Once more unto the breach, first graders, once more.

For his sixth birthday, the Boy said he wanted to have a castle in the backyard again.

Thank God. I was afraid he was going to ask for something crazy that I wouldn't know how to begin building. 

Castles, we can do.  


A few bales of hay, scrap 1-by lumber and a few flags. And there you have it: a castle.  

I got a little bit creative this year and built a couple of practice dummies that pivot when you whack them. Just to give the kids a bit more of a target for their energy. Because every birthday party is made better by a whirling pointy stick or two.

Our kids got a little bit of practice in the evening before the party.  



My Bride made up some tunics for the kids in opposing colors, and hung them out to put on as they arrived, along with a basket of foam swords and some spongeball artillery for water fights, in case it got a bit too hot.  

We hung the Boy's armor from last year up nearby to give them the idea.  



Since that armor was a bit small for my now-6-year-old, I worked up something new for him. I asked him what he wanted on the armor, and he said an eagle. And black, "like in Lord of the Rings." (I'm not sure which character he had in mind there. I'm not sure I want to know). 

So a few weeks in advance, I started putting something together for him. It turned out a little bit big and I trimmed it down a touch in the end, but that just gives him a little room to grow into it. Like any good armor for a six year old should have.  


We had sketched out some shields in advance for the kids to finish decorating. Last year I had tried printing out some designs that they could cut out and glue on. That was messy and unsatisfactory. The shields are way bigger than your standard 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. 

This year, I free-handed in some basic designs with a handful of big sharpies and set them out for the kids to choose their favorite and make their own.  This was way more satisfactory in the end. And easier. 

Come back with your shields, or on them, kids...  or whenever you get hungry for fried chicken & lemonade. Whichever comes first. 



(That's my daughter's shield on the table. I told her to draw whatever symbol she thought might represent her. She heard "draw everything you like to do  in the history of ever." Cooking. Painting. Horseback riding. Ukulele. Books. Violin. There's a pair of skates and a pair of skis on there. At one point she asked me how you draw "swimming"). 

When the kids arrived, we donned the tunics, handed them a sword and shield, and sent them out to cry havoc.  

Our parties aren't really about scripted activities, but we tend to go heavy on the props. 



The Critter and her friend had painted a dragon for the party which we stood up to one side for a bit of additional challenge. The kids charged it, hurled water balloons and sopping wet sponge balls and defended it in turn.  I was pretty pleased with how well the girls did in coming up with this wee beastie - we may have to save this one somewhere for posterity.  



And when the warriors had battled enough, we gathered in the weary wounded and had cake. 

Dragon cake. With gold treasure. 


It was chocolate cake, with a red velvet dragon. I'm not sure that the kids got the joke. But the adults did when I cut it open and served dragon meat cake. 

My beautiful Bride has the best sort of twisted sense of humor sometimes.  


And then the party was over, and it was time to say goodbye, and take the castle down again. The hens will appreciate the hay when the snow comes, the flags disappear back into the barn. and the wood never goes to waste around here.  

But I think the Boy will be ready to take the black if the moment comes. 


The Boy & his castle


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.