As the father of a six-year-old I have hosted and attended more kids’ birthday parties than I ever thought possible.  I feel like I have been to every park and bounce house in The Upstate.  I have seen magicians and grown men in large furry costumes.  At these events I have eaten more cake, pizza and hot dogs than the Surgeon General would recommend in a lifetime. This is what kids expect at a birthday party and it is our duty as good parents to comply with their wishes on their most special day of the year. 

Yesterday this formula was completely thrown out the window and I am happy to say that I attended the coolest seven-year-old birthday party of my life.

One of Ivan’s best buddies in his first grade class is Roger who just turned seven years old this week.  Roger is an outgoing and extremely intelligent young man and Ivan was so excited about his party that you would have thought Ivan was the one having a birthday.  I knew from the invitation that this would not be a typical kids’ birthday celebration and I have to admit that I was pretty excited about it myself.

Roger’s party was not hosted in a building with lots of lights, games, music, and cold pizza.  Instead, the celebration took place at his grandparents’ farm just off Highway 11.  Located not far from Table Rock State Park, this is one of my favorite parts of The Upstate.  I love the long country roads, the rolling hills and just being in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. For me, any trip to the mountains is a good one and there are few places in The Upstate that I would rather spend a Sunday afternoon with my family.  

Roger’s family did not just use this as a setting for the party but embraced it as a theme.  We could have easily sat around picnic tables and eaten cake and ice cream and the kids would have all had a blast.  Instead, this became an educational adventure about life in this part of the world.  

The party opened up with an interactive demonstration of a saw mill.  Yes, a real live saw mill.  Pin The Tail On The Donkey never seemed so lame as when Roger’s grandfather showed the kids and adults how the saw operates and invited each