Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Birthday Bonanza

I'll start by saying that I can't believe I have a 3 yr old. His birthday was at the end of January so I'm late on posting. I'm kind of glad I've been slacking because since his birthday I've been to like three more. Some kids in E's class turned 3 in the fall but the birthday "season" really kicks off in January.

At his school it's strongly encouraged to invite the whole class and to have it on a Sunday. The Sunday thing is for kids possibly observing Shabbat and I'm thrilled about it. Do we observe? No. BUT, since we own retail stores, Saturday is a business day. That means I'm on my own, or taking Sydney to parties if it's on a Saturday. Sundays B is home to come with me AND it's something fun to do for E. Win-Win. There are just A LOT of parties if people are inviting the whole class, sometimes two in a day if I count in his non-school friends. E has a better social life than B and I.

Starting with E's first birthday, it was always more of a "friend party". B and I both have small families and my mom had passed away about four months prior to his first party. Most everyone invited were "his" friends and their parents (my friends) and some family friends. The first one was in our house, catered by Costco, cake by Shop Rite, and approximately nine or ten little kids. I had Sean & Pat from Music for Aardvarks come to my house to entertain the kids for about 45 min or so. It was really awesome because most of the kids who were there were enrolled in Aardvarks classes already so they knew all the songs and were really into it. It was a little cost prohibitive- $350. But, looking back, it was still worth it because what do you do with ten toddlers at a house party? The whole party was a success but B decided he didn't want anymore parties in the house. The clean-up is always a pain and it makes it all exhausting.

For E's second birthday he was already taking classes at Little Gym in Waldwick. All these play gyms and play places have party packages and for around the same amount as having the music at my house, they could run around, tire themselves out, I can invite more kids and it's over in an hour and a half. Best part is not having to set up or clean up. These places do all of that for you. We did his party there and it was such an easy breezy success that we knew we'd be doing these party package places forever. I was a summer baby and had a pool in my backyard. All my parents had to do was let us use the pool and order pizza. For winter babies in NJ it isn't that simple. I think for up to 14 children the cost for a member at Little Gym for a party was around $365 (not including tips). E wasn't in school yet so I didn't have over 14 kids to invite. It included set up, clean up, cake, an hour an a half of play, invitations and paper goods, pizza & juice (for the kids). We stupidly did more platters from Costco for the adults, and soda. I say "stupidly" because I should've just ordered extra pizza and called it a day.

With his third birthday looming, I actually didn't get to party planning until the end of October. That seems early for the end of January but it isn't. People are nuts with the kid parties. I like a party at 11a-12:30 so there's something to do in the morning and we finish with lunch, go home and take a nap. So I wanted to make sure I had my choice of party times. I also send the invites out way before the holidays so they don't get thrown in the trash with holiday cards.

I had a few options I wasn't overly enthusiastic about. I'd been to In the Swing (Waldwick) for parties numerous times. It's fine but I didn't love it. We aren't members of Little Gym anymore so I didn't want to pay the higher price for non-members. My Gym had opened in Glen Rock but I hadn't had time to check it out and since E never took a class there, I wasn't sure how it would be. I was sort of over the gym thing anyway.

I had gotten an invitation in early autumn to JellyBean Junction from one of E's friends and I was intrigued. I usually know of all kid places in the area and I'd NEVER heard of it. She was having a dance party. We couldn't make the party but I definitely wanted to check the place out. It's inside The Learning Experience daycare center in the Superdome Complex in Waldwick. Just an aside, that seems to be Kid Row over there with the Superdome right there, Gymboree down the street and In the Swing across the street. I went in and it was clean and friendly in there. They explained all their packages to me, took me on a tour, and were just very helpful. They have a lot of different "themed" parties across a wide range of ages. I booked the "Dance party" about a week later.

The Pros: They give you invitations, paper goods, pizza, juice, an hour and a half of play, and goodie bags for the kids. Depending on the number of kids, they have an appropriate number of staff. I was told they can accommodate up to 30 kids. They do the set up and clean up. You just have to bring the cake and anything you want there in terms of food or paper products for the adults.

