When my son started elementary school, he had a dream of inviting his entire class to his birthday party. Luckily, it was a small class — but not small enough that we could host the party at our home, so we booked the party room at a local wildlife rescue museum.
One of the first things you learn when planning a party at a rental location is that the guest count is not unlimited. Far from it, in fact. Most offer different package tiers, and as the guest limit increases with each, so does the price. Regardless of what package you choose, there is never an “unlimited” option.
We made our guest list accounting for each child to attend with a parent or guardian and kept the total slightly under the limit “just in case.” But as the RSVPs started rolling in, we quickly found ourselves already over the limit while there were still about 20 percent of invitees yet to respond. People were RSVPing for both parents and siblings, and one family even added visiting grandparents to their headcount.
What. The. F*ck.
I couldn’t bring myself to do anything about it. We were only weeks into the school year and I’d never even interacted with most of these people. I certainly didn’t want our first encounter to be an awkward one. Besides, I had just assumed the RSVPs would be for one adult and child and wasn’t exactly specific about not adding guests. Oh, and I hate confrontation.
The party itself brought even more surprises when guests who had RSVP’d for one child showed up with two and three kids or a second parent. Not only was my venue count off, we came close to running out of food. I chalked it up to a rookie mistake and paid the overage fee at the venue.
“This always happens with kid parties,” one of my friends told me. “It’s how I ended up paying hundreds of extra dollars at Chuck E. Cheese. You have to make it very clear if people can’t bring siblings, neighbors, pets, whatever. Either have the party at a park and let everyone show up, or spell it out on the invitation in no uncertain terms.”
The next year I did just that. I said the venue had a guest limit, but I’d be happy to let any interested parents know if we found ourselves with open spots. I gave myself a pat on the back for being direct yet diplomatic and considered the problem solved.
Several people once again RSVPed beyond the scope of the invitation and others showed up with surprise guests — though fewer than the previous year. I suppose this was progress? I also received texts from two different parents asking if their other children could be included only if we had cancellations, and another who asked if she could either pay for or just bring along her toddler daughter because her husband would be out of town and she had no childcare.
I understood those requests. I appreciated that communication. It was the replies with guest counts higher than my child’s age and no explanation that left me baffled.
Look, I really don’t feel there is anything malicious driving these extra people to show up. I can’t imagine anyone waking up one day and thinking, “Gee, I wish there was a way I could wreak havoc when Becky throws her son’s next birthday party!” There’s a good chance people don’t know about guest limits or average fees unless they themselves have hosted a party like it; I sure didn’t.
Next year I plan to do things differently.
Instead of leaving it at “no siblings,” I have to remember that some parents can’t bring the invited child without their other kids and address that in a positive way. Yes, it’s perfectly fair of me to let guests know that while siblings are welcome; they might not be able to join in some of the activities. But I can also go to my local dollar store to buy coloring books and crayons, and encourage parents to bring a tablet or activity for entertainment. It reinforces that yes, they are welcome; no, they might not be able to participate in everything; but we can find something else for them to do.
I can also just suck it up and directly contact anyone who sent an RSVP for three kids, two nephews, and their neighbor’s foreign exchange student. If I could get over my hatred of confrontation, I’d probably save myself a lot of cash and trouble.
Luckily, I have eight months until my son’s next birthday party. Wish me luck.
Becky Vieira has been wearing mom jeans since 2016. She writes for a variety of parenting outlets, and can often be found oversharing intimate details of her life on Instagram. She’s immensely proud of the time she thought to pee in one of her son’s diapers while stuck in her car, as opposed to her pants.
Vieira’s debut book: Enough About the Baby: A Brutally Honest Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood is a guide book for women who recognize the necessity of self-care—even if sometimes the rest of the world does not. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, son, dog, three cats and a partridge in a pear tree.