A Super Awesome Birthday Recap (Also: My Firstborn is 12!?)

It still feels a bit surreal that Abby is 12. (This is mostly a jaw-dropping reality because it means that this time next year she will be a teenager. Fellow parents, HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN TO OUR BABIES?!)

Party planning is not one of my superpowers; it should be telling that right after Abby’s party finished, a friend made a point of specifically congratulating me on “surviving another party.”

While I used to genuinely dread kid parties (mostly because parents stayed in those early years and it felt completely overwhelming to juggle the needs of kids and adults), it is definitely much easier – not to mention more fun – as the kids get older.

BIG vs. Little

I talked about our party cycle in more detail here but in short: our kids rotate between “big” (6-8 friends) and “little” (2-3 friends) parties. I think this may be our last year of making this distinction but, technically, this was Abby’s “big” year.

She invited 6 friends (we set the cap at 6 after Levi’s birthday party went slightly off the rails from the chaos of 8), but 1 friend was still away on March Break. I found 5 friends + Abby to be the perfect number. Enough kids to make group games fun and competitive, but everyone got to shine and participate equally.


I am still in love with last year’s party – where Abby and her friends actually baked the cake as part of the party itinerary – but this year was pretty awesome, too.

Abby requested cake pops.

Full disclosure: until last weekend I had never even eaten a cake pop, let alone made a cake pop. I debated outsourcing this to a local cafe, but Abby was adamant we make them together.

They were absolutely delicious and pretty darn cute if I say so myself. But don’t let these pictures fool you – the prep work was complete and utter chaos.

I don’t have in-progress pictures because my hands were covered in chocolate and every dish in the kitchen was dirty; the floor was covered in sprinkles and my stomach was hurting from eating wayyy too many candy melts. I scoured the internet for recipes and how-tos and everything looked SO clean in all the prep pictures!

This was a lie.

Take it from me: chances are very good that if you make homemade cake pops your kitchen will look like something straight out of a culinary crime scene.

But we finished, the cake pops were adorable, and I think they’re a wonderful option for birthdays because:

  1. They are so much cleaner than cakes/cupcakes! Since you mix the crumbled cake with icing to form a smooth textured ball – almost like a truffle – there were no giant chunks of cake to fall on the floor and no gobs of icing smeared all over the table.
  2. Portion control! I hate, hate, hate throwing away giant pieces of cake (kids always ask for big pieces and then eat like two bites – except my kids; they will ask for a giant slice, eat it all, and then ask for another slice). Cake pops are small and, in our case, completely eliminated waste. A few guests wanted two, but everyone finished what they started.
  3. Cake pops are delicious! Not too sweet and a great contrast of soft/crunchy with the velvety cake interior and the firm outer chocolate shell.

So despite the gong show that was preparation (I learned a lot and the process would be much easier another time), I thought this ended up being a major win.


This year Abby was determined to have a prize section – her creative vision was to create a carnival atmosphere. She and John trudged to the DollarStore to find various and sundry things for a prize bin.

Their prize haul – spoiler alert: the candy was the first thing to go!

Here are the games we played:

Doodling! While waiting for the final guests to arrive, we doodled on brown paper I had taped to the tabletop. (Note: we ran out of the white paper roll from IKEA that I used at Levi’s party; I definitely recommend the white paper over brown as the marker colours show up more vividly. But the kids didn’t seem to care and it was a great way to keep people occupied during gaps in guest arrival.)

Just One. We played this game while waiting for the final guest to arrive. One person goes out of the room and the remaining players brainstorm a word collectively (in the example above: dinosaur), and then each secretly write one word to describe the noun of choice. If a word appears twice, it cancels out – so you want something obvious…but not obvious enough that everyone else is going to choose the same word. This game is a crowd-pleaser and Abby’s friends really enjoyed it.

