Name: Sam (5)
Location: Highland Park, Illinois
When I asked my son Sam what kind of fifth birthday party he wanted, he didn't miss a beat before requesting a picnic with family and friends at Ravinia. A local institution and America's oldest outdoor music festival, Ravinia is a short walk from our house and the summer home to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. My children labor under the misconception that it's also our summer home, and with 36 acres and amazing music, we could certainly do worse.
We love it there, and even though I was intimidated by the prospect of throwing a kids' party at an outdoor concert, we decided to give our boy what he wanted.
We looked at the Ravinia schedule and chose a concert; the annual Tchaikovsky Spectacular is a family friendly event that concludes with the 1812 Overture, complete with live cannons. Throwing a party for 30 at an outdoor venue is akin to throwing a house party, except you can't stage everything the night before and you're trying to set up your stuff along with thousands of other people on the lawn. Arriving with a tarp, blankets, camping chairs, tables, appetizers, watermelon, cupcakes, beverages (water for all, wine for grownups), a borrowed cart, a red wagon, and three kids in tow, getting into the venue was a little rough but we set up quickly and were able to relax as our guests streamed in. My in-laws picked up dinner en route to the concert, ordered from the catering menu of a local Middle Eastern restaurant.
We added a personal touch to the store-bought cupcakes with Tchaikovsky cupcake toppers, borrowing an illustrated image from one of Sam's favorite books, Listen to the Birds. Even though the concert was kid-friendly, Ravinia still employs professional "shushers" who walk around with signs saying "Quiet Please" during all CSO concerts. We brought some quiet party toys that would be fun for the kids: streamer wands for little conductors, bubbles, and LED finger flashlights made for a good time and some beautiful visuals in the early evening. The night before the concert I got lazy-crafty (that's how I roll), personalizing Contigo kids' water bottles from Costco with permanent self stick letters for functional favors.
It was a fun, relaxed celebration, exactly what Sam wanted. The icing on the proverbial cake (or the frosting on the Tchaikovksy cupcake) was when a friend with ties to the festival surprised Sam with an invitation backstage after the concert, where he mingled with the conductor and musicians, and had the opportunity to stand onstage.
My strong preference has always been for party venues where staff assist with the heavy lifting (jump places, the community pool, park district facilities), but this party was my son's brainchild and it exceeded all of our expectations. We celebrated at his happy place, surrounded by beloved family and dear friends. Good call, kid. Happy birthday, mommy loves you.
(Images: Roni Shapira Ben-Yoseph, friends and family)