The Day of the Sparkly Castle

After 19 years of parenting, we hit a first the other day.

We had a princess party. Talk about outside the box.

It’s not that aren’t seasoned party planners. We’ve pulled off scores of successful birthdays over the years, but they’ve all been for our boys. At times, various pint-sized pirates, cowboys, and superheroes have bounded through our house. Those parties were high-energy – even rowdy at times. They were nothing like Grace’s party.

The first clue our boys had that this birthday bash would be different came as we gathered the night before to make a castle. Since they were included in the planning for the first time, they were eager to help. When they found me cutting a door into the side of a small refrigerator box, I’m sure they had visions of catapults laying siege to the tower, held by a few valiant knights – or some other epic story that could be transformed into a typical Van Patter party game with flying beanbags.

Then they saw the purple and blue paper for the castle stones. One of them muttered a long, dubious, “O-kay,” as if the brawny action hero in his mental movie had just been replaced with a ballerina. The silver garland sealed it: Grace had asked for a whole new kind of party.

Paradigm shifts can be tough. It’s hard to replace an entrenched mental image. But to their credit, our boys adjusted quickly. They cut, stapled, and glued with vigor. And during the party, our middle son, Nate, even manned the puppet Dragon of the Sparkly Castle without a hint of scariness or danger in his character’s voice. That dragon was suitably sweet and silly.

The party was a huge success. Though at one point, dainty five-year-old girls in elegant dresses sat nibbling their chicken nuggets so quietly, we had to ask if everything was all right. “Oh yes,” they answered. “We’re having fun.”

Later, however, we did have a game where the princesses had to throw beanbags at the dragon to show that they could be brave. We all cheered for every thunk on the puppet’s noggin, accompanied by comic groans from Nate.

Chucking stuff. Even for a creative family, some old habits die hard.

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2005 Bruce Van Patter