Treasure Hunt. We do a candy hunt at every single birthday party and it is always the star of the show. This year Abby wanted Hershey’s Kisses and Jolly Ranchers (individually wrapped candy is a must). John and Levi hid the candies in specific rooms upstairs and down. I divided the girls into two groups of three and assigned each group a floor. After 2 minutes, we switched who was upstairs and who was down. (The person who found the most candy got to pick a prize).

Left-Right. I described how to play this game here. Once again, I wrote a script that included lots of the words Left and Right. Each girl picked a sealed gift bag and traded them back and forth when they heard the word Left (hand your bag to the left) and Right (hand your bag to the right). Hilariously, the girls all ended up with the exact bag they had chosen at the beginning of the game.

Kids tiptoeing back and forth between their chosen corners.

Four Corners. We labeled each corner of the room with a number and 1 person stood in the middle of the room and counted to 10 with their eyes closed while the rest of the players dispersed to the corner of their choice. The counter then announced a number (1 – 4), and whoever was in the corner called was out of the game. We did about 5 rounds of this, and the winner of each round got to pick a prize.

Musical Chairs. This is an old classic, but it’s a favourite for a reason. The kids loved it! There was lots of laughing and yelling and rushing and arguing over who had commandeered more butt space on a chair. Again, the winner of each round got a prize.

Yes, those are leftover plates from Valentine’s!

Stickers. Before the party, I put a sticker on the bottom of one of our dining room chairs and on the bottom of one of the paper plates. While we ate cake and snacks (literally just Abby’s favourite chips + juice boxes), I told people to check their plates/chairs and the random “winners” got to choose a prize.

A very intense round of Scattergories!

Scattergories. We finished the party off by playing Scattergories. This was a lot of fun, and the creative answers kids come up with continue to blow me away!

party miscellany

  • We didn’t do formal “treat” bags because the kids won prizes. While I think it was more expensive to do it this way, I fully appreciate how nice it was for kids to be able to make their own decisions about what they wanted!
  • I had the party run from 2-4 pm. Two hours appears to be the magic length for an at-home party. We fit everything in, and there was no dead-air time to fill.
  • I kept decorations to a bare minimum. I opted to blow up balloons and just leave them lying around. No stringing them up anymore – kids want to have access to play with them. In addition to the balloons, I put up a birthday banner and…that was it!
  • I organized a walk with my best friend for 4:30 pm (stay tuned – she’s guest posting tomorrow!) which was a great way to decompress, even though this was likely the least stressful kid birthday party to date.
  • We didn’t do candles. Oops. That’s an issue with cake pops. Abby didn’t seem to mind.
  • The last few years one of my Mom traditions (the groans on this just keep getting louder) is to have Abby get in individual pictures with each of her friends + do a fun group picture. They all complain vociferously, but Abby sure does enjoy lingering over her birthday party pictures in our annual photobook…

birthday miscellany

  • I made pancakes on Sunday morning (her actual birthday). Per tradition, I created pancakes in the shape of her age. My “1” was acceptable; my “2” looked like a very ill and/or partially decapitated snake. One child couldn’t resist making a comment, but certainly enjoyed eating the pancakes regardless of their artistic merit.
  • We went out for a birthday supper. We don’t eat out as a family unit very often, but our favourite restaurant (Swiss Chalet) is a go-to for birthdays. My parents joined us.
  • Gifts were simple; some oven-bake polymer clay (technically I bought this for Christmas 2021, ended up saving it for Christmas 2022…and got around to giving it to her for Birthday 2023), I wrapped up a little can of Pringles (handed out to John on a plane ride), a Babysitter’s Club book I found at a thrift store, some place cards (she loves to create place cards when we have company and we found some cute ones at a DollarStore in Rome) and a little scratch art kit. Her main “gift” is redoing her bedroom. Nothing has been touched in this space since we bought our house and it is in serious need of fresh paint, along with some drywall repair. Hopefully, the baseboards/drywall will get done in the next few months, and then we’ll source a paint colour and some new and/or thrifted art and curtains.

