My first child's first birthday was celebrated in a public park across the street from our house. We served Sara Lee frozen cupcakes and apple juice, which most of the guests drank out of their bottles. The entertainment consisted of watching the guests smear themselves with chocolate icing. The whole affair cost about $3.
Kids learn fast, however. After the age of one they're more savvy. Why settle frozen cupcakes it you can get an edible portrait of Raggedy Ann from the Watergate Pastry Shop? And kids keep acquiring friends, all of whom seem to have birthday parties and have to be invited to your kid's parties.
If you were foresighted enough to have given birth during the school year, you can always just bring some cupcakes and party hats to your child's classroom and call it a party. But then you'll miss all the fun of throwing the kind of birthday party you always dreamed about when you were a kid. For some ideas to help you plan it, here are some places that are ready to respond to your child's wildest (well, maybe not the wildest birthday-party dreams.
SAVE YOUR BREATH - Joe Del Vecchio, who says he's a fourth-generation balloon man, will deliver helium-filled balloons, the only kind kids really like, to your door. Inside the Beltway, two dozen delivered balloons in your choice of colors cost $17.99. Weekends, holidays, and evenings, there is a minimum of four dozen, which cost $24.99. For a slight extra charge you can have the ballons imprinted with "happy birthday" or tied with ribbon streamers instead of string. Call 785-1290.
PUT IT ON ICE - The Fairfax Ice Arena lets kids under 12 skate free every year on their birthday. Call in advance (323-1131) to reserve the party room. It's B.Y.O. cake and ice cream, and a refrigerator is available. Guests other than the birthday kid get a 50 cent discount on the normal admission charge, provided there are at least ten kids in the party.
GET IT ON THE TRACKS - The yellow-and-red B & O caboose adjoining the Baltimore & Ohio Line's Ellicott City Railroad Station Museum can be reserved for children's parties. Call 301/461-1944.
BOWL THEM OVER - You can't strike out with a party at a bowling alley. Fontana's Bowlaroma in Silver Spring, for example, provides tables for ice cream and cake, plus all the games you can afford. On weekday afternoons, the charge is 75 cents per game per child, plus 30 cents for bowling shoes. Reserve lanes in advance by calling 439-1731.
PINBALL AND PIZZA - Introduce your kid to the Georgetown party circuit by celebrating the birthday at Gunchers, 3402 M Street. Gunchers will set up a party in the back room where the pinball machines and vintage games like mechanical fortune-tellers and strength-tester hold sway. For kids, the most popular game is the "claw" in which, for a nickel a player-operated claw will snare a prize that's worth almost a nickel. Kids can order pizza, hamburgers or, at brunchtime, Belgian waffles. The management will order you a cake from the Watergate pastry shop and, best of all, promises that no one will mind if you sedate yourself with martinis at the bar while the kids run wild.
WHERE ARE THE CLOWNS? - In the Yellow Pages, under E for "Entertainers." Some of them hang out with magicians, cowboys and ventriloquists at Magical Productions Limited in Mount Rainer. Benny the Magic Clown will entertain for 30 minutes for $35.Wayne the Wizard will give a 30-minute magic show with a giveway to each guest for $50. Cowboy Wimpy will tell tall tales and teach kids how to lasso for $50, while Artie Freda will make a dummy named Luigi talk for $50. Phone number for all: 779-2655.
BORN TO PRESTIDIGITATE - Stan Dubow, son of the Al who runs Al's Magic Shop, carries on the family tradition by performing at parties,. Things change color, doves vanish and rabbits comes out of hats. The stress is on audience particpation, according to Dubow, who charges $40 for half an* hour of illusion. Call him at Al's: 638-4241.
ROLL'EM - For $26, you can turn ten kids loose at a Wheel-Awhile skating Rink. The price includes a birthday cake, soft drink, and rental skates for each child for an afternoon. THe birthday child gets the floor to his or herself as the music plays "happy birthday." To arrange a party at rinks in Seabrook, Waldorf, Pasadena, Laurel, Rockville, or Franconia, call 577-8889.
TOUCH BUT DON'T EAT - The Capital Children's Museum, a treasure trove of musical instruments to play, giant Lincoln Logs, to put together and costumes to try on, is open for parties during certain times when the museum is closed to the public. An hour of fun, supervised by the staff, plus a special gift (one kid got a real police hat) costs $44.50. You'll have to adjourn elsewhere for ice cream and cake, however. Phone: MET-KIDS.
