Third Birthday Party Summary Report

See previous:

  1. Ideas for a Glow-in-the-dark Birthday Party
  2. Building a Cardboard Fort, Part 1
  3. Building a Cardboard Fort, Part 2
  4. Adventures in Artificially Darkening a Room
Photo of ghostly moving children swirling flashlights in a dark room as moms watch.

Kids twirl flashlights as a disco ball swirls. Despite appearances, the room was quite dark. I opted for covering the thermal curtains on our streetside window with blankets rather than cover such a large space with aluminum foil. Glowing Chinese food takeout containers can be seen hung on the wall with thumb tacks.

Here is a recap of our third birthday in the dark.

Our living room was rearranged with a futon, sofa and stereo lining one wall, with a large play and dance space in front of it. Meanwhile, our family room contained a large sprawling cardboard fort.

Each time our doorbell rang, I yelled, “Who is it?” and waited for a toddler response before welcoming each guest. My now-three-year-old daughter dutifully accepted her gifts and placed them on a table.

Four kids (including my daughter) attended. It was the perfect number for a 3-year-old party. We would see no fights ensue this day.

The kids entered a lit home and proceeded to a back room where they decorated plain white mini Chinese food takeout containers with crayons and stickers.

Battery powered tea lights were inserted into the containers as music could be heard emanating from the living room. We marched the kids toward the music and into a darkened living room illuminated by a color disco ball and LED night lights that rotate colors. The kids were handed their own flash lights (party favors, $2 each in the automotive section at K-Mart).

Additional glowing Chinese food containers were hung on the walls with thumb tacks. A weak battery-powered camping lantern sat on a table to provide an additional level of light for the room.

The kids danced for a while, which at 3-years-old means holding a flashlight at arm’s length and turning in circles. Moms sat on the futons and chatted. I was the only dad in attendance, though that wasn’t the case for our second birthday party.

I then handed out glow-in-the-dark necklaces and bracelets. The kids quickly decided the necklaces made better belts, although many had to be held in place, but no one seemed to mind.

Photo of glowing Easter eggs on an egg tree.

Twenty-six plastic Easter eggs with electric tea lights on a 1970s’ Easter egg stand.

Egg Race

Our first game involved a batch of 26 plastic Easter eggs that were filled with 26 tea lights and taped closed. The eggs sat in a metal bowl, shining and blinking, a very fiery sight to behold. The kids then performed an egg race, positioning eggs on spoons and scurrying them across the room to be placed on an egg tree.

What’s an egg tree you ask? Mine dates from the 1970s. It is a plastic tree-shaped display unit for showcasing Easter eggs. I guess in the 1970s the typical family actually decorated 26 eggs at one time.

As the tree began to fill, I covertly removed eggs and ferried them back to the bowl to be carried again. This subterfuge worked for a good 5 minutes before an inquisitive 4-year-old caught on.

As for the “race,” there were no prizes, no real competition. Games are about fun, and glowing eggs on spoons are fun.


I found the Cattails game mentioned on many party web sites. We tucked a scarf into each child’s waistband, then directed them to try stepping on each other’s tails. The kids ran around laughing and chasing each other until all the tails were down. Then they did it again, and again and again. The 4-year-old was the oldest in attendance and was always the last cat to get caught, so I illuminated her tail with a flashlight to help the other kids. This was a fantastic game that we will be sure to repeat next year.

One child sat out the game, I think perhaps still a little unsettled by the dark. Or, perhaps, he was a little shy or preoccupied by things he liked more. During the earlier dance session he spent his time with a toy vacuum. He eventually warmed up.


Ever notice kids and iguanas eat the same stuff? Hey, we finally had an opportunity to use our Mad River Saloon and Eatery platters I picked up at a thrift store. It was a restaurant my wife and I ate at when we were courting.


Turkey wraps beat hot dogs and pizza hands down, at least for toddlers not yet conditioned by commercial marketing messages.


Lights came on for mealtime. One of the kids has a slew of food allergies, so many that he usually doesn’t attend group gatherings. One time at a playgroup, another child who had eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich left a red mark on the boy’s cheek after kissing him. He also has a latex allergy, so the few balloons we had were tacked to the ceiling. The child’s mom quickly spotted one oversight of ours — latex chin straps on our dollar store party hats — so we put away the hats before kids wore them.

Most processed foods are out of the question due to the allergies, so our lunch was carefully orchestrated.

  • Organic turkey wraps with hummus and romaine lettuce
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Apple slices
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Tea or water

Everyone ate it up.

Little Miss and a friend inside a cardboard fort, one with glow necklaces over her face, the other smiling for the camera.

Two kids inside a room dubbed The Trap.

Fort and Free Play

After lunch, I turned on an overhead light in our family room and hung 10 tea light lanterns inside the cardboard fort. Then kids were ushered into the room to go crazy.

Their first course of action was to bring stuffed animals and toys into the fort. I was surprised when they pushed and pulled a giant panda through a small window. I was shocked when they squeezed through the window themselves. I would have put a stop to it, but I only noticed as a pair of legs disappeared inside.

The darkest, scariest section of the fort, very dark despite the overhead light, was quickly dubbed “The Trap” by the kids and became their favorite hideout.

