How children’s birthday parties have changed | Wender Mind Kids

ajc-burgerMenu-background

And we served slices of decorated (and often themed) cakes. I remember a Batman cake, a baseball cake (complete with little player figures), and a princess cake.

Sometimes, however, the party venues, particularly the bowling alleys, would provide their own catering (again, usually pizza), which was generally pretty decent fare. The exception was those cardboard-like slices at Chuck E. Cheese. Leslie and I both remember them as being awful, but the 5 year old didn’t seem to notice.

Leslie described the scene there as “chaotic,” though the kids generally enjoyed all of the noisy, animatronic activities — except for a trembling little girl who sat on my lap for much of the party after being traumatized by the eponymous giant rodent running around. Our daughter Olivia was doing better, but when I recently asked her if she was scared of Chuck E., she replied, “I think I was a little scared.”

Olivia King recalls being “a little” scared of the giant mouse of the same name while celebrating her fifth birthday at Chuck E. Cheese. (Courtesy of the King family)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Olivia King recalls being “a little” scared of the giant mouse of the same name while celebrating her fifth birthday at Chuck E. Cheese. (Courtesy of the King family)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

She played more games and won winning tickets. “When you collect enough tickets, you can choose a toy,” she said.

Olivia also enjoyed the rides and “the ball pit was fun. You could bury yourself in plastic balls and no one could see you.”

I shudder now at what could have been about those eggs, but it was a simpler time.

Olivia’s older brother, Bill, also did the ball pit and slid down various tubes and slides when he had one of his first birthday parties at a McDonald’s playground in Sandy Springs.

Other venues for birthday parties during his freshman years included the Midtown Bowl and SciTrek, the children’s science and technology museum formerly located adjacent to the Atlanta Civic Center.

School trips and birthday parties were commonplace in the 1990s at Atlanta’s SciTrek children’s science museum, which had exhibits like this “plasma walk” featuring electricity. (AJC file photo)

Credit: Special

School trips and birthday parties were commonplace in the 1990s at Atlanta's SciTrek children's science museum, which had exhibits like this

Credit: Special

School trips and birthday parties were commonplace in the 1990s at Atlanta’s SciTrek children’s science museum, which had exhibits like this “plasma walk” featuring electricity. (AJC file photo)

Credit: Special

Credit: Special

For Olivia’s craft-focused sixth birthday, we rented an activity space at a nearby YWCA. “I remember putting the tail on the donkey,” she said, “and we lay down, outlined each other on paper, and then decorated it. And we made crowns to wear.” She also remembers the pink Barbie plates on which the pizza and princess cake were served.

One of young Bill’s most memorable parties was his eighth at Challenges, an arcade in North DeKalb Mall. Party-goers were given long lines of tickets to play the many classic arcade video games. A few arcade staff thankfully helped the kids play while I mostly tried to make sure we didn’t lose anyone.

Our son remembers Challenges as “a pretty legendary place” and a great party place. “Arcade video games were a big, big thing back then.”

Young Bill King plays an arcade video game during his eighth birthday party at Challenges at North DeKalb Mall. (Courtesy of the King family)

Credit: Handout

Young Bill King plays an arcade video game during his eighth birthday party at Challenges at North DeKalb Mall.  (Courtesy of the King family)

Credit: Handout

Young Bill King plays an arcade video game during his eighth birthday party at Challenges at North DeKalb Mall. (Courtesy of the King family)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

After the game, the Challenges crew served pizza and coke in the mall’s food court, and we brought the baseball cake.

But even more popular were the parties we rented our neighborhood pool for. “Swim parties were always the best,” recalls young Bill.

We couldn’t do the outdoor pool parties for Olivia since her birthday is in March, but we did do a couple at the Decatur-DeKalb family’s YMCA. She said there was something special about throwing a pool party “when it was still winter.”

Olivia King rides a ‘kite’ during her fifth birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese in Norcross. (Courtesy of the King family)

Credit: Handout

Olivia King rides a 'kite' during her fifth birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese in Norcross.  (Courtesy of the King family)

Credit: Handout

Olivia King rides a ‘kite’ during her fifth birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese in Norcross. (Courtesy of the King family)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

As for our son’s pool parties, there was a grill next to the covered picnic tables, so I channeled my dad and grilled hot dogs. And since there was at least one vegetarian in Bill’s class, those grilled dogs included late ’90s vegetarian dogs, which presented a challenge for the grill master — they tended to shrink pretty quickly when the heat was too hot, and they were gummy, otherwise.

