Dave Barry

Let's get the (birthday) party started right

(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published April 21, 2002.)

TODAY'S PARENTING TOPIC IS: Planning a birthday party for your two-year-old child.

The first thing you must decide, when planning a birthday party for a two-year-old, is: Should you invite the two-year-old? Because a child that age can put a real damper on a party. And probably your child doesn't really understand that he or she is turning two. One of the best things about small children is that they have no clue how time works. My two-year-old daughter believes that everything that has ever happened, including her birth and the formation of the solar system, occurred ``yesterday.''

I have a friend named Helene who made excellent use of this phenomenon when her children were small. If they wanted to do something that, for whatever reason, they couldn't do, Helene, rather than argue, would tell them they could do it on ''Tuesday.'' If her kids wanted to go swimming, and it was January, Helene would say: ''We'll go swimming on Tuesday!'' And they were satisfied, because they had a definite answer, even though it actually had no meaning. (Airport flight-information monitors are based on the same principle.)

Unfortunately, as people grow older, they come to understand the concept of time, unless they are my wife. (Just kidding!) (Not really!) But most two-year-olds have no idea what ''two years old'' means, and would not notice if you held their birthday party after they went to bed.

Another low-stress option is to wait until your child is invited to some OTHER two-year-old's birthday party, and when you get there, tell your child that the party is actually for him or her. (''Look, Jason! Your name is written right here on the cake! L-I-S-A!'')

Of course, the foregoing suggestions are intended in a purely humorous vein. (Not really!) Unless you are a Bad Parent, you must throw a birthday party for your two-year-old, and you must invite other two-year-olds, and THEY MUST HAVE FUN, even if they don't want to. This is why so many birthday parties feature rental clowns, even though few things are more terrifying to small children than a clown at close range. Stephen King based an entire novel on this concept.

Another fun thing that two-year-olds do not enjoy is organized activities. Most two-year-olds are happiest when they are free to wander around in a non-organized way. So it can be quite a chore to herd a group of them together for organized birthday fun. But you must do this, or the terrorists will have won.

When our daughter turned two, we had a big party at our house. That was over a month ago, and we're still finding cake frosting in unexpected places. Our house was filled with two-year-olds, running, falling, yelling, crying, pooping, etc., each with at least one adult in pursuit, trying to organize the child. I honestly didn't know who most of these children were, or how they found out about the party. Maybe the Internet. All I know is, the organized activity we had for them was: art. Yes! We invited small children to our house and DELIBERATELY GAVE THEM PAINT.

I believe the reason we did this is that our brains had been turned into cole slaw by the bouncy castle. A bouncy castle is a big rubber inflatable thing that you can rent for birthday parties, weddings, congressional hearings, etc. The idea is that children can climb inside and bounce around and have a lot of fun, unless they find the bouncy castle to be even more terrifying than the rental clown.

My daughter LOVED the bouncy castle. That was the good news. The bad news was, the rental company set it up at 8 a.m., six hours before the party started. Once my daughter realized there was a bouncy castle in her yard, she had to be inside it, bouncing, at all times, and she felt very strongly that there had to be a parent in there bouncing with her. So by the time the guests started arriving, my wife and I had spent about three hours apiece bouncing our IQs down into the low teens, which is why we thought it would be fun to give art supplies to two-year-olds. I'm surprised we didn't let them drive the car.

Of course, we also gave them cake, because this is mandatory at birthday parties, even though historically there is no known case of any two-year-old ever actually eating so much as a single molecule of birthday cake. In fact, as far as I can tell, two-year-olds never eat ANYTHING. I think they nourish themselves via some kind of photosynthesis-like process that involves the direct absorption of Play-Doh.

In conclusion, holding a birthday party for two-year-olds is both fun and easy. All you have to do is follow a few simple steps! I will cover these on Tuesday.

(c) 2008, Dave Barry