And that’s a wrap on the birthday shenanigans in our house. The days can be long, but boy howdy the years are short.

Your turn. Have you hosted a child’s birthday party recently? Any favourite games or hints about making it relaxed and fun! Have you ever made cake pops? If so, did it render your kitchen a complete and utter mess?

Header photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash

34 thoughts on “A Super Awesome Birthday Recap (Also: My Firstborn is 12!?)”

  1. Happy birthday, Abby!

    We spent an hour this weekend planning T’s 6th birthday. Which isn’t until August, but kid is decisive. He wants a How to Train Your Dragon/Viking party.

    I got some paper mache eggs from the easter section at the craft store and we can paint dragon eggs, and maybe make cardboard shields? Make your own pizza, play, and watch the film with popcorn.

    We had an enormous party last year – 16 kids. It was the weekend before school started and we had expected his city nursery pals wouldn’t make the trek to the country but I think they viewed it as the last hurrah before all the children headed to their seperate schools? So everyone came and stayed! I ran out of cake b/c I expected the parents’ to mostly drop off.

    1. My kids love How to Train Your Dragon. What a fun party theme. And brilliant to get supplies now.

      When the kids were younger, parents definitely seemed to stay and I found that so stressful!

  2. Congratulations (and Happy Birthday to Abby!). This party sounds AMAZING. Yes, kids love to play games and get little prizes. I’m impressed that you organized all the games. For the last several birthday parties we haven’t had any organized activities, which stresses me out a little. For the last one I insisted on having a rock painting table, which everyone did participate in. I’m always worried they’ll be bored with not enough to do, but as they get older they seem more able to entertain themselves.
    The cake pops are so cute!!!!! I’ve never made those, but I’m thinking I’ll have to for the next special occasion. i know my daughter would love them.
    Yes- my first though, even before I started reading this post, was “Next year she’ll be a teenager!” (Ack! Slow down, time!)

    1. These games are pretty standard (well, aside from Four Corners – this was the first year I’ve known about that game), but the girls all seemed to enjoy them!

      Rock painting sounds very fun. Her birthday falls at a hard time in the year; Abby’s very first party was outdoors, but ever since it has been inside. The weather is just too variable at this point in the year in Canada.

      I was really happy with how the cake pops turned out; I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I agreed to them. It was nice that we could make these up a day in advance, so the day of her party I just pulled them out of the fridge.

  3. The party looks fantastic! Great job! Those are some really good game ideas and when you are feeling a moment of mom guilt you need to read your blog and look at the memory building efforts you really do.
    I did some full class invite parties when the kids were younger. 16 to 18 kids was way too much. I am not a party planner at all. Before the pandemic I did a few years of them (after the all invite parties) of going to venues and had more around 10 kids. It can be really pricey though. It’s been a mixup of different things in the last few years.
    I very rarely bake a cake and it became tradition that the kids wanted DQ ice cream cake. I do not argue with that. My daughter actually doesn’t like cake or cupcakes so it works well.

    1. Ha! It is a lot of effort, but totally worth it for the memories it provides the kids and their friends.

      I think we’ve maxed at 10 (a skating party). But I prefer at-home, small-group parties. This year she had asked to go back to the hotel pool with a waterslide that we did for her 8th birthday. But you couldn’t guarantee a booking and I couldn’t handle the thought of having to make a last-minute pivot the day of the party to have it at our house. Levi has only had at-home parties, but Abby has had a paint-your-own-pottery, a skating party, and hotel pool/waterslide/hot tub party. They were great, but more exhausting in some way?!

      My kids don’t like ice cream cakes?! I would love to buy a DQ cake…Abby had a cookie cake (chocolate chip) two years in a row which was great. NO icing and minimal work for sure.

  4. That party looks like a lot of fun and I love a get together where people play games; that is right up my alley! I don’t remember having group birthdays when I was a kid, but I could just be misremembering. However, I feel like maybe we did more “small” parties than “big” ones.

