Birthday tea party becomes a family affair

Recently our family planned my daughter Elizabeth's seventh birthday party. Whether it was the influence of "Alice in Wonderland," "My Fair Lady," or her love of cookies, the theme for her party was a formal tea.

The challenge for Mimi, my wife, and me was how to fill an hour-and-a-half with activities to entertain 10 active, fun-loving young girls, and make the event special.

In the 1990s, the easy way out is to hire a clown or magician, or travel to an indoor entertainment center, or pizza place. After receiving a $175 quote for refreshments, Mimi and I looked at each another and decided to rely on our own creativity.

Before bedtime, the invitation for Duchess Elizabeth's Tea had been designed on the word processor. With the help of Amy Vanderbilt, whose expertise had not been consulted since our wedding, the prose was drafted and the invitation crafted to our daughter's approval. Next, some colored paper was found and 10 invitations were printed. By next morning they were in the mail. In two weeks, guests were expected at the "castle" to dine with the duchess in their finest regalia.

Now the wheels of imagination began to spin in order to transform our home to the appropriate setting.

My tuxedo came out of moth balls for butler Thomas's attire. Soon our older daughter's best friend was recruited to serve as an additional maid, and the friend's mother quickly joined in the fun to be Lady Eleanor, a special guest of the duchess. My wife was destined to be the cook, and we all learned the history of the tea party and the appropriate manner in which to respond to a bell.

Finally the day arrived. As butler Thomas, I welcomed the girls to the duchess's formal affair. Each one beamed as I guided her to the dinning room to join the duchess.

Soon the whispers turned to laughter and then to whispers again. Squeals greeted each "servant" who responded to the duchess's ring. Lemonade was on hand for those not interested in herbal tea, and each place setting had a menu that included everything from cookies to cream puffs, clairs to cake. Ten little girls were smiling angels in the created, civilized world of the formal tea party.

A '90s birthday party isn't complete without goodie bags. In keeping with the theme, herbal tea and small pies were included, and the girls decorated mirrors with plastic pearls. What lady-in-waiting doesn't need a vanity mirror?

Within minutes of the last guest's departure, my tie was off. Formal dresses and aprons went back into the closet. My daughters ran outside; and all was easy and successful.

The costs incurred were minimal, the enthusiasm of the participants could not be bought, and the importance of our family's involvement in Elizabeth's birthday has yet to be measured.

A month later, I saw a friend in town, and he said, "I understand that you had quite a birthday party." I was caught off guard. He continued, "Hannah said the tea party was great; she couldn't stop talking about it."

That evening, I related my story to Elizabeth, the duchess. She smiled broadly, and said simply, "that's nice." The smile told more than the words, and the time we took as a family was valued more than the money we spent.

Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.

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