1. 4 year olds like non-competitive musical chairs. They do not like losing. Or the chance that they might lose. They want to win every time or it just isn’t worth playing. They like you to put out the same number of chairs as kids and then they enjoy going around and around in circles until the music stops and they all rush into a chair and then, they look at each other all pleased and beg to do it again. Just walking in circles to music. That’s what they like.
2. Some parents of 4 year olds say they are going to come to your kid's party, but they don’t really mean it. These people tell you they are coming on the phone the day before, and you give them 15 minutes of directions, and you get your kid all psyched up to see their kid and then they don’t come or call and you are left answering all kinds of questions about where the kid is and your kid tells you that we can’t start the party until the no-show kid gets there. That’s when you start hating the no-show parents and vow to shun them on the playground.
3. 1 year olds who have cake and the equivalent of a pint of ice cream for the first time EVER at your party will stumble around like miniature, glassy-eyed drunks, all stoned and zoned out. A toddler's first sugar-high is good fun to watch. You can’t buy that kind of entertainment.
4. 4 year olds like TV. A lot. They will get dressed up, carry a gift across two boroughs after having a meltdown on a subway platform and not two minutes after their arrival, they are begging you to watch “Pink Panther”. If they could, they would all forgo the party and friends and any human contact and just sit there comatose and stare at the TV screen in one big catatonic clump of bodies.
5. It is completely possible to get up at 5:30 in the morning, make sure all the food, games and goody bags are prepped and ready to go, only to realize half way through the party, the one thing you forgot to do is brush your teeth. Completely possible.
6. If a single child comes to the party dressed in a princess or ballerina costume, every child at the party will storm the dress-up box en masse and demand to be made up with crowns, princess shoes and tutus. Parents will have to be dispatched to their respective nearby houses to get more princess dresses, shoes and crowns. The environment will feel foul and ugly until every last child is dressed in a costume and not just any costume, but one that absolutely meets their approval. Anything else will result in tears and pleas to go home.
7. After the cake, everyone is going to freak out. You must accept this. Embrace it. There will be tears. And pain. And all the good sharing and loving hugs and “she’s my best friend!” and smiles will deteriorate into a pile of sugar and bad will and you will have to take them outside and run them around until they are normal again. You will do this even if it is below freezing outside. Why? Because otherwise sweet kids will turn to ugly, growling, , teeth-bearing hateful wolves right before your very eyes. There is nothing you can do about this. The air will turn putrid with children on a bad sugar high. Just drink, wear ear plugs and wait it out.
8. You will hurt someone’s feelings. If you live in a NYC apartment, you cannot invite a herd of people, lest the event turn into a frat party with people drinking in the closets and eating on the toilet, and me doing nothing but cooking in the kitchen and ignoring my children, so you have to keep the number at a manageable limit and the work load light and since it is your kid’s party, not yours, they get to say who comes. So when Lucy said “No penises in the room,” or however she phrased it, I went with it. No boys. (Dads okay.) I mean, you can’t have a garden party with pink napkins and tables covered in rose petals and invite a bunch of boys who will use the rose stems as warrior swords and impale your favorite bunny. I get that. So, we left out all our good friends who have boys. But since I didn’t call all our friends who have boys and tell them they were officially dis-invited, some people just thought we left them out. This sucks, because I do care about my friends feelings, but everyone will just have to suck it up. Because this party was about my kid, no one else, and in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not perfect.
9. The “garden” birthday party, topped off with a next day trip to the butterfly exhibit at the Natural History Museum, will rock your child’s world. They will love everything you do, even if there were 10 things you wanted to do, but didn’t quite get done. 4 year olds don’t care. They will be thrilled that they packed the apartment with all their friends. They will laugh, smile, run, jump, hide, sing, dance and you will be completely happy that you got up at 5:30 in the morning to put this whole thing together. And people malign goody bags - costly, stupid toys, part of the whole competitive birthday neurotic mom NYC thing – but just wait until your kid, who picked out every toy in the bag and filled each one carefully and made sure each had exactly the same things inside (”so no one fights”) brings them out of the bedroom and hands each one to each child, beaming with accomplishment and pride as she does it. All hail the goody bag!
10. 4 year olds are proud to be big. They will tell you to leave them alone because they can get their pants on themselves and every time you try to grab their hand, they’ll remind you they are 4. 4 means no more pull ups at night. Sleeping by yourself in the bunk bed. Staying up a little later. Getting a couple more responsibilities around the house. 4 is getting to go to the neighbors house by yourself, sans grown up escort. 4 means you can be trusted to do things. You can make decisions that effect everyone else in the family. 4 is having some control over your own life, good or bad, and having a say in the order of the world. 4 is a force to be reckoned with.
4 is big. 4 rocks.