Double Digits Toil and Trouble

Do these ridiculous themed birthdays for a decade or more and eventually somebody will come up with one you like.

My kids alternate who gets to have a big “theme” birthday party. The other kid gets to do a special friend/family activity of their choosing. This year, Silas wanted his friend Max to join us for an evening at the water park. That was fun. But not nearly as fun as Petra’s birthday party idea…It had a lot of names, but for now, let’s just go with… the Scottish birthday.

Before I get too deep into this, I have to say, I do these things because I enjoy them. Putting on events like this, especially since I have contrived to do them only once per year, is fun for me. If you invite my kid to your kid’s party and the theme is “birthday,” that is also totally cool. There’s a lot of stuff better parents do for and/or to their children that I don’t because they don’t spark joy for me. This one, though, is pretty joyful.

It all started, as so many things did, back at the beginning of the Pandemic. As a joke, I laminated the “Lady Mackers washes her hands” poster that was going around and hung it by the bathroom sink.

A handwashing instructions poster, with lines from Lady M's "out damned spot" monologue accompanying them.

Around that time, Mya Gosling, of Good Tickle Brain, offered an online comics class. I signed the kids up because, what else were they going do to do with their time?

Kids enjoying a class on drawing Shakespeare comics.

The kids enjoyed the class (and Mya) so much that I got on the internet and ordered all of the Good Tickle Brain material available at that time. This included all of Shakespeare’s plays in three panels each, and the stick figure versions of Midsummer, Romeo & Juliet, and Macbeth.

Although we all thought all of these were pretty great, Petra became kind of obsessed with the Macbeth one. She memorized all the footnotes, to the extent that sometimes she’d call for me in the middle of the night, and I’d rush to her room thinking something was terribly wrong, and she’d say, “Did you know Lady Macbeth’s real name was ‘Gruoch’?”

Macbeth became sort of a theme for the pandemic. The kids memorized “Double double, toil and trouble”  (Random adult: “Oh, your mother directs Shakespeare? That’s nice. Do you know any Shakespeare?” Silas: “Yes, but I don’t feel like doing it right now. Would you like to hear some Middleton instead?”). When we finally got to see an in-person show again, the first one we saw was Macbeth at the American Shakespeare Center. They loved it.

So when Petra started musing on this as a potential birthday party theme, it wasn’t exactly a surprise…but it was a definite delight.

When I sent out the invitations, I included a link to a short video recap of the play, in case Petra’s friends were less familiar with that material than she was. People seemed game for the whole thing, including Bethany’s sister’s kids, who didn’t know us, didn’t know Shakespeare, and had never been to a party quite like this before.

Other than a game Petra had devised (“Scottish Battle,” a variant on “Life and Death in the Forest” wherein thanes, knights, peasants, witches, and ghosts all vie for position in the kingdom), most of the “theme” for this party was atmospheric. That worked fine for me. I’ve discovered in recent years that when I plan a bunch of party activities, the kids really just want to run around in the woods and yell and wave sticks about, so it becomes a bunch of wasted effort.

Petra was very clear about what she wanted for a cake: A very pretty Costco bakery cake, looking all nice and normal, with a dagger stabbed in the middle and “blood” dripping everywhere. This was by far the easiest cake decorating experience I’ve ever had, and it came out looking pretty good, if I may say so myself.

We also went out in the late fall fields and forests, collecting any plant life we thought the witches would use to make a bouquet. I was happy enough with how that turned out that I did it a few more times afterward, just for every-day decoration.

We also had Petra’s birthday card from my mom, which fit perfectly.

We made a fire out back and set up a witches’ brew (cider) in the “cauldron.” The kitchen smelled like a campfire every time we used that Dutch oven for the next month.

Outdoor fire with steaming cauldron

Petra wanted us to have some bamboo to let the kids be Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane. No idea how much anyone understood the context, but they sure enjoyed waving the greenery around.

And, of course, we had the bubble machine out, and the swing, and general shenanigans…

Far and away the real hit of the party, though, was Nina, whom we hired to come do wound makeup and make everyone look like they’d been in a battle to the death. Nina did some of the effects makeup for Give Us Good at Silk Moth (in addition to being in it), so I knew it would look cool. I had no idea how cool (or how disturbing…I promise, none of these children are hurt at all).

The kids stood in line waiting for their turn with Nina (Some of them colored Macbeth paper dolls while they waited—thanks, Grammy!). They sat still while Nina applied latex and paint and then proudly found their parents to show off their gore. They looked terrible, by which I mean amazing.

This was a pretty wild time. In some ways, it was the simplest of the parties we’ve done (we didn’t have to build a set). In others, it was the most complex (special effects makeup!). I will say, I rarely have enjoyed a theme this much.

Petra’s choice of party theme felt like a gift to me. 😀 And she genuinely had a great time. My one regret is that I didn’t get a picture of her godfather, who showed up in an authentic kilt!


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