Somerville, Mass – A few weeks ago, Twin V was having so much fun playing at the park that he didn’t want to go home. He declared that he and his friends were going to camp out. (Which you can do, during the Great Urban Campout, but which we were not going to do that day.) That moment–trying to lure V home from the park–became the inspiration for the twins’ 9th birthday party: a Spooky Backyard Campout.
One of the major accomplishments of this party was setting up four tents in our small urban backyard. Very cozy!
We couldn’t sleep at the park, but we still started our party there, as we don’t have much room for running around. I planned nothing special for the park; I just figured the kids would entertain themselves as usual. But unbeknownst to me (until the last minute), the twins and their friends organized an epic Nerf gun battle that spanned the area of the park. I won’t get into a discussion of my very mixed feelings about gun battles in general or Nerf guns specifically (or the very scary-looking weapons that some of the kids brought). I was just impressed that the kids organized this activity themselves (with a fair amount of yelling but no meltdowns); everybody participated in one way or another (including a few neighbor kids who were not actually invited to the party); and they had a blast for the first 1-2 hours of the party (and the adults had nothing to do with it!).
At dinnertime, I summoned the kids home for grilled hot dogs and lemonade. Easiest party dinner ever. Everybody had to check their weapons at the door.
After that we had a sort of transition time with some indoor activities. The kids could choose between doing silly spooky MadLibs, making Glow-Stick jewelry, or playing One Night Ultimate Werewolf. (The latter is a fantastic game that a mixed-age group can play with minimal adult intervention and kids love it! Everyone should get this game.) These activities kept everybody busy while we cleaned up and served cake.
By now, it was dark out and we were ready for the main event at the Spooky Backyard Campout. Our amazing neighbors had lent us their projector and helped set up for a spooky outdoor movie.
Much to Daddio’s chagrin, we did not screen the ultimate scary camping movie for our audience of nine-year-olds. (The Blair Witch Project. Yeah, no.). Instead, we opted for the part scary, part silly Camp Scare, in hopes that the kids would actually be able to sleep at night. Scooby Doo for the win. The kids loved it. And when it started to rain lightly, we sent them into their tents and kept the film rolling.
After the movie, it was late and the kids were exhausted (we thought). They were well equipped with flashlights and comic books and a few spooky stories. I instructed everybody to stay in their tents and to keep voices down so as not to disturb the neighbors. And I waited for them to fall asleep.
Little did I know that there was an inter-tent contest underway to see who could stay awake the longest. I don’t know who won, but I do know they held out until 2:30 am.
I also know that I heard voices at the crack of dawn (which is about 5:30am at this time of year). I rushed out to tell the kids it was way too early and not to wake up their friends. And suddenly heads popped out of all four tents. Almost everybody was already awake.
We served breakfast (bagles and cream cheese, banana nut muffins, and fruit). And then I was out of things to do. It was 6:30am. The parents were supposed to pick up at 9am. We sent the kids back over to the park, making them promise not to make too much noise.
This was the point that I sent out a text to parents, telling them they should not feel obligated to wait until the original end-time of 9am to pick up their kids. So some kids went home a little bit early (thankfully). But everybody went home happy. And at least one mom wrote to say her son reported it was the best time of his life. I’ll take that endorsement.