(At a school event where similar meatless sausages were served, another parent asked, “What do you dress a vegetarian dog like?” She took a bite, then answered herself, “LOTS of mustard and ketchup!”)

As Olivia got older, fewer children attended the parties. One year, Leslie took her and some friends to a pottery workshop in Decatur, where they each chose a pot, painted it, and glazed it before eating pizza. A week later, after firing, the pots were ready.

Olivia King and guests at her eighth birthday party enjoy pizza at Suburban Lanes, a former bowling alley in Decatur. (Courtesy of the King family)

Credit: Handout

Olivia King and guests at her eighth birthday party enjoy pizza at Suburban Lanes, a former bowling alley in Decatur.  (Courtesy of the King family)

Credit: Handout

Olivia King and guests at her eighth birthday party enjoy pizza at Suburban Lanes, a former bowling alley in Decatur. (Courtesy of the King family)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

And, Olivia recalled, “One year Mom took me and some friends to the movies and to dinner.” The movie was Vin Diesel in The Pacifier (there weren’t any good movies that week!), but the food at the Raging Burrito in Decatur was a hit.

Olivia celebrated her 18th birthday on a trip to Disney World with her two best friends. She had to wear a special birthday button for “all the characters and workers to wish me a happy birthday”. They had lunch at a Moroccan restaurant in EPCOT.

One of Olivia King’s most memorable birthdays was her 18th, which was celebrated at Disney World in Orlando. (Courtesy of Olivia King)

Credit: Handout

One of Olivia King's most memorable birthdays was her 18th, which was celebrated at Disney World in Orlando.  (Courtesy of Olivia King)

Credit: Handout

One of Olivia King’s most memorable birthdays was her 18th, which was celebrated at Disney World in Orlando. (Courtesy of Olivia King)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

I wondered how children’s parties have changed over the years and spoke to several people I know who have young children.

Lauren Pangle, mother of two boys, ages 7 and 3, explained that destination parties are still big, especially at places like Leapin’ Lizards, a popular indoor playground. But, she added, thanks to the pandemic, one of her boys recently threw an old-fashioned backyard party “so we could be outside.”

Local parks have also become popular for outdoor parties in recent years, another parent noted.

Others also said their kids have been to backyard parties recently, but that usually involves renting a bouncy castle or some sort of inflatable water slide. My niece, Caroline Billman, rented a bouncy castle for her son’s second birthday party “and it was a huge hit!”

Jamie Gumbrecht, who has two daughters, ages 7 and 4, said that before the pandemic, “we often ended up partying in the big venues like the Children’s Museum, the Puppet Arts Center, the Zoo, or the Fernbank, or venues like HippoHop.” or even Little Shop of Stories.”

One of her daughters had her last party before the pandemic at her ballet studio, Neighborhood Ballet.

Leslie King serves birthday cake during daughter Olivia’s sixth birthday celebration at the former YWCA on Lawrenceville Highway in Decatur. (Courtesy of the King family)

Credit: Handout

Leslie King serves birthday cake during daughter Olivia's sixth birthday celebration at the former YWCA on Lawrenceville Highway in Decatur.  (Courtesy of the King family)

Credit: Handout

Leslie King serves birthday cake during daughter Olivia’s sixth birthday celebration at the former YWCA on Lawrenceville Highway in Decatur. (Courtesy of the King family)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Snacks are often provided by the venue, she said, but “once in a while there’s a very Pinterest-ish party where someone’s parents go all out with themed snacks. Eventually kids just say ‘fries and sugar please’ even after you’ve done your best to make a unicorn out of carrots and cucumbers.”

Mainly they just want sugar. “My kids will inhale the frosting off a cupcake and give me the rest,” she said.

I asked if anyone still makes Chuck E. Cheese, but no one had in years. Said my niece Caroline, “Too germ even before COVID.”

One thing hasn’t changed: throwing birthday parties is a big challenge for working parents, although kids seem to appreciate it.

It will be interesting to see what kind of parties our 1 year old granddaughter will have as she gets older. But no matter what her parents choose, I bet pizza will be there.

Read more birthday party memories on Bill King’s Quick Cuts blog at billkingquickcuts.wordpress.com. He can be reached at junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

DiscoverOur current favorite dishes in Atlanta

Sign up for the AJC Food and Dining newsletter

Read more stories like this from Like Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebookthe following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.