Incidentally, three is a wonderful age. You can crawl through cardboard tunnels and your child and her friends not only don’t think you’re a dork, they accept your participation. I played with the kids while the moms remained in the other room. I was informed later that the moms viewed me as a patsy. “Oh, AJ is watching them? Good, we can sit back and chat.”

Photo of Little Miss blowing out a candle in the middle of cookies.

The birthday cookies were covered with a smattering of powdered sugar and spelled out a happy birthday message. A small yellow duck in the center is actually a candle. Due to latex allergies of a friend, my daughter donned a birthday hat just for this portion of the party. And yes, that is a mischievous boy’s hand you see making a grab for the H cookie.

Birthday Cookies

Due to the previously mentioned allergies, cake was out of the question. My wife made vegan cookies. The ingredients were flour, sugar, baking soda, lemon rind, lemon juice, soy milk, a touch of water and egg substitute.

Their taste and composition reminded me of lemon play dough, but the kids responded like the cookies were the yummiest thing on the planet. I suppose I’ve been conditioned over the past decade by high fructose corn syrup. Most of the kids don’t normally eat candy or much fructose-sweetened food, so I’m sure the cookies were a taste explosion for them.

My wife affixed a single candle to the middle of the cookie platter for my daughter to blow out.


The gifts were all on the mark, the only ruffle being competing versions of wooden pizza play sets… Melissa and Doug versus Target’s store brand. My daughter liked Target’s playset for no specific reason. It comes with a slice of cake and a sparkling soda can, but I favored Melissa and Doug because it includes a serving wedge for lifting pizza slices off the pretend hot pan and onto a plate. Plus, Target only gives you a few toppings, while Melissa and Doug give you enough of each topping to make a complete single topping pizza of your choice. Secondly, Target’s store brand products are easier to return (we exchanged it for stainless steel play cups, plates and silverware).

Second Mealtime

The kids stayed beyond the standard 2 hour party conclusion, remaining a total of four hours. So, we had to devise an impromptu snack… turkey slices and more veggies. The kids rolled their turkey slices around the vegan cookies and called them “turkey sandwiches.”

Reality Check

I’m sure some of the parents, although they had a good time, thought I went way overboard with this party. Between identifying sources for cardboard boxes, building the fort and sealing our windows to blot out the sun, I’ve put in at least 20 hours of work in the past two weeks… all for a 4 hour party where the kids would have been just as happy playing with our existing toys, or going to a public playground.

I’m not worried about the time involved, but the out-of-pocket expense was significant, particularly with the tea lights, glow products, packing tape for the fort, food, etc. On the other hand, many parties we attend cost just as much, held at gymnastics or other retail play venues, and last at most two hours.

At least when our party ended we had something to show for it, a play structure that my daughter and her friends can enjoy as long as Mom and Dad are willing to put up with having their family room furniture displaced to locations around the house. I give Mom two weeks before she orders me to the recycling center. I’ll lobby for a downsizing instead because a couple of the fort buildings are too neat to discard so quickly.


Dancing with glow bracelets and necklaces.


A pair of neon ghosts.


The disco ball is multicolored, but came out yellow in this time lapse photo. The blue glow is a night light. Tip: remember where your tripod is located, or you’ll be stuck holding your camera on the floor to avoid camera shake.


8 Responses to “Third Birthday Party Summary Report”

  1. Jeremiah says:

    I’d been waiting for this. Thanks for a great report on what sounds like a great party.

    June 12th, 2007 at 7:08 am

  2. Cathy says:

    Wow! Congrats on a great party, and Happy Birthday to the birthday girl!

    June 12th, 2007 at 8:47 am

  3. judy says:

    this is more amazing than I even thought it was going to be!!! i think you have a future in party planning!
    AJ is Dad of the Year!!!

    June 12th, 2007 at 11:40 am

  4. kelli says:

    I’m surprised you got away with the Hummus. It usually has sesame which is often associated with nut allergies.

    June 12th, 2007 at 3:46 pm

  5. Mark says:

    Man, how cool was that. Kudos for going out of your way to have a fun and elaborate yet creative party that showcased some different ideas and was entirely kid-centric as opposed to “look how much money I can spend on my kid while mostly trying to impress the adults.” I’ll have to check out those box rivets, between that and the fortamajig you could seriously redesign your whole house.

    June 12th, 2007 at 4:37 pm

  6. AJ says:

    Mark, when one of the mothers heard we were hosting the party, she asked, “How are you going to fit all those kids in your house?” She assumed we were inviting 10 or 15 kids because that’s what happens with parties at our local gymnastics venues. You pay a flat fee to rent the space, so I guess parents figure you might as well pack ‘em in. I realized at our second birthday that too many kids created cognitive overload. Fewer is more fun.

    Kelli, we used Nonna Lena’s Hummus, made local to us in Arcata, Calif. The ingredients listed are: cici beans, red wine vinegar, olive oil, fresh garlic, fresh parsley and a pinch of salt.

    June 12th, 2007 at 6:07 pm

  7. kelli says:

    Awesome about the Hummus. I’ll look for it in Sunnyvale. Then maybe we can have a Hummus snack at our nut-free, seed-free preschool!

    June 21st, 2007 at 6:09 pm

  8. shuly says:


    Awesome party! I think I might try it for my 3 year old!

    I was wondering about your Nut Free Seed Free Preschool. Where is it? I live in San Jose and I have a severely allergic daughter – to nuts and seeds.


    September 15th, 2007 at 4:27 pm