You wouldn't be clicking on this post if you didn't already know that Star Wars Lego is wayyyy second-quarter 2011 and the ninja Lego who practice a precise and ancient plastic craft called Spinjitsu are totally au courant kiddie toy. If you haven't heard the name "Ninjago" 400 times in the last day-and-a-half, then I commend you on your finely honed parental ignoring skills or you can expect it to come in 3...2...
There was no contest what the theme of this year's birthday party would be. Or there wasn't after we decided Lil E's party would once again be held at his Tae Kwon Do studio, and after I (apparently ignorantly) suggested we somehow weave together Star Wars battles and martial arts to make some kind of killer intergalactic seventh birthday celebration.
We let a few weeks of burgeoning toy obsessions and well-placed pajama and video games licensing go boil up, and finally, a ninja theme and specifically, NINJAGO!!! was the obvious selection.
I'm not sure if Lil E loves most that these Lego minimen (and one pretty badass sister who I am just going to pretend gets to do more than just tag along with her brother, main character Kai) do martial arts in the name of good, that they are advised by the wise counsel of a fumanchu-ed sensei my child swears looks just like his grandfather (it is sort of a good call), or that they all wield dangerous weapons while spinning around on a plastic top contraption that creates an imaginary tornado of doom around themselves.
It matters not. The kid is in love. And so we turned the time-honored and coded traditions of Tae Kwon Do into a giant commercial for the first-grade demographic. [Every last drop of Ninjagoodness is after the jump. I promise.]
I consulted blogs (here's one with cute ideas that will make you inspired/cry/throw your grocery store cookies at the wall and here's one that's more realistic). I dreamed of having the time and grace to make delicious "sushi" appetizers out of rice krispies and Swedish fish wrapped with fruit roll-up strips like this delightfully crafty mama did. I considered cake pops and even sketched out an alternative -- wrapping lollipops in paper versions of the Ninjago Lego head. But then, as the day neared and I became more concerned about actually throwing the party rather than just envisioning perfection that might someday appear on the pages of some Real Simple Lego Parties special edition magazine, I turned my party planning over to Amazon and eBay.
Oh, who am I kidding? We can do a theme party right. Sure, the veggies are from a giant grocery store tray and the crafts were put together in the wee hours of the morn, but we do see a theme through. And when my therapist laughed after I relayed some of the details of the day and said, "Ohhhh, your son really does love a theme," I know she knew it was me who was more worried about how Lego-ed up this mothah was than the kid blowing out the spinjitsu sparkler candles. It wasn't too crazy, wasn't too expensive, wasn't sanity-zapping and wasn't treat-sushified. But it was fun and the kids had a blast and everyone went home exhausted and smiling.
While I love a row of favors lined up on tables as guests are greeted and beautifully hand-decorated invitations with nary a stray Sharpie mark, I love the grin that does not go away on my son's face more. I love the sound of he and his friends cheering wildly and the click of cameras as parents watch their children doing jump kicks to beat down the pinata (ohhhh, you didn't realize a pinata was Ninjago, hmmm? you have much to learn, grasshopper).
That was this day, the one where not-so stealth six- and seven-year olds became masters of their art while a cardboard-and-streamer-wrapped fictional plastic ninja guy filled with candy and Halloween erasers and dollar-store treasures waved his approval over them on the mat. Here's how we hosted Lil E's Ninjago seventh birthday party:
Lil E made the invitations, filling a page of plain white copy paper with his version of a big ol' Ninjago throw-down. I put marker to paper and envelope to write out little things like names and the address of the studio in the corners around Sensei Wu and whatnot. I opted to hand out invitations to parents on the playground and stick them in kids' backpacks if their families were not around. This proved to be sort of a fail since once mom didn't discover the invitation until the morning of the party (no worries for me and awesomely quick reaction-time RSVPing and drop-off by her) and at least one other mom never did dig it out of the pit of granola bar crumbs and white gravel rocks that lives in lower two-thirds of every primary school boy's backpack. Next time, maybe (just maybe) I will get it together in time to cull addresses and mail those badboys.
The money item for this theme party was the Ninjago pinata. I hunted and hunted and even considered making my own Lego man head-shaped pinata. And then the gods of eBay blessed me with a Buy It Now! listing that wasn't a million dollars and with some extra rosaries to the blessed birthday saints, might just arrive in time. I hounded that poor eBay seller about when exactly it was shipped, for tracking numbers, and reassurance that it would be on doorstep before the roundhouse kicking was finished. OK, so the seller never responded. Fortunately, it arrived on Friday (Friday!), exactly 24 hours before the party-in' party-in (YEAH!) started.
