Birthday Madness

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Photo: Petra Ignjatić

For Americans, Croatia’s customs on hosting and hospitality are a bit complicated. How much food and drink should you provide? Ha! There is no answer to that question, except maybe infinity. You should have infinity drinks and food. Hosting responsibilities for a birthday are also complicated because you’re supposed to be out somewhere and pay for everyone’s everything (we don’t do this in the US). And hosting your kid’s birthday party is infinitely more complicated because you are hosting both kids and parents.

Usually, kids have their birthday’s at the ‘igraonica’ where you pay someone to entertain them, while you buy drinks and coffee for the parents. But after several birthdays each year at the same igraonice this tradition has become stale for my daughter and her friends. So, we decided to celebrate at our apartment.


We invited 13 seven-year-olds, and would’ve invited more, but this was already pushing it. The plan was to spend a lot of the time outside (hoping for nice weather). I devised a treasure hunt with written clues hidden around the neighborhood. The plan was for the kids to hunt down the clues in two groups and race for the treasure. As soon as I donned my homemade, and admittedly inadequate pirate costume (a dishtowel wrapped around my head, an eyepatch, a bent coat hanger for a hook, and a bad accent), things began to go awry.

First, the kids, packed into our living room, were not into the ‘illusion’ I’d tried to create. ‘You’re Cody!’ they shouted. ‘We know its you!’ ‘You can still see through that eye patch!’ ‘I can’t understand you!’ ‘What?’ ‘You’re costume is not historically accurate!’ Eventually, I got them to calm down and had one of the kids’ parents translate what I was trying to say. Then we went on the hunt. Now, in my mind I imagined each group walking, calmly to each clue. Why? Because I’m a not very athletic idiot who hates running. As soon as they found the first clue the kids took off running like unsupervised rockets through the neighborhood.

Running wild

And what do we do with the parents? We imagined that we could send them to a nearby cafe, and then my wife and I would trade off, one of us doing birthday stuff, the other one doing cafe/parent stuff. Well, as the kids took off through the neighborhood it became instantly clear that we needed more help supervising these hordes of treasure hunting seven-year-olds. Fortunately two parents volunteered and ran along with my wife and I.

Now, I had another problem. I hadn’t yet hidden the treasure (a shoe box wrapped in newspaper, filled with chocolate coins), as I was worried that some curious ‘other’ kids might open it. And still American (or Irish) enough to know how nervous unattended packages can make people. But how could I hide the treasure while simultaneously help hunt for the treasure?

Helping hands

Fortunately, another parent offered to sneak the treasure out of the apartment, hide it in the appropriate spot and sit nearby. The conclusion of the treasure hunt had the effect I’d hoped for: both groups, racing to the final hiding spot via different routes, but just within sight of each other, hearts pounding, the parents out of breath, the kids wild with excitement. Of course there was enough treasure for everyone.

With the treasure hunt concluded that just left the piñata (elsewhere in the park), the birthday cake (back in the apartment), the living room dance party, and dealing with the dog. In the end, it wasn’t just my wife and I who traded places at the cafe. The other parents helped manage our birthday madness. I felt that this was violating the rules of hosting and hospitality. Let’s have the birthday at my house so you all can help! But, no one seemed to mind.

If anything its made us closer. This might be true anywhere, but I especially feel this sentiment in Croatia. Here, relationships are forged in the face of adversity, and strengthened by moments of assistance. By helping my wife and I mutually manage the crazy birthday, we have a stronger bond with the parents who were there. And next year, we’re going back to the igraonica!