A few weeks back, my friend Emily* and I stopped at her niece's eighth birthday party on our way to Denver. This wasn't your basic eat cake and pin the tail on the donkey party. No, this was something more akin to what Disney and Martha Stewart might put on were they owners of a party planning service. The theme: Willy Wonka.
The invitation to the party was a rewrapped candy bar. Inside, a ticket made with gold foil announced the address: "Wonka's Chocolate Factory." When we arrived, the house, a lovely and spacious abode located just south of Denver, was decorated as close to the real chocolate factory as a suburban house can get without actually being in Wonka Land.
We were greeted by the birthday girl dressed in a black top hat, a purplish coat and white gloves. On the wall behind her, on a large white poster board, was a sign that read, "The Chocolate Factory." A mix of chocolate kisses and hard candies were glued down to spell out the words.
Just beyond the sign was the family room, where a bulk of the partying was to take place. Brown crepe paper covered most the walls. Assorted candy bars were taped to the paper. In one corner, there was a small tree made out of green construction paper, with Hershey's kisses glued to its "leaves." In the other corner of the room, somebody went nuts making a garden of giant colored suckers and 3-foot-tall candy canes. And in the middle of the room was an enormous box painted pink with gumdrops, Skittles and other small candies glued over every square inch.
"That's my boat," the birthday girl explained. "Wanna ride in it?"
Beyond the family room was the kitchen -- aka, the "Inventing Room" -- where all sorts of utensils, candies, ingredients and baking sheets were set out. Emily's sister, Andrea*, explained that this is where the kids would "get to be creative with their candy ideas."
An hour later, the party was in full swing, with 12 kids and a shitload of candy on hand. After a boat ride, we played a game called the "chocolate puzzle."
Everybody got a brightly colored plastic bowl, containing a plain chocolate bar, that had been meticulously cut into puzzle pieces. The first one to put together their puzzle won a prize. Shelly* won a candy necklace and a giant, handcrafted wooden candy cane, spray-painted gold and wrapped in red and green ribbon. When everyone finished, we ate our puzzles.
By then, the kids had been eating candy for over an hour, and it was beginning to show. The birthday girl was madly twirling around the room in circles, chasing her friends with Shelly's prize candy cane. Another girl was jumping in the boat, trying to break through the bottom and "sink it."
Emily and I decided it was a good time to cut out. Things were getting intense, and the party was moving into the "inventing room." There's no telling what would happen in there.
Amazingly, this whole event was planned and executed by one person, though I found out later that the idea came from a book of theme parties for kids called Storybook Parties (Meadowbrook Press; Minnetonka, Minn.). Written by Liya Lev Oertel and Penny Warner, two women who're either insane or very bored, the book suggests 45 theme parties. (Substitute, um, adult games, for the children's games and you'd have yourself one hell of a party.)
When I went to say goodbye to Andrea, I expected to find her curled up in a corner somewhere -- either that or her head spinning Exorcist-style. But instead, she was hand-mixing cake batter at warp speed, zipping around the table from child to child, plopping dollops of batter onto their mini baking sheets.
"Thankyousomuchforcoming.Ihope-youhadagoodtime.Takesomecandywithyou ..." she said.
Andrea's probably got some karma coming back to her. As brilliant and as artful as the party was (though the phrase "more dollars than sense" comes to mind), feeding kids sugar for three hours and then sending them home may be grounds for a lawsuit. At least she has a glass elevator in which to escape.
*Names changed to protect the innocent
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