A few months ago, my son off-handedly said he wanted a "Mike the Knight" birthday cake. Last year, he had a superhero theme - he hasn't traded in his fetish for anything superhero, but I was glad to hear him switch it up a bit.
I thought for a few minutes about the possiblities. Yeah. We could do knights. I agreed.
If you haven't spent any time with a four year old lately, you have to understand that their passions can change pretty quickly. So it was just short of miraculous that I was able to keep him excited about a knight-themed birthday party for the months it took to actually roll around. I think the trick was all in throwing in the word "castle". As in "let's build a castle".
That set the hook.
Haybales are an awesome construction material. It's like working with legos. Big, stackable blocks that rise pretty quickly. They're soft(-ish). They're sort of regular in shape. They're easy to get. And they smell nice. Which is a bonus.
I threw together a couple of platforms on top to give them something to stand on. I had plenty of siding and other materials leftover from chicken coop construction, and made a few ad hoc adjustments to stabalize the whole thing. I was kind of making it up as I went, and a little nervous about how it'd hold up when the kids started climbing on it like a pack of monkeys, but with a few extra braces at the corner, it all seemed stable enough. And three bales high seeemed like a safe number.
I spent more time making a set of armor for the Boy. I had seen another blogger make a couple of sets of armor for his kids who loved to dress up, and I figured it didn't look too hard. So I got some scrap leather on the internets, and set to it.
Ok, so I drew a little more from Roman designs than from medieval, but that was my secret love of anything Legion showing through.
I roughly sketched out some flag designs for my Bride, who threw together the pennants and the flags in the week or two before the party, and we spent a long evening threading all those little pennants onto some twine. It wouldn't be a castle and a tourney without flags, right?
We had very little organized activity for the kids. This was old school fun. I figured a castle and a little imagination was activity enough. We gave each kid that came to the party a posterboard shield to decorate, and a foam sword I found for cheap on the internet as a bulk order, and pushed them down the hill to figure it out, telling them to come back with their shields or on them.
They got the hang of it pretty quick. It was like watching a tourney. A tourney full of midgets. Midgets out for foamy, giggly, metaphorical birthday blood.
Look at that footwork! He's a natural, I tell you. If the Picts come calling at our house, I feel safer knowing that I can put the Boy out there on the front line to defend our honor.
Then we lined up all the kids on the castle. And a few of us ('Team Blue') stormed the bastion ('Team Red') with wet sponge balls and shields raised.
After the siege was over. It was time for cake. And of course, our cakes were in keeping with the general motif.
Would Sir care to eat the head of a dragon? Or the head of a knight?
The Critter accompanied the singers with 'Happy Birthday' on the violin. She did this without prompting - she'd been practicing for weeks.
In return, the Boy promised not to slash her valiantly with his trusty sword.
And he let her have some cake.
They're good kids.
The kids went back to playing for the rest of the afternoon. Eventually, even the Boy was worn out. I could tell he had a good time from the way he struggled to drag his armor back up at the end of the day.
But the castle was still standing. And all the kids took home a sword, a cake-pop and a good memory or two.
OK. It's possible I got a little over-enthusiastic with this year's theme. And I was gripped by fear the morning of the party, as I surveyed the crennelated fortification in my backyard, with pennants fluttering and buckets of shields and swords ready for the party, that maybe, just maybe, I was about to put the Boy on the inevitable path to a level of Rennaissance Faire geekery that his one-day therapist will be able to pin on me.
But really, the Critter doesn't let me have too much input into her birthday parties any more (she's 10, you guys. Oh. My. God.). And knowing I wouldn't have too many more excuses to build a castle in my backyard, it was fun to let our imaginations run a little wild on this one. The Boy seemed to enjoy it, at any rate. I think I'll leave it up for an extra week or so. Just for fun.
Happy 5th birthday, buddy. It looks good on you.