I was gearing up for my son’s fifth birthday party, and I was starting to stress. I typically start out excited to plan a party and full of elaborate ideas. But when the day finally arrives, I end up a ball of stress, snapping at my poor husband every time he tells me to “calm down.” (Is there anything more annoying than someone telling you to “calm down” when you’re stressed?) I usually feel like I did all the work and nobody appreciated it. The kids always have a fun time, but they probably would have had just as much fun if I had simply gotten a few balloons and a cake and called it a day.

I’d done the jumpy house birthday party and the girly sparkly birthday party. I’d made princess cakes and monkey cakes. I’d put together more homemade favors than I could ever count. I was exhausted. Besides, my son was only in preschool, and he didn’t have that many friends yet. Did I have to invite the whole class when he only played with a few kids?

He was obsessed with trains at the time — we had to stop the car every morning on our way to preschool to watch the train drive by. I contemplated doing a train party and started a Pinterest board for my ideas. I pinned train cakes, train decorations, and even a train made out of fruits and vegetables. My head started spinning with ideas, and I began to panic that I didn’t have time to pull this fabulous party together!

And that’s when it dawned on me: Nothing would make my 5-year-old happier than actually riding the train! I decided then and there that for his birthday we were going to get on the train we watched pass by every morning. I told him for his birthday he could invite one friend, and we would ride the train together. You would have thought I said we were going to Disney World! So began the countdown: “How many days till we ride the train?” “How many hours till we ride the train?” “When are we riding the train?”

His fifth birthday finally arrived. While his sister was at school, I took him and one friend on the train into Boston. It was pouring out, but he didn’t care. He was finally getting to ride the train, and his best friend was with him! It was only a half-hour ride, but his chubby, smiling face was pressed against the window the whole time. He and his friend occasionally shouted things like, “I saw a bulldozer,” “We switched tracks,” and “We’re going so fast.” We got off the train in the city, ate at McDonald’s in North Station, and boarded the train back home. The ride back was just as exciting.

That was it — so simple. “The best birthday ever!” my son said. It cost me $20, and he never even mentioned having a party. That train ride was more than enough for him, and he still talks about it a year later.

It seems that all the hoopla and fancy parties are often for us and not necessarily the kids. Would the kids have even noticed if I had labeled the coffee “diesel fuel” and if the sandwiches were in the shape of train wheels? Why do we stress ourselves out over these parties? I’m not going to lie; in the future, I may still occasionally go a bit crazy with party planning — it can be fun! But I’ve learned that, once in a while, it’s OK to keep it simple. Think about what puts a smile on your child’s face. Trust me; it’s worth it!

Ranessa Doucet
Ranessa is a Boston native who grew up in Charlestown and never gets tired of exploring the city. She now lives north of Boston with her husband, two kids, and two mischievous pugs. Ranessa earned her master’s degree in elementary education and licensure in early childhood education. She currently works as an Academic Interventionist and Freelance Writer. Ranessa loves writing about parenting tweens, exploring New England, health, and self-care. When not writing or reading, you can find her watching reality TV, eating chocolate, attending her kids’ sporting events, and dreaming about the beach.


  1. THANK YOU! I’m the Same Way about birthday parties, and equally disappointed when all that work goes unappreciated. Love the train idea. Need to figure out what they really *want* in coming years. 😀

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