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The Foolproof Birthday Party Guide

Photograph by Getty Images

They're not going away. In fact, they're getting bigger, stronger and multiplying. I'm not talking about the new strain of lice, I'm talking birthday parties. If a weekend isn't hijacked by two birthdays per day that means I've forgotten to RSVP. It's a parental right of passage to navigate the invitations, the RSVPs, the present shopping, the thank you notes, the coordinating, and the inevitable tears. So where's the handbook?

Right here. I've come up with my own way to negotiate the kid event madness that can only be a prelude to the bar mitzvah years.

1. Have a separate wall calendar for birthdays and keep it next to your regular calendar. Wasteful? I think not. Just the extra effort you make in creating a birthday calendar will ensure those dates will be seen and remembered. If you forget to look at your wall calendar, I'm sorry I can't help you.

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2. Empower your kids with decision making. Discuss the calendar with the kids and grab a Sharpie and make big overlapping circles when there are two in one day. Announce, "See how they are squeezed up against each other?" and open up a discussion about how they suggest going to both. You will, of course, steer this conversation in the direction of "this can't happen." Now, pick the cooler parents who will have better food and go to that one. Your kids will think it was their decision.

3. Buy Ahead. Hop on Amazon or—even better—wait for one of those amazing sales at an online toy store and buy 20 presents at once so you can enjoy the free shipping! Think of all the last minute anxiety, schlepping and horrible wrapping-while-driving you just spared yourself. Not to mention the lives saved. Never wrap and drive!

4. Never fail gifts: For 2- to 4-year-olds, get an art supply kit. You cannot go wrong with art supplies. There's also a gold star from the parents for that one. So if you don't like the parents, be sure to buy noisy, battery operated talking toys and "accidentally" forget the batteries. You will never be invited to their home again.

For 4-to 8-year olds the break down by gender looks like this: Boys, Star Wars anything. Don't fight the force. It's not going way. Girls, "The Doll" of the moment. I know, I know. This is where Darwin prevails so give in and get it right. If you are fully committed to going gender neutral, another big hit is always LEGOS. Even if you're getting a gender specific vibe for a party, you can set back feminism a few years and give the good people of LEGO your money for their new girl-centric sets.

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Lucky for you, once the kids start getting older the parties start getting fewer and further between. At least until that previously mentioned bar and bat mitzvah year. Also, drop-offs start happening, so the free time you gain during the birthday party madness makes any inconvenience so totally worth it. TOTALLY.

So that's the easy part. Now, let's hyperventilate over throwing your own kid birthday party!

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