    Cake pops! Yes, I have made them. Personally I am not really a dessert person, or at least definitely not a cake person but my best friend is not only a sweet lover but also a lover of cutsie, labor intensive desserts. She dragged me into cake pop making hell more than once and I have to say that if I never have to make another cake pop in my life, I would not be unhappy. Having said that, they really are cute and to be honest the amount of work vs the impressiveness of a non sheet pan cake is actually pretty balanced. But give me chips and dip for my party over cake ANY DAY.

    1. I always had little parties just like this growing up; 5-6 friends, games my Mom organized and a homemade cake. Though I don’t think there were prizes or treat bags back in that era? Or extra snacks. Cake was it!

      I love sweets (and salty stuff, too) and am a big fan of cake. I actually found the cake pops much less sweet than a traditional cake. But they were labour intensive! Other years we’ve served cookies as an option, too, because some kids really don’t like cake.

      1. Cookies are a great idea as they are a lot less work and you can have different kinds so people can have choices. Plus like you said about the cake pops, some people will have just one so you get instant portion control.

        1. Yup! I didn’t serve cookies this year, but many years have had them alongside cake as an option – which a lot of kids go for!

  5. Happy 12th birthday to Abby and happy birth day to you too mom! That party looks so sweet and fun. We are not big on the friend parties so I am in awe of the planning you put into it. I hope your kids know how lucky and loved they are ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Thanks, Colleen!

      Overall the planning was pretty minimal – Abby and John got prizes, John and Levi hid the candy, and I mostly just structured the how/when of things. It was a fun time, but I’m always happy when the party is behind me…

  6. Happy birthday to your big little girl!!!

    I haaaaaate birthday parties. All the planning and the stress of dealing with preparations and having people in my space — no thank you. Let’s see, my kid’s birthday is at the end of June… should I start stressing about it now? Maybe I will wait until April. In any even, I am bookmarking this post — ALL your ideas are great, from the cap on attendees to the games to the untethered balloons. It makes having an in-home party sound almost manageable! (I have so far preferred to have parties in venues that we can LEAVE.)

    While your cake pops are ADORABLE, I cannot stand them. My kid loves them, though, so perhaps it would be a fun project for us to do in advance of her birthday. So many great ideas in this post!

    1. Big little girl is right. She’ll always be my “little” girl, but it won’t be long before we’re able to share clothes!! How does this happen?

      Ha! I also used to dread parties for months. I find it so much less pressurized now that the kids are older, mostly because parties are all drop-off now. I felt like I had to plan two parties before when the parents stayed.

      We’ve done the venue thing three times and while they were great in that season, I found them to be just as exhausting (albeit less messy because we could pay a cleaning fee and walk away). Lugging decorations and food etc elsewhere – ugh. When our kids have a little year it’s even easier, because I just make a favourite meal and don’t really organize much for games.

      For me, I think the 2 hours is key, too. I MUST REMEMBER THIS FOR ALL FUTURE BIRTHDAY’s. It’s always best to leave a party when you’re still having fun, and two hours mostly ensures this will happen.

      I had never had a cake pop until last Friday and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I don’t think it compares to a really great slice of decadent cake, but there were some distinct advantages to serving the sweet portion of the party in this form!

  7. Happy Birthday, Abby! Sounds like the perfect party. I also love Swiss Chalet and am still sad the one that was in Buffalo closed. I get my chalet-sauce fix whenever we visit Canada, though.

    1. Thanks – and this is so interesting. My parents were asking if Swiss Chalet exists outside of Canada and I didn’t think so. But I guess there used to be one in Buffalo!

