“That’s what you say every year! We shall see!”, my good (mommy) friend Sheryl quipped, when I mentioned during our play date earlier in January that I was probably not going to throw a birthday party for Liam this year.
She was right, I’ve been saying it for the past 4 years. Yet every year, I seem to be able to come up with a convenient excuse to host a birthday party, although the lead time I give myself seems to get ridiculously shorter as Liam gets older.
Thing is, I was rather determined to stay true to my word this year. Right till 1st week of March, I made no plans and had no birthday party-related discussions whatsoever – which included not confirming a birthday cake slot with my usual cake baker Susanne, which I usually do at least 6 months in advanced (those who’ve ordered cakes from her before will resonate with how tough it is to get a slot!) – that the husband started to ask if I really intended not to have a party.
And it wasn’t just him. Other moms asked the same, including my mom. Another mama friend encouraged me by saying I should, even if it’s a smaller or simple affair. Maybe it was the epiphany I received on my birthday (in Feb) which kept my unwavering heart firm. Or that I was simply exhausted from being an Full time, overworked Mom. Or perhaps my procrastination to plan ahead was really just me being lazy.
But all it took was a simple suggestion from the husband one evening while attending our nephew’s birthday party in early March, that perhaps we could consider having a small and simple party for Liam, to change my mind. I contacted the next go-to baker I knew had a higher possibility of still accepting my custom cake order, and confirmed it with deposit within 2 days . I also quickly secured one of the 2 function rooms at our place just in case. I didn’t have a party plan, but I reckoned we’ll cook some crabs, tom yam soup and pasta, and invite 1-2 families over for what would be potentially the most fuss-free, stress-free and simplest birthday party ever.
And then one night, Liam drew up his birthday party guest list comprising of one name, and asked if I could send an invitation to his BFF. Thankfully, a quick text to her mom confirmed their availability for our “might-happen” party. The next night, he wrote down 2 more names, and then another 4 names on the following night. The final guest list ended up being 9 names long that the first concern on my mind was actually finding a space which big enough to accommodate everyone comfortably.
“Where am I going to host so many people?”, I started to freak out, with slightly more than a week to put something together. I hadn’t even checked if our guests on Liam’s wish list would be free to attend because I didn’t even have any concrete details such as a venue or a time fixed. I was pretty much f**ked, but I didn’t want to let the already-stressed-up husband who just spent close to 6Gs repairing our family car’s aging problems nor the eager-to-celebrate-with-his-5th-birthday-with-his-friends son know. It was something I believed I could manage.
Time to be a “Superhero” mom
It was exactly a week to the party, on a Sunday night, when I decided to get started on party preps despite working with many unknowns. It started with a simple invite based on whatever images I could google and ‘save as’:
The next day, I checked with the condo management staff if the booking for the other function room was cancelled in hopes that I could take over and solve the issue of accommodating all our party guests comfortably. I was however informed that our BBQ area – a very nice, sheltered and usually coveted area with lots of seats, space and ceiling fans – had a cancellation instead, and that it was available for immediate booking. The possibility of having a BBQ birthday party sounded very enticing.
The party planner in me was excited. While most of our adult guests including me and the husband liked the idea of barbecuing seafood and ending our hearty feast with some MSW durians, the mama in me wondered if the kids would get bored. Moreover, the total number of adults outnumbered total number of kids, and to get from BBQ area to the playground, the kids would have to run along the entire stretch of 3 out of 4 pools within the estate. I definitely did not want to risk having anyone accidentally trip and fall into the pool!
With PJ Masks set as the theme for Liam’s 5th Birthday Party (hooray, we finally have a break from trains theme), I was inclined to have obstacle courses, climbing, flying and shielding as thematic activities. However with the current venue and space I had, the best alternative kids entertainment I could think of was to either engage my go-to magician or have Muse Arts engage the kids with relay games, treasure hunt and dance (the kids had so much fun with them on Liam’s 4th and Ollie’s 2nd birthday parties). A quick check with Jac from Muse Arts confirmed their availability and they were happy to get to brainstorming on party games which would suit the theme immediately. Oh what a relief, things were finally looking up and coming together!
Or maybe not.
