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How to Survive the Preschool Birthday Party Circuit

Photograph by Twenty20

Preschool is a precious time and the kids are adorable, but underneath all that cuteness lies a whole heap of trouble for moms. Cute outfits come home destroyed by "washable" paint. Cute kids come home carrying lice, pink eye or hand foot and mouth disease. And cute invitations arrive for the children's birthday parties that will consume every one of your weekends for the foreseeable future.

Why so many parties? Well, preschools tend to encourage you to invite the whole class, so nobody feels left out. After all, 4-year-olds are not known for their discretion. Add in a few neighbor kids and before you know it, your entire social life revolves around children's birthday parties. I remember one unfortunate weekend, my husband and I escorted our kid to overlapping shindigs on Saturday, only to wake up on Sunday and do it again. It was like Groundhog Day, except instead of Bill Murray learning to play the piano, we were learning to hate birthday cake.

Trust me, moms, you don't want to burn out, and you don't want to hate cake. So here are some tips for making the preschool birthday party circuit as painless as possible:

1. Have a Signature Gift

Don't waste precious mom brainpower thinking up a new gift for every kid. Choose an age-appropriate game, toy or book that's within your budget and stash a dozen of them in your closet. Now you're always ready to party.

2. Set up a Gift Wrap Station

Candy Spelling (Tori's mom) famously had an entire room in her mansion devoted to gift wrapping, but a shelf in the garage is just as good. My station includes wrapping paper (I love the no-tear, stretchy gift wrap from The Container Store), tissue and ribbon for odd-sized items, scissors and tape. I also stock cute "To/From" stickers, which I like better than cards because they're easy and won't get accidentally separated from the gift.

If you want to stash an airplane-sized bottle of vodka in there to mix with Mommy's juice box, I won't tell anyone.

3. Pack a Bag

Birthday parties may be only two to three hours long, but a lot can go wrong. Tote essentials like hand sanitizer, sunscreen, Band-Aids and extra undies. And if you want to stash an airplane-sized bottle of vodka in there to mix with Mommy's juice box, I won't tell anyone.

4. Eat Before You Go

Once they go into the bounce house, good luck getting them out to eat lunch. Snack on something healthy at home before the party and you'll feel better about all the cake. And cookies. And lollipops.

5. Dress Casual

You may be tempted to wear a cute new outfit—after all, it's a party—but that is just asking for it. And by "it," I mean pink frosted hand prints on your boobs.

6. Hold the Goody Bag Hostage

After the sugar crash from the cake, it can be nearly impossible to motivate your preschooler to leave the party and walk nicely to the car, so you're going to need a little incentive. Intercept the goody bag and refuse to hand it over until your munchkin is safely buckled into his car seat, where he can enjoy some cheap plastic junk all the way home.

7. Say No with Grace

Not only is it OK to pass on the occasional party, it's probably necessary for your sanity. But make sure to RSVP "no" promptly (clicking "maybe" on an Evite is just rude). And keep your explanation simple. "Sorry we can't make it" should suffice. It's extra classy to drop off a small gift later, say, at school, even if you can't attend.

8. Don't Have a Party for Your Own Kid

OK I'm totally kidding about this. Maybe. Do whatever you want. But after a dozen or so identical pizza parties, you will be begging your child to opt out. And she will overrule you. Happy Birthday.