My little man Max turned 3-years-old this weekend…ringing in his new year in classic kid fashion complete with new skills, sugar induced tantrums, and a kidemonium party that he’ll remember for years. It…was…awesome. My wife Kate and I had doubts we could keep the awesome party train rolling for a third year running after importing an entire petting zoo to the backyard in year 1 and locker room party with the Wichita State Shockers in year 2. However, we found the magic recipe and don’t be surprised if we go back to the same well next year as this was the best party of them all.
Years 1 and 2 I made the quintessential parent mistake of hosting the parties at our house. “How hard can it be?” I asked myself 2 years ago. Then we set 20 sugar-high kids free in our home and realized Dr. Seuss’s Thing 1 and Thing 2 had nothing on them. Cake + kids + house = mess. This year I had one major goal in mind: Have the party be entirely at a location with no house cleanup required. The solution? One of Wichita’s coolest hidden gems, the Kansas Aviation Museum! It was perfect! Max loves planes, January has unpredictable weather, and the Kansas Aviation Museum has planes indoors as well as a massive kid activity room. However, I’m getting ahead of myself…lets rewind the weekend as this was a 3-day celebration!
Grandpa drove down from Iowa on Friday and Nan was scheduled to fly in from her trip to Florida…but got stuck in Atlanta for a day. Max was very excited to share his room with Grandpa (there’s a second bed) but Grandpa wasn’t quite ready for bed at 7:15 PM (though we all were close). Max proclaimed, “Grandpa’s gonna sleep in my room in the other bed where he’s gonna snore and fart a lot.” I think that just about sums that up. On Saturday Max, Dodge and Grandpa all played cars together in the living room till we rounded everybody up for a picnic at Chisholm Creek Park where Max saw a butterfly, a rusty old combine, a deer bed, a river, a bridge, lots of birds, and of course…we raced down the path.
After his afternoon nap Max asked if he could help me with my handyman work and I thought it was a great idea. Nothing better than getting work done with a little guy to talk to. I got to work on fixing the rotted sill on the front door while Max rode his red scooter in the driveway and asked me questions about the airplanes we’d see tomorrow. Then he put his scooter away and emerged from the garage with a basketball and asked if we could shoot baskets on the big basketball hoop. I wasn’t keen on the idea as I was still working on the door sill and shooting on the big hoop requires me to hold him up while he shoots because it’s too high for him. However, it was his birthday weekend so I decided we’d try something he’d been working on for a while. “Why don’t you see if you can make it on your own?” I came over and showed him a few shots and then he began his ritual of throwing the ball as hard as he could up in the air and missing badly…except this time he wasn’t throwing the ball, he was shooting! Also…he wasn’t missing badly, he was narrowly missing! I grabbed my tools, cleaned up, and decided the door could wait for another day. I joined my son at the hoop and started rebounding for him and giving him pointers. It became obvious it was going to happen at any moment. Then it happened. Max drained a shot for the first time ever on the full-sized basketball hoop in the driveway!
Without thinking I ran to him, threw him onto my shoulders like a champion, and started running in circles around the front yard celebrating while the little man above my head shouted “Go Shocks!” and “Shockers win!!!” It was an ultimate proud Papa moment. Max then made 10 more shots (3 of them in a row) and I even captured one on video:
The next morning, per the usual for Sundays, Max and I made pancakes for everyone. It being Max’s birthday I made him a few special ones with his name on it, a smiley face, and big number 3. He thought it was pretty cool. He showed off his new basketball making skills to Nan who had finally arrived from Atlanta while Dodge did what any little brother of 11 months would do…watch and take it all in. Getting Max down for his nap with maple syrup coursing through his veins was interesting but vaguely successful. He was whiney…but I knew sleepy, sugar, madness was the theme of the day so I just tried to go with it (if only I could do that every day).
Post nap was the party. The main event! THE AIRPLANES! We rented the party room at the Kansas Aviation Museum for 2 hours and setup for some cake-eating, juice-sipping, kidtastic fun. It was a great time. The museum is the old Wichita Municipal Airport that now houses some amazing aviation artifacts and boasts some of the coolest architectural details in Wichita including a 2-story atrium for parties, airplane wrought iron railings, and 360 degree view of McConnell Airforce Base and the National Guard from the control tower. Kids and parents wandered through the amazing old building looking at vintage planes, reading about the history of aviation in Kansas, and constantly saying, “Wow…I had no idea this was here.” The museum is truly a hidden gem and I recommend it like crazy for families!
Max had requested an airplane cake and Mama didn’t disappoint! Chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, strawberry siding, licorice pin stripes, sour cheery ball windows, sprinkles, and of course…CANDLES. Max will always be the first to tell you that, “Cake is just cake…but if it has candles then its a birthday cake.” I love your mind dude. The kids plowed into it and then went roaring through the museum looking at planes and pretending to be planes themselves. They flew flight simulators of a Beachcraft King Air and Diamond 1, rode on rides, went down slides, and had an all-out blast! The control tower was a huge hit as it looks out over the tarmac of retired planes. Max asked, “Can we go out and look at those planes?” To which the only reply is, “Its your birthday dude, we can do whatever you want.” So outside we went.
This was the magical part: Little kids walking around giant airplanes. The sun began to set making that special light that I feel creates the best memories. I shouted out, “Who wants to have an airplane race?!” I was swarmed immediately. We set the rules, (which were run to the small plane, touch the nose, and come back) and like an impromptu airshow…the tarmac was suddenly filled with busy little airplanes running back and forth in the warm glow of a gorgeous Kansas sunset on a warm January day. It was perfect.
As we all headed inside, Max got sad that we were leaving and I asked him if he wanted to see one more airplane. He asked if we could go back to the big FedEx plane and go inside. I obliged. It was 5 minutes of heaven. Max and Dada. We walked through the cabin of the FedEx 747 where Max told me about airplanes, school, and how much fun he was having. I snapped a few photos of him for the old photo book and then he did something I will always remember from his 3rd birthday: I got down on one knee to take a picture of him and instead of posing (as he normally does) he walked right up to me, threw his arms around my neck, squeezed me hard and said “I love you.” There is nothing finer than unprompted affection from your child. Nothing.
At the end of the day Max had received MANY amazing presents and per our request, none of them required batteries or made sounds. We measured him on the door frame to show he had grown, we read new books before bed, we reminisced on the weekend, we sang together, we laughed together, and we cuddled up to bed. After dinner was done, the dishes clinking in the dishwasher, and the grandparents headed home…Kate and I sat down and remembered the day Max was born, like how he was born at 11:08 PM and weighed 8 lbs 11 oz. So right about 11:08 PM I snuck into his room, scooped him up, and brought him into our bed where Kate and I snuggled him between us, kissed his hair, held his hand, and told him over and over how much we loved him…and we all fell asleep together.
It was a happy birthday for everyone.
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