The next two afternoons of torrential downpour started to pose a concern. I couldn’t shake off the negative gut feeling of “what ifs” and couldn’t bear to have all planning efforts come to nought over something beyond my control. In a heartbeat, I decided to call ‘My Gym’ to inquire on availability and party packages as a back up. I recalled receiving their eDM on party rates with a small discount for members. I also knew it’d be a hit with the kids since Liam and Ollie have always enjoyed their lessons there during their tiny toddler days, plus it’d be absolutely in lined with the PJ Masks theme!
A 10-minute conversation with the staff at My Gym was all it took to impress upon me how party-experienced and party-ready they were. I was asked to provide some details in order to allow the party specialists come up with customized activities that would be thematic and age-appropriate. Parents could choose to join in or take a break while their kids indulged in an hour of non-stop fun. Not only did I not have to worry about the erratic weather, risking getting anyone sick, I didn’t have to worry about logistics and space – the party package included EXCLUSIVE use of My Gym which meant we had the place to ourselves! At this point, it was rather clear which venue would give me a peace of mind + guaranteed fun.
I started sending invites on Thursday night and Friday morning, and was grateful that most replied that they’ll be coming to show their love and support despite how haphazard and disorganized my party planning skills looked yet again.
“What? Why? I don’t want!!!” was Liam’s first response when informed about the change of party venue from our Barbecue area to My Gym.
“Why is it at YOUR gym huh, mommy? It’s MY birthday”, he continued.
“Err cause mama is scared it might rain. And if it rains, you and the other kids got to sit and eat and can’t run about to the playground and all…”, I explained.
“I don’t want it at YOUR gym. No Mommy’s Gym. I want it at MY gym!” said soon-to-be five year old
Party Preps and DIY Projects
As always, I took a day off from work to run all party errands on the eve of party day. While I was relieved that the party management would be outsourced to My Gym, there was a fair bit to do on the decor side of things. My first priority was to work on a backdrop for the cake cutting especially after seeing that the current background of where the cake table would be placed was a notice board of announcements and photos. I was not in time to design and print a banner, and so I decided to make my very own PJ Masks Cityscape backdrop.
What I didn’t anticipate however, was how long a simple looking backdrop would actually take to complete! After 3.5 hours of drawing outlines and pasting tiny bits of yellow construction paper, my helper’s and my fingers were wrinkled with glue, and our eyes dry and tired. Still, my helper insisted on cutting out a number ‘5’ just so that we could paste it on one of the buildings to make give it context and make it meaningful (also one of the many reasons why we love her so much).
It was almost midnight when we were near completion only to realize that we didn’t even have Liam’s name up there…uh-oh.
Since PJ Masks was not a readily available party theme in Singapore, including Qoo10 and Carousell, we had to resort to creating themed party elements from scratch. To me, buntings are one of the easiest way to set a party mood and bring out a theme. Thanks to free printables available online (you can easily search for them online or at their official website), we were able to create our very own PJ Masks buntings.
It was only when I posted this photo up on Instagram (@so.nattyb) that I realized I missed out on one character – the ninja – when one of my friends commented. Uh-oh. Good thing Liam wasn’t too bothered by ‘missing ninja’ when I came up with the reason that I thought ‘Romeo’ and ‘Luna Girl’ were his 2 preferred villains.
You can see how the PJ Masks bunting which we made the theme pop out even more. Everything else was decorated by My Gym.
With dark clouds looming just 2 hours before party time, I was thankful with the decision to host the party indoors.
Having host so many parties at home and outside, the great thing about having it outside is that there is ready help from start to finish. From the moment I stepped into My Gym, the self-initiated staff/teachers were efficient in unpacking and placing all items at their respective areas. My 4-5 big bags of party preps were emptied and neatly packed aside within 20 minutes. One of the party specialists then talk me through the Games & Fun which they’ve planned for the party: there was going to be a warm up activity, superhero obstacle training course, a superhero attack, a supercharge something, Liam was going to be seated and carried in a special “carriage” and it would end off with some “superhero flying”. Gosh, it sounded like a lot of fun. I knew our little superheroes were in for a good time!
While waiting for more little superheroes to arrive, kids and adults were welcome to play and hang out at the gym. Liam was so excited and kept asking me to join him inside for some fun, but I had a cake table to set-up.