The Cons: It's expensive. It's $330 for the party for up to twelve kids for the dance party theme. Every theme costs a different amount. Any child over that amount was going to cost $15.50 EACH. Well, since we're encouraged to invite the whole class, that's almost 20 children right there. Since I'd never been there, I wasn't sure how they'd count the younger ones. Would they count two kids who had just pretty much turned one year in the fall? I was really concerned about the cost. I had to limit the invited to his class and about six or seven other kids that I really wanted there. Kids I couldn't see not inviting because they're the same age as E and we're friends with the parents. They're also really strict about the paper goods for the adults. I forgot cups and they told me I had to go out and get them. Luckily there is a Walgreens nearby.

I was also really concerned about cost and how they were going to charge me for the little ones. They participated in the beginning part but no so much in the main dance part. They were pretty lenient, which was nice. But if I knew that ahead of time, had they given me an age, like 2 & under, I would've been able to invite some other friends with little ones. I was really concerned about the different age factor too. I didn't know if there would be anything for the younger kids to do. In retrospect it would've been fine but I really had no idea what it would be like.

The party as a whole was good. I loved the beginning. They have a small room where they can climb, slide, play in a ball pit, get their face painted, play dress up, etc. It's big enough to accommodate all the kids but not too big that they can't navigate it on their own. I loathe going to Kids U or Bounce U for the reason that I'm expected to climb and bounce too. I don't want to go to a party to "work". I want to be able to have conversations with people while my son & the other kids have a good time. So I loved this room here because the kids can really do their own thing without parents having to guide them or play, climb or jump. Everything in that room is self-manageable for any child 2+.

What I didn't like was that the main party hostess girl was not a very strong or commanding personality. Everything happened so fast they didn't really tell the parents what to do. So, some parents hung out in that first room, some in the hallway, etc. No one really took command of the whole thing. Then when the kids moved to the main party room where the dance party was supposed to be happening, it seemed really chaotic. Parents were in there all around the perimeter so some kids wanted to be glued to their parents. Had the girl told the kids to line up and come in without the parents, they probably would've just gone in and done whatever in a much smoother fashion. It just seemed like way too much of a free for all for three year olds. They need more direction. Sure, if a kid needed their parent I can see being very flexible with having the parents in that room but it was probably unnecessary for the bulk of them. The majority of them are in school together- they know how a classroom works.

Then the pizza & cake part was a little bit of a pain. Stupidly, I got a full sheet cake. I didn't count on a stomach virus ripping through class and claiming five victims from his class within 2-3 days of the party. With those kids not coming, that meant less parents too. I had no idea what size cake I'd ordered before and the full sheet didn't seem that big when I looked at the box. Yeah, there is still cake in my fridge. The cake was ginormous and where they put the cake was so far away from where E decided to sit for his pizza. But if they were going to put it on this one table they should've told me to have him sit near it. So the hostess had to carry it over to him and it just was very awkward. Not to mention she looked like she was going to drop it and that would've been good for no one.

I'm also realizing now that part of the deal was that the kids were supposed to make some kind of spin art to take home and that never happened. Oh well. The kids didn't miss it. An hour and a half goes by in a blink of an eye. I don't know when they would've even fit that in. It's annoying that it was part of the package and we didn't get it but I'm not going to complain now.

But they have SO many different themes which sound really cool. It's close to my house and the point is that the kids had fun and it was easy on the parents. Some parents had infants they brought with them and it was very easy to navigate having two children there if you were the only parent. I'd use it again for E's party but I'd make sure to specify that I want someone running things with more of strong personality. I'd also make sure we got everything we paid for in the package.

I've also been to numerous My Gym parties in Glen Rock so I just want to say a few words about those too. Lucky for me, the location is super convenient for me. It's literally probably five minutes from my house. At the first party there I attended, I was able to look at their party package. It's definitely pricey for a non-member. It was around $450 for up to 20 kids. That would've been the dealbreaker for me because I definitely had more than 20 to invite. I only got charged 18 because that's how many showed up but I wouldn't feel comfortable inviting more than 20 if that's all they could accommodate, just hoping some wouldn't come.