LET THEM EAT CREPES - La Crepe Suzette will send two chefs in Broton costume to your party with a small French stove. Before your guests' very eyes the two will turn eggs, flour, and other mundane ingredients into exotic crepes. The chage runs from $5.50 to $8.50 per person, depending on what kind of crepes you order, and there is a 30-person minimum. Call 337-5320 and ask them to send you a menu.
Local Talent - Neighborhood kids, naturally, come cheaper than professional magicians, Danny "The Great" Galper, for example, an 11-year-old Capitol Hill boy, will gave a 45-minute magic show and fashion balloon animals for your guests for $8.00. Danny (phone: 543-394) is geographically limited to wherever his mother is willing to drive him, however. Consult bulletin boards in stores or community centers for the young magician nearest your home.
THAT'S THE SPIRIT - To get to the roller rink, museum, or other party site, you could just pile the guests into station wagons. Or, you could charter The Spirit of '76, a bright red double decker bus. Complete with the driver and seats for 50 or more, it rents for $25 per hour. There is a four hour minimum,including an hour of getting-back-to the-garage time. If you have $100 to spend, call 441-9201.
GET A HORSE - Better still, a string of ponies. Lux Riding Stables in Lanham will deliver saddled ponies anywhere in the metropolitan area. Charge is $7 per hour per pony, plus a $25 to $50 delivery charge. Call 390-9897.
NOT SO LITTLE RED WAGON - An old-fashioned pushcart full of popcorn can be delivered to your house and picked up empty of course. The charge is $125 and the number to call is 971-8666.
EAT YOUR SAILBOAT, DEAR - Jayne Bridge Taylor normally caters to an adult, Embassy Row clientele. But nostalgia for her English girlhood inspired her to design a party for discriminating kids. For $3.75 per person with a 15-person minimum, she'll deliver open-face sandwiches in the form of toy soldiers, flowers, sailboats, faces, trains, pinwheels, and cars. The cake will also take the form of a sailboat, train, doll, or almost anything else that tickles your child's fancy. Ring Ms. Taylor up at 544-6197.
HAVE PUPPETS, WILL TRAVEL - The Blue Sky Puppet Theatre has a portable stage guaranteed to fit into any house or apartment. The versatile puppeteers - two of them - warm up the audience by playing the guitar, mandolin and flute, and by juggling and conducting a singalong. The puppet show plus warm-up takes about 45 minutes and costs $45. Call 927-5599 and if a puppet answers leave a message. (If you have a daughter nearing the age where you may have to throw her the ultimate party, The Blue Sky Puppet Theatre also plays weddings. They usually do a variation on the drog prince theme where the bride turns into a frog for the sake of compatiblity with the groom.)
JUST THE ICING PLEASE - There's nothing like a cake your mother makes, unless it's a cake adorned with Mickey Mouse and his friends. Smitty's Bake Shop at 1123 Pennsylvania Avenue, S. E. will provide a Mickey Mouse cake for 20 kids with Happy Birthday, So-and-So written on it for $12.50. If you're having a small party you may want to buy a cake mix and a decorating kit and let the guests to it themselves.
FRANCHISE FEASTS - Many Shakeys, MacDonalds, Scoops, Baskin and Robbins and other franchise outfits will arrange birthday parties on their premises. Arrangement vary from store to store, so check your local.
A PROPER SETTING - The Washington Dolls House and Toy Museum, a townhouse crammed with Victorian dollhouses and antique toys, will put on a party for a minimum of eight children. Ice cream, cakes, and punch are served by proper waitress in a proper turn-of-the-century costume. Old toys, such as a performing bear, are wound up to provide entertainment. The cost is $6.00 per guest and arrangements should be made well in advance by calling 244-0024.
OKAY, BREAK IT UP - Pinatas provide an outlet for kids' non-creative energies as well as an intercultural experience. For $150, Norris Party Bazaar in Wheaton will get you a pinata about the size of a nine-year-old child. If you're afraid you'll broke filing it with goodies, they have smaller ones - for $8.95 and up.
NO RAINDANCES, PLEASE - Area parks provide picnic tables and built in entertainment and may save your dining room rug. At Wheaton Regional Park, for example, picnic tables are available on a first-come basis. Rides on the kid-sized train cost 35 cents, but free attractions include farm animals and spectacular play equipment.
WHO INVITED HIM? - The Pet-A-Pet Farm will bring an elephant to your party for a minimum charge of $450, provided you have a large yard. A camel will attend for $250 while smaller animals, such as Ilamas, go for about $75. A whole petting zoo with about 30 animals will be transported to your yard for $75. It's cheaper to take the party to the farm, where elephant rides, camel rides, and picnic tables are available. Call759-3636 to arrange group rates.