For the first time, we didn’t have a dessert table at our party. This was going to be my simplest cake/dessert table set-up yet. All I had was a customized birthday cake and some customized and really delicious cookies which I was blessed enough to have Phay Shing bake a small batch for me after not being able secure a slot with her for the last 2 parties. Initially I was worried about the table being too ’empty’, without my usual display of customized macarons, popcorn and lemon meringue tartlets. However after setting up, I realized that going simple also gave more focus to whatever was displayed.
Back at the gym area, it was time to kick off FUN AND GAMES ! The birthday boy got to go first for all activities and it was quite a sight to behold, seeing how eager, competitive yet encouraging and supportive the kids were as they egged each other on. The superhero camaraderie was evident throughout the party.
Although the brief to My Gym was to plan for age-appropriate activities for kids 5 to 8 years old, I was happy to see that smaller play zones surrounding the main play area were catered for the 4 years and below to have some fun and still be a part of the party.
Ollie looking disoriented here having just woken up from his afternoon nap.
Fun, Games and the Flying Fox!
The energy from the activities session was upbeat and electrifying. It was madness in a good sense, seeing so many kids all high from adrenaline and excitement and still eager to participate in the next activity. And for that, I have enthusiastic and amiable party specialists to thank – Teacher Khai & Teacher Ting.
Fly, little Superheroes, fly
Thanks to the flexibility of the staff and understanding that Ollie was still in a relatively grumpy mood having just woke up from his nap, the ‘Flying Fox’ or Superhero flying activity was brought forward instead to give Ollie some time to warm up prior to group photo-taking and cake cutting. Liam liked the ‘Flying Fox’ activity so much, he went on it twice!
As if our dear little birthday boy didn’t already feel special enough being surrounded with friends he wanted, to celebrate his 5th birthday with him, My Gym had a special segment which made him feel so loved and gave him so much of attention! Of course mama here also had to use this moment to coerced him to don on a ‘Catboy’ costume for posterity’s sake.
It was Pinata time and hilarious and it was hilarious watching the kids hit the pinata with all their might, over and over again! Most of the kids lined up again to hit twice, but still, the pinata wouldn’t budge! Thank goodness I remembered to fill it with a variety of sweets and chocolates this time round too.
The pinata still wouldn’t let out any sweets. And so the husband decided to take matters into his hands one more time…
And it worked!!!
Ollie refused to let go of the sweet treats he “caught”!
Oh what an hour of fun it sure was!
But of course, I had to insist on a mandatory group photo of all our superheroes, big and small, too!
A PJ Masks Birthday Cake for the 5-year-old
But of course, I had to get the birthday boy a customized PJ Masks birthday cake in his favourite strawberry shortcake flavour! I loved how beautiful the cake from Cloud 9 turned out, and so did the birthday boy. Taste wise, it was a hit with everyone as well! We only had 3 slices to bring home for our own consumption (helper, me and the husband), and it was finished within the night.
3 out of 4 family members smiling for the cam was the best I could get and I’d take it. At 2.5 years old, Ollie rarely smiles for the camera anymore!
Food wise, because I was so last minute and also because it was a relatively cozy party with only 20 kids, I had the helper cook her signature chicken wings and ordered home-cooked corn rice, beef rendang and chicken curry along with Liam’s favourite food which I reckon was a hit with the rest of the kids too: pizzas, nuggets, sausages. I was also thankful that my guests suggested to bring easy-to-manage food and that they were okay not drinking our helper’s signature spicy soup or eating chilli crabs (next round okay?).
For goodie bags, I wanted to get the kids books. But with time not on my side, I decided to keep it simple with generic items such as a bubbles wand, a watergame, a custom made PJ mask and wristband set (kids could choose from the 3 characters).
Keeping the party small also allowed the kids to get to know each other better, and adults to mingle and catch up in between. A friend commented that she felt like she was attending a relative’s party because of its relaxed vibes and coziness, I was glad that despite the last minuteness, we did manage to achieve keeping the party intimate after all.
As I didn’t have the time to look for a professional photographer to help take photos as per past birthday parties, I just want to say THANK YOU to the kind friends (LY, Mabel) who allowed me to be cheapskate and volunteered to not only help take most of the party photos but also edit them because you’re aware that I’ve no editing skills whatsoever except for the filter apps in my iPhone.