The pros there are that it is extremely clean & safe. You can pretty much let your child run wild in there and they're not going to get hurt. I liked that aspect and think it's better than Little Gym in that respect. They also seem to have really awesome teachers/party hosts who can control a room of 2-3 year olds really well. **My Gym just called me (3/6/12) to invite us to a free trial class because we've been to so many parties.** The girl with the strong personality, able to adeptly control a room of 20 three years old's is Sam and she's the Assistant Director. She's great. If any of these other party places had her or someone like her, I'm fairly certain there wouldn't be the mass chaos I've seen. Like as E's party.

What I did not like, at all, was the pizza/cake portion of the party. There is no "party room". It's the front lobby of the place. There are no tables- just counter space and long benches to sit on. But, the benches are right up to the counter space. The counter is the half-wall between the lobby and the play area. So the kids have to sit on their knees to eat. It's really crowded and it looks really uncomfortable.

There is no room to help your child if they need help eating because it's a tight squeeze and no leg-room. On top of that, it's a carpeted floor. So while it looks really clean, I think it's mighty stupid to have kids eating pizza, cake and juice over a carpeted floor. I'd think, eventually, it would have to get pretty gross. I just think it's a really bad set up. It's also where everyone is supposed to put their coats and shoes. There aren't enough hooks to hang stuff up and everyone's coats, handbags, etc ended up in a huge jumble on the floor. Well maybe that in itself isn't a big deal but what if one of those kids gets pizza or cake on someone's coat, etc. It seems like it would be easily rectified if they took out the ridiculously enormous Melissa & Doug retail and make a better system for eating, coats and shoes. No one needs to buy Melissa & Doug in the gym, it takes up ridiculous space and just contributes to kids being want-monsters in the lobby. I'm sure people buy the stuff but under duress of trying to get a screaming kid out of there.

THEN, the weirdest part of it all is that they stop the play to QUICKLY do pizza and cake, then they clean them off and send them back in to play. It sounds nice but it's really a pain in the ass to try to get your kid out of there. They are conditioned that at birthday parties, you do the playing, you eat, then you leave. Try getting a three year old off a trampoline to go with no lure of pizza or cake. Fun times. Plus, again, now they ate and are going straight to running around and jumping again. No one ever barfs after that? I just think this practice is really weird. If the party is 3:00-4:30, let them play until 4:10, then do pizza and cake and send them HOME.

Lastly, their party times are set on the weekend at 1p-2:30, 3-4:30, and 5p-6:30. None of those would be convenient to me. 2p & 4p are a weird time for lunch/dinner and ending at 6:30 on a Sunday is late for a lot of people having to prepare for school or work the next day after the weekend.

So, again, it's a nice place, clean and safe with great employees. But these other things would turn me off to having a party there.


  1. Totally done with classes at My Gym. I feel it was a total bait and switch after we went to the open house. And this has NOTHING to do with me being pregnant when I was taking J. The parent has to do everything with their kid and that was not how they presented it to us. I expected the staff to be more involved versus walking around doing nothing. Also, J would be doing something and BAM they would scream...come to the red circle and learn how to use a scarf, etc., etc. that's my 2 cents...

  2. Ethan has never taken a class there. I really don't know anything about the classes. My issue with them regarding classes is the age grouping. If I was to join it would only be for a drop off class. They weirdly start them at 3 & 1/4 yrs old. The only time I can make a class is on the weekend. On the weekend they combine classes. So for him it would be a class of ages 3 & 1/4 to SIX. That sounds ridiculous. I don't want my 3 yr old in a class with 6 year olds. I don't even understand that.

  3. And it IS expensive. Since he's been in ballet without me since September and camp/school 3x a week since the summer, I'm done with "mommy & me" type classes. For us, they are a total waste of money and he listens better when I'm not in there. I was waiting for him to be old enough for the drop off classes but then I started working. Since he can't go during the week all I can do is the weekend and I'm not doing those mixed age classes. I was boxed out by their class schedule but hearing your complaint I guess we're not missing anything.

  4. Nope...not missing a thing. Jason is VERY much a climber and their activities bore the crap out of him and me.