. It’s what our kid’s expect.
It’s time to challenge these ideas that have become social norms over time. I can guarantee you that our parents generation would not have ever been given a party bag. In fact, in most cases, they wouldn’t have even had a party. So yes, it is entirely possible to have both a birthday, and a party, without having a party bag.
We decided to give each child the bottle and straw they had used at the party in place of a party bag. It was the perfect way to spread the word about reusable straws and reducing plastic consumption. We talked to Arthur about this in advance. He is pretty good now at recognising that single use plastic is not good on many levels. It was difficult for him to understand initially, but he soon came round to the idea and gladly shared his love for KK straws with all his friends.
Balloons. I really wanted to avoid balloons. I know they are terrible for the environment and certainly if released can have a devastating impact on wildlife. I really wanted to avoid balloons. Did I say that already? If you want to know more about the negative impact of balloon releases, you should check out Balloons blow who campaign about the destructive effects released balloons have on animals, people, and the environment.
There are so many amazing alternatives to decorating with balloons. Paper poms, paper lanterns, paper streamers and the list goes on. So I spent many an hour researching what might be a happy alternative. I looked at biodegradable balloons but that somehow didn’t feel right either. So I decide to go with my trusty fabric bunting. I made this for my wedding (all 100 meters of it!) and it has been the best thing we could have done. It comes out at every party or celebration, and if anyone I know is having a get together I offer it out to them. It gets a lot of love and that makes me happy. So cue the bunting and ta-dah!!
Perfect! Absolutely. Until a day before his party and I had some massive and totally irrational surge of emotion. I was denying my five year old happiness by not ‘letting him have’ balloons at his party. So *confession* number two. I drove to the party shop and bought a (massive) helium balloon in the shape of a five. I felt happy for a moment, feeling I was now a better mum for providing this amazing gift for my child. Wrong. I then spent the remainder of the time with it in my house feeling guilt ridden every time I looked at the thing. Yes, Arthur was pleased with his balloon, why would’t he be. Would he have noticed if I hadn’t produced one? I doubt it. Guess I will never know now.
The Mass of Gifts
So along with your child being invited to an whole host of parties you never really accounted for, you also have to find a huge number of age appropriate ‘quality’ gifts for a bargain price. The likelihood is these are not going to be ethically produced, non plastic, sustainable gifts. I get that. You can’t as a parent spend £££ every time you go to a kid’s party. Sometimes we have three in one weekend. YES THREE. Personally, I buy small ethically sourced gifts from Babipur to take to Arthur’s friends parties and I spent between £5-7 usually. Some people clearly spend way more and others…don’t.
So you end up with 20-30 gifts that you have no space for and leave you with a guilty feeling. I know people might think this is ungrateful. Please don’t think this, it’s the opposite, we are thankful for all we have every day and we are much more fortunate than many. But my principles are strong and I can’t just put them aside because I might risk hurting someones feelings.
So Arthur did an amazing thing. He requested that instead of gifts at his party, small donations be made to our local Children’s Hospice, Chestnut Tree House. Of course, there were questions. “So, I won’t get any presents at my party” he might ask randomly as he thought about it. We spent time talking about this and explaining that the money is much more needed by the hospice. In December our kindness elves asked Arthur and Eli to deliver some gifts to the hospice. I arranged in advance to pick up a collection pot for his party which helped him have a more tangible understanding of where the money was going.
Not Perfect But it’s a Start
All in all i’m pretty happy with what Arthur achieved at his party this year. Not perfect by any stretch and i’ve tried to as honest as I can about the reality of making difficult decision and challenging what we have become to understand as our norm. Often it is our own emotions that prevent us from making changes that could really make a difference.
I’d love to hear your ethical party ideas!