One morning in July, after dropping Ryan off at day camp, Noah and I sat at our kitchen counter having breakfast.
“Noah,” I said,”You’re going to be three soon. What kind of birthday party should we have?”
Ryan would have rattled off a dozen ideas in a minute, but with limited birthday parties in his little world, Noah was quiet.
“Well, what kinds of things do you like to play?” I prompted.
“Grocery store,” he answered instantly. Sometimes, three year olds give offbeat answers but this one was no surprise. Noah has loved playing market, going to the market, even talking about the market, since he was 18 months old. He’s always analyzing our store options as we do tend to frequent about 8 groceries within a 10 mile radius of our home and we make quick stops a few times a week (in the name of quality, variety and freshness, not, of course, for any lack of planning or efficiency):
Noah, about Whole Foods: “They have all my favorite foods at this store.” (Yes AND my entire paycheck!)
About Stew Leonard’s: “They still have the cow there. And those funny singing chickens.” (Thank goodness, the death grip has loosened and Noah and his brother finally find those chickens funny).
About Big Y: “That is Grandma’s market.“ (I agree – even though one opened in our town a few years ago, Big Y will always be “Grandma’s market.”)
About The Crown, our kosher market: “I like to push those little carts. And the lady by the challah always gives me a green leaf cookie.”
That day in July, we made a guest list and a bulleted list of ideas for Noah’s “Market Party” (donuts, shopping lists, shopping bags, pretend money, play food, carts and wagons, candy and pizza). Noah started telling everyone we were having a “grocery store party.” I searched the ‘net for ideas, only to find that it seems there has only been one documented grocery store party in the history of the internet. And actually, I’m not sure the party ever actually happened or was just stunningly designed and photographed for a party blog.
Armed with one stunning inspiration, my list and my vast experience actually playing grocery with Noah, I struck out on my own. Noah’s favorite color changes by the hour, but he remained steadfast about our party theme. The lunch menu did change (at his request) from pizza to cereal with marshmallows (popular with 12/13 kids and pretty popular with me now that we have some leftovers).
We had a fabulous party – and I’m so glad I heard my little guy and designed a party that was just right for him. His guests enjoyed our shopping, and we all had fun getting ready for the party. My family pooled their recyclables for play food, the kids (and their babysitter) loved stuffing empty juice and produce containers with colored tissue paper to make it look real, and Ryan went to town pricing everything.
On a sunny and warm fall morning, we welcomed 13 kids on our front stoop, all excited and curious about our shopping party.
I asked the kids what you need to go grocery shopping, gently guiding them to: (1) a shopping list, (2) shopping bags and (3) money.
The kids made their own shopping lists, using old DVD cases I had turned into dry erase and magnet boards. This was super-simple and you can check out how I made them here.
The kids went to work right away, drawing/writing items on their list or adding them with picture magnets I had made (download here).
Once lists were made, the kids each picked a shopping bag and tagged it with their names.
List, check. Bags, check. For our “spending money,” we had a backyard hunt for plastic eggs filled with plastic gold coins and a few chocolate ones. (Who doesn’t love an egg hunt in September?) Once each had a full carton of a dozen eggs (a nice way to limit the big kids), I rewarded them with a pencil case “wallet” already filled with paper money bearing their faces (more on that later this week). They dumped their coins in the wallet, and suddenly we had a yard full of “big spenders” ready for our market.
We lined our shoppers up beside the market for a quick stop at our photo booth.
We set up our lower back deck as our little market, with areas for produce – real and pretend,
The kids took their shopping lists seriously. Most enjoyed the treats I planted in the aisles, though Noah insisted I put back the Twizzlers and lollipop he’d picked up when he realized they weren’t on his list.
The check-out ended up a bit crowded (the clerk might have needed a bit more training).
Noah was so eager to hand out our adorable mini-markets filled with gummy bears, that I found my shy guy wandering the yard asking his guests if they were leaving yet.
Our shoppers had a blast.
And I did too. Happily, the party continued most of the day with cousins, neighbors, friends and two borrowed bounce houses.
Possibly the sweetest moment of the day: watching this crew (my niece, my son and some friends) giggle and chat as they found shapes in the afternoon clouds.