      Swiss Chalet is our favourite spot – Quarter Chicken Dinner White…with fries on the side because they make the BEST fries. My husband LOVES, LOVES, LOVES the sauce, but I’m not a huge fan and usually opt for plum sauce which makes me feel like I am about 5 years old ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. I think candles should be done with. Forever. I have never liked the idea of people blowing out the candles and spitting all over cake we’re about to eat, but since COVID, I am utterly befuddled that this was ever a thing we did. Let’s all agree that if we NEED candles, we should have a cake (no candles) and ONE cupcake and we’ll put the candles on the cupcake and let birthday celebrant blow out candles on that and then they can eat the cupcake and the rest of us can get unadulterated/non-spit on cake? Deal? WHO’S WITH ME, REST OF THE WORLD? (In-laws. Ahem.)

    This sounds like a wonderful party and I bet Abby and her friends loved every second of it? How much does Abby help in planning? It looks like she got the prizes, but did she help plan the games and activities?

    1. Agreed! The whole premise of blowing out candles on shared food IS gross!!

      Abby helped a lot in the planning. She chose all the games, printed out numbers for the Four Corners Game, and basically had a hand in everything except hiding the candy and deciding the order of the games. She loves, loves, loves to plan ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Baby Abby is the most adorable thing ever! Happy birthday to Abby and kudos on another fabulous birthday party under your belt!

    1. She was the most squish-able, kissable little toddler/infant imaginable.

      It was a great party (though you know I always heave a sigh of relief when itโ€™s done).

  10. Happy Birthday to Abby! I have no idea why these kids think it’s OK to grow up.
    I never thought too much about cake pops before, but you’re right – single serve and no mess (after they’re cooked anyway). I think you’re on to something.

    1. With most cooking exploits, things either tend to be harder up front or after. Like prepping a chili is messy and takes time, but once it’s done – it’s completely ready aside from simmering. I think the same of cake pops. They were definitely more work than making a cake and doing simple icing decorations. BUT, they were easier day-of in terms of serving it out (also – I didn’t need to serve or cut – the girls just picked the cake pop that suited their fancy).

      I’m not sad it is many months before another kid birthday, but if someone proposes cake pops, I don’t think I would say No.

  11. Happy birthday! I didnโ€™t realize she was really only about a year younger then Asher! I guess I lost track of her age, though this makes sense as she has been looking very grown up in the photos lately. Glad she had a fun party!! I donโ€™t think I have ever hosted a party where we play a bunch of games like that, and I do not think I am cut out for it!!! Hahaha! I am not big into game playing myself, so I would probably be a poor choice to lead that. Maybe itโ€™s a boy thing too- my kids (Fortunately for me!) never asked for that style party specifically. I totally had pretty big parties like that with planned activities etc though as a kid with my friends and it was so very fun!! Sheโ€™ll have wonderful memories. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. This was the sort of birthday party I had growing up; we’ve done a few venue-based parties which were fun but I think just as much work? Lugging food and cake and gifts and coordinating rides etc. Now that the kids are older and have a smaller group of friends (vs. preschool era where invites tended to be broader), I think it’s easier overall for me to host at home?

      Either way, I’m always VERY happy when I have a kid party in my rear-view mirror. They’re fun and I’m glad the kids get to experience the fun of a party…but they tire me out!

  12. Happy belated birthday to your sweet girl! Her party sounded fabulous and those cake pops look amazing! We are not big fans of cake in our house so I’ve never made them and don’t know that I ever will… I had a friend who is very very very good at making cake pops so I’d probably pay her to make them instead of having to do it myself. We generally stick w/ cookie cakes which is pretty easy peasy!

    So far I’ve only hosted family birthday parties which tend to be pretty low key. Paul will have his first friend birthday party in may but it’s very low key – we just go to a park and bring a birthday treat. He wants to bring donuts. But I imagine by next year he’ll want a more traditional birthday party. He went to a cool party in December – the birthday boy had 3 friends over and they all worked on a small lego set together. It was Paul’s first experience with lego sets and he loved it!

