A DIY Tea Party for Two-Year-Olds

My daughter Harper is about to turn two in a few weeks here, but since her brother might just be born on her actual birthday (which we think is totally cute and everyone seems to think is basically child abuse) we went ahead and had a birthday party for her this weekend. And since every birthday party she has from here on out will probably be shared with Boombox, I decided to go totally girly with this one.

When I started to look around at venues to rent, I realized that we were looking at probably at the very very least $300 to $400 for a few hours of toddlers smashing frosting into things. Especially with a kid so little and so undemanding in the sphere of entertainments (uh, and another on the way!), I just couldn’t justify the expense. Plus, hasn’t everyone been to birthday parties where the little guest of honor seems really stressed out the whole time but all the noisy, elaborate festivities? What’s the point? But could we have a birthday party at home, in our teeny-tiny 1.5 bedroom apartment? Reader, we did, and we have lived to tell the tale.

I heeded the advice you always get about the age of the child plus one and just invited three little girls and their moms. No room for dads even! Sorry, men! (Adam’s theory was that no adult is ever actually disappointed to miss out on a kid’s birthday party. As evidence he cited the (awesome) dad we encountered at a 2nd birthday party, drinking a 40 from a paper bag.) The only drawback to this was fielding Harper’s excited questions in the days preceding about her wonderful (male) friends coming to her party and telling her “Ah, no, Booker/August/‘Japser’/etc isn’t coming because, ah, well, because.” (Actually we invited four kids, assuming at least one wouldn’t be able to come, which ended up being exactly what happened. There were enough kids to seem like a party, but not so many people that Harper got overwhelmed or things felt chaotic.)

I really meant to keep track of how much I was spending on party preparations and then to post some gleeful total here – “All this for $34.75!” – but of course I lost track and then got confused about whether to include cost of ingredients for things I was baking – like, so, I didn’t have to buy sugar because I had it but I sure used a lot so how does that tally – and all that math was just killing my party mood. So I’m going to say the whole thing cost under $100. Although that might be a lie since we did send our faithful hound to a place we’ll generously call doggie daycare for the day and that might have tipped us over the $100 mark. But it was worth it to not have to guard our small guests against countless, overly passionate, garbage-can-scented tongue kisses, which for some reason some people seem to find disconcerting.

Harper and I made decorations, which helped her to get really excited for this otherwise slightly abstract party concept. She especially loved drawing pictures together on circles of construction paper, including stick-figurey portraits of our guests, and in the days before the party she’d point to them and go through their names all excitedly. One night I put together a couple strands of really simple paper bunting – triangles of origami paper taped to string, all of which I had lying around. It seriously took about 20 minutes.

I admit I got a little needlessly complex with the food. Because this was a tea party, after all, I decided we needed dainty finger sandwiches (I used this cucumber-and-mint recipe and also made some plain cream cheese-and-jelly ones) that I don’t think any of the girls touched, and strawberry scones and lemon curd. Having never made scones I was really pleased with this easy and delicious strawberry scone recipe. But again, the kids didn’t really care. One little girl ate a scone, but I think she just hadn’t noticed the cookies yet. Obviously all the girls really wanted were the chocolate chip cookies and marshmallows, and I think two of them had chamomile tea and maybe only I had the hot chocolate. Still, it was fun to do all the baking, even if it meant no one in my family ate an actual meal for two days because I was too busy with other things.

The pink cupcakes were of course a big hit. I used this vanilla cupcake recipe, and I would just like to say a word about it here since there are like 4,000 comments online regarding the inconsistencies of the recipe. The recipe says to cook for 20 minutes, and the first batch I did, and my toothpick came out clean and they looked good for a few instants before deflating into gooey, eggy-smelling little mucous-balls. I did not feel happy. The next batch I left in for 30 minutes and voila! Perfect golden-brown cakey vehicles for frosting (which is all I personally care about anyway). For coloring the buttercream frosting, I recommend 4 or 5 drops of red food dye and 1 blue. Can I just note that for Harper’s first birthday party I made this all-natural, low-sugar, organic apple-pumpkin cake? HA!

Knowing how 2 year-olds are, I put away some Harper’s least-shareable toys, stocked the living room with a big roll of white paper, new crayons, stickers, play-dough (aka delicious salty snack globs) and bubbles (which I forgot about and never used). We played Harper’s favorite record (The Crystals, obviously) and let the kids run wild.

And there you have it. Super simple, terrifically tiny, and on the cheap. And I wasn’t worried about getting my deposit back in case I went into labor. Afterwards, Harper spun around the living room, all high on sugar, chanting, “Oh what a day! Oh what a day!” I expect the same response from every birthday party she ever has.