Owen’s half birthday isn’t till the end of June, but my mom was in town this past weekend so we threw him a wee party six weeks early. It was such a simple, fun, inexpensive shindig that I figured I’d blog about it in case you have the same impression I had until recently, which is that preschooler birthday parties are the evil spawn of Martha Stewart and the Tasmanian Devil.

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The two central ideas we planned around we learned from my friend Angie, whose daughter is in O’s preschool class. 1) Keep the party very small, and 2) Have booze.

We invited four of O’s friends from school, and consider it to be about the luckiest thing ever that we love all their parents. The only other people we invited were my mom (see bit above about her being in town), Greg’s parents, and a beloved preschool teacher. This meant that Owen was very, very comfortable with every person who was there, so he could have a great time without feeling shy or overwhelmed, or more threatened than usual about sharing his toys.

Greg made a killer bourbon punch, which he offered around starting at the beginning of the party, which made Saturday the day I was drinkin’ at ten in the morning.

The rest of the plan was to keep things fun, simple and inexpensive. Though we’ve put in a pretty big vegetable garden in the past, we recently paved it to park the new camper trailer. Our plan this summer was to put in a container garden in the front yard, that O would tend with me all summer, more for the experience than for any goal of serious vegetable harvesting. Which led to the party idea, which was to put the little hands to work.

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Fun. Dirt, and lots of it. First thing we did was have the kids each plant a seed in their own flower pot, which they filled, planted then watered. I labeled each one with their name and set them aside for the end of the party. Then we got to work. Though we had about a dozen containers to plant, we only put out the two long planter boxes, which gave all the kids lots of room to work. We opened a huge bag of potting soil at both ends of the boxes, and the kids shoveled away. As they got bored, they moved on to play around the backyard, and a relaxed time was had by all (including some increasingly tipsy parents).

I bought seedlings and seeds based more on how much I think the kids will enjoy watching them grow than on my own desire for food. I’ll post a photo of the finished garden soon, but here’s what we planted: snap peas, pole beans, a cherry tomato plant, two plum tomato plants, a Roma tomato plant, a zucchini, dwarf sunflowers, poppies and marigolds.

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Simple. One specific activity, one general theme, two hours of party. That’s it. Keeping it this simple meant there was very little room for disappointment about plans not working out, since as we all know, herding preschoolers is like herding cats. Who can talk. And scream louder than cats. Not one child complained during the ten-minute planting activity, and since they could just roam around on their own for the rest of the time, there was almost no herding necessary.┬áThe only decorations we had were balloons. Greg made finger sandwiches for lunch, and cupcakes for cake.

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Inexpensive. We were going to put in the container garden anyway, so that expense wasn’t really related specifically to the party. Still, soil was the most expensive thing we bought. Then the balloons. I picked up shovels and flower pots at the dollar store, and that was that.

At the end of the party, each child took their flower pot, and we reminded everyone they had an open invitation to visit the container garden all summer. After Owen’s nap that afternoon, we moved those planter boxes to the front yard along with the other ceramic containers we had lying around, and we spent the rest of the afternoon putting in the garden. There are lots of kids on our block, and O’s preschool friends all live in the neighbourhood. I’m hoping this little project ends up being an exciting introduction to gardening for Owen, and hopefully results in a gathering place for lots of summer fun times over the next few months.