    1. Thanks, Lisa! It was a great – yet simple – special day for Abby.

      I love the donuts at a park idea. Putting together a LEGO set sounds amazing. On our kids “small” years we host kids for a meal and I basically don’t organize anything. It’s just a chance to hang out.

  13. What a fun party!! Happy birthday to Abby. Doesn’t 12 seem SO GROWN UP? The cake pops are darling– now I really want to make them with the kids. Unfortch, Jack is up next and insists on a super high maintenance cheesecake, but maybe I’ll try them for Minnie’s family party– so fun! And thanks for the warning about the mess LOL.

    1. 12 seems SO grown up. And next year = teens? What? How? Oh my goodness I am NOT READY FOR THE DRAMA.

      I’m with Jack on the cheesecake; that’s my favourite birthday treat.

      Highly recommend the cake pops. I know you really enjoy baking, so I think this would 100% be your jam. And would these not be the cutest thing ever for a Minnie party. You can get glitter sprinkles! Different colours! So many possibilities.

  14. Happy birthday to your girl! This party sounds AMAZING. Like, I would 100% enjoy all of this for my birthday party this year as a full-grown adult. Hahaha.

    I have never made cake pops, but I LOVE THEM! I usually get them from Starbucks on a whim, and I imagine homemade ones would taste even better. One year, one of my mom’s coworkers made me egg-free cookie dough pops that were so good, and I have wanted to figure out how to make them myself ever since!

    We play Scattegories a lot on our family game nights, and I’ve always been so impressed by the answers my nephews give!

    1. It made me smile so big to read your comment, Stephany! For some reason the thought that an adult would enjoy a party like this made me very happy <3

      The cake pops were so good. I was shocked by home much I enjoyed them, actually. And they were messy and a lot of work, but I do think that after doing it once, things would go more smoothly another time.

      I LOVE cookie dough and making those into pops would be so good.

      Scattergories is a lot of fun. I love how quickly the game moves and how much room there is for creativity. It's still tough for Levi - he has a hard time keeping up, but in a few years I think it will be a great game for the whole family.

  15. Happy (very belated) birthday, Abby, and happy day-you-became-a-mom, Elisabeth. I’m astonished at how grown-up Abby looks! Wow. If time flies for those of us outside your life… I can’t imagine the time warp you are experiencing!
    You created a wonderful celebration for your favorite girl, and it shows! Even though you say it was relatively simple (HAAAAAAAAA), you found activities that all would enjoy, you facilitated movement through the activities, and you. made. it. all. happen. That is a lot! I know I would crumble in the face of having to do this annually… it’s probably a good thing that I never became a mother. ๐Ÿ™‚
    I am trying to remember my later-years birthday parties, and coming up mostly blank other than sleepovers. Those were common. The one that stands out is my 16th birthday party, for which my parents (who have never understood my extreme introversion) threw me a surprise party. Clearly done out of love, and those invited were my closest HS friends. But oh, in hindsight? How I hated being the center of attention. I think it was less prominent then, my need to fade into the background (I’ve definitely become more introvert-y as I’ve aged), but I still remember not enjoying it as much as I thought I *should*. You know your kiddos and it shows. <3

    1. Thanks, Anne! Time does fly – and then other days it feels like it’s going backward. Parenting and watching kids grow is quite something!!!

      It was such a fun party and she really loved it and her friends were all lovely and enthusiastic. And TWO HOURS WAS THE PERFECT AMOUNT OF TIME. I’m writing this in all caps so I don’t forget again next year!

      I had a few sleepovers, but my friends always wanted to stay up late and talk and I’d end up in tears because I was so tired. Haha! An introvert that has high sleep needs isn’t exactly a winning combination for a wild sleepover ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Happy belated birthday to Abby. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you how this happens that kids get older, but I am shocked all over again that my niece and nephew are 14 and 13 now. Definitely not the little kids I remember.

    It sounds like you pulled off a great party!

    P.S. We played Just One with my family when I was in Germany. So fun!

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