Also to May for loaning your camera for moments when I didn’t trust my iPhone to take decent shots (which was 75% of the time) and also helping to take over when needed, and having the photos edited within 3 hours (you’re nuts to have that much of energy to edit after an evening of partying!).
Taking photos of excited, boisterous kids running about in a huge space was absolutely challenging. On hindsight, I would have preferred to leave this task in the hands of professional party photographer who would not only have the required equipment to manage indoor photography and unabashedly ask for photo bombers to get out of the way, just to get the best angles instead of stressing friends out while they could have relaxed for a good hour and have uninterrupted conversations with other adults. But a party regardless how extravagant or shabbily set up will never be as enjoyable and memorable as the company that help make it. And for this, the sweetest memories have got to be how blessed I am to have such lovely, accommodating friends who don’t hesitate to help and show their support whenever needed.
Thank you again, photographer-mamas for taking on this tedious task which I truly and sincerely appreciate.
HAPPY 5th BIRTHDAY, “CAT-BOY” LIAM
“I am so happy mommy! I really enjoyed myself at YOUR Gym, mommy! Mommy’s Gym is very nice!”, was the first thing my newly minted 5-year-old burst out loud the moment we packed everything into the car post-party.
Liam, our dearest superhero, it made mama’s heart full (of contentment, love and joy) seeing you have a really enjoyable time celebrating with friends you’ve grown closer to, and hearing what you just said. Most times I berate myself for not holding back my tongue and lashing out at you too quickly for fear of being judged, yet I’m often humbled by how much your love for me outweighs whatever anger you have from my foolishness.
Me and your papa are so proud of you. We may chide you, usually out of worry that your confidence might evolve to arrogance, but at the same time we never fail to talk about how you seem to amaze us time and again be it through the way you infer and observe things, how quickly you pick new things up when given the “right” encouragement, or even through feedback given by your teacher.
Just the other day when I wanted to surprise you with yet another train ride (knowing how much you enjoy going on train rides), you responded “I went in the morning already. You can take Ollie instead in the evening because he didn’t get to go on the train in the morning.” It left me speechless because as much as you can’t help but annoy your little brother from time to time over toys and sometimes due to his insistence of wanting whatever you have (don’t worry, we know), you do have a spot for your brother Ollie, to the extent of sharing your most favourite activity willingly.
And the questions you ask. Such as asking me if “Chinese Garden” station was so named because they only speak Chinese and the station looks like a Chinese Garden. Or what’s the Malay or Tamil and sometimes Chinese pronunciation of certain MRT stations whenever you come across their train station signs, just so that you can know how to pronounce them. Or why we can only have a cake cutting celebration with your classmates at a certain time when it’s your special day (shouldn’t you then be able to say what time you want cake cutting to be done? I’ve since explained to you because I don’t own the school therefore I did not make up the school guidelines).
5 years have passed since you first made me a mom. And for that, I’m ever grateful to God for a wonderful pregnancy and a healthy baby. You made motherhood easy for me even during times when I was terribly hard on myself, and because of that, it just seems that you’ve grown incredibly fast. Because of you, I constantly remind myself to keep healthy. Because of you, I remind myself that family takes a bigger priority than work and it deserves more than just 30 uninterrupted minutes (although it’s not easy). Because of you, I’m motivated to be kind and loving first, be more God fearing, and not be tempted by the vanities of life. Because of you, I’ve started to listen with my heart a lot more.
It’s been 5 wonderful years, watching you grow and I can’t wait to learn more about you (and myself) in the many years ahead. I probably don’t say it enough but you mean a lot to us. We love you so much, Liam. Please always remember that.
Happy 5th Birthday.
Venue: My Gym (I took the basic package, members get additional discount)
Customized cookies which were hand drawn and tasted delicious: Phay Shing / Loving Creations for You
Liam’s PJ Masks tee: gifted by an ex-client-turned-friend (ping me if you want her contact)
Birthday Cake: Cloud 9 (you can find them on Facebook)
As always, feel free to email me if you’ve further questions on how I put together this party and/or pulled this off in under 5 days