All that parental panic was worth it. Lil E gasped when he saw it. When I looked closesly while I shoved Dum Dum suckers and glow-in-the-dark witches' fingers inside, I understood why. It was really nicely made. Lucky for Lego us, the front panel survived and shall live out its eternity collecting cobwebs and happy memories, held by a tack on Lil E's bedroom wall.
Next, I called on my good friends (not really) at Amazon (I totally should have some there, though) and ordered my boy an official Ninjago event tee. It was one of his birthday presents, so it served double-duty. He will probably wear it four times a week until he's ten, so it was definitely worth the money.
After that, I waved my hands around in front of the spaced out faces of the ever-stoned customer service people at Party City and somehow conjured up several balloon bouquets in coordinating colors. This was maybe not worth the money since I once again did not opt for that spray stuff they say makes the balloons last a year-and-a-half and ups the price three or ten bucks apparently is now required to get any life out of the balloons. These did their very best to stay afloat throughout the two-hour party and fizzled like a snoring granny in the car on the way home. Ahhh well, what's a party without lifeless balloons?
Then I made a sign. I always make a sign. It's sort of a marker-manic thing I have to do. LIl E always says he wants to help but then cheers me on while doing kid things like playing with the Ninjago set I bought expressly to decorate the cake or sleeping or something.
Speaking of the cake, I did get it from Costco (cue dejected headshake from pastry chef Not Boyfriend). Why? As I told him, because it's $18 dollars of damn good sugar that will make people say, "Is that a Costco cake?! Oh good!" And they did. Without any prompting. Also, because the adults lick all the icing off of their own pieces and then eat the cake left from the pieces that their children did the same and everyone is super happy about that. Finally, there aren't $600 fondant decorations cluttering up the top and my kid can decorate it any old way he wants.
And he did. Mostly just as a ploy to get a few more Ninjago guys. But also maybe so he could diligently make a map of where each of those guys would go on the cake. In the end, he and a friend scattered them about fiercely upon the chocolate-chocolate mousse under-$20 wonder, several partygoing boys stood a-staring for minutes on end at the Lego guys they were ogled like Biggest Loser contestants four weeks in over a bucket of half-the-fat fried chicken. I'm not sure whether the kids wanted to devour the frosting from those Lego figures or they wanted to shove them in their pockets and run, but the same can probably be questioned about the Biggest Loser folks, too. So it's all good. The cake looked adorably "seven-year-old boy" and was almost all gone when we piled everything into the car. That's the sugary happiness I'm talking about.
Next, a team of amazing Tae Kwon Do instructors taught the kids basic moves and stances and made them feel like experts in a very special, fun class. There was a serious tone, but the kids squealed to do an obstacle course, play Tae Kwon Do games, and see how hard they could punch pads. The very best part of all? They all got to break boards.
Finally, the pinata. Don't think it was a big deal? Then you missed the pointed fingers, mouths agape, and shrieks from even the shyest kids when the teacher lowered the Lego ninja down to just within reach. They weren't concered that the rope normally used for pinatas in the studio was holding up the Korean and American flags, so the Ninjago was swinging from an old extension cord lashed to a jump rope. It was all good. The teacher instructed them to use the kicks and hand strikes they'd learned first, and then give the big bamboo (or broomstick, whatever) staff a go to take that ninja down. And wow, did they give it every effort.
Finally, the instructor who has many championships and accolades tucked into that beautifully stitched black belt, heaved three wholloping kicks at the Ninjago and sent candy and other stuff I can only hope parents have already snuck into the trash across the mats. Kids scrambled, filling canvas Tae Kwon Do backpack goodie bags with their very not-Lego and so not-ninja treats.
The kids left sweaty and smiling, especially my own now-seven-year old in the Ninjago tee with the red cheeks, with the overflowing backpack and heart.
Since we held the party at the studio, there was not much clean up. And you know what that means for this theme-kooky mama? As soon as thank you notes are done, I am totally making those fake-shi rice krispie treats.
* Implied Dumbass, particularly as relates to the looks, comments, and gestures children give to well-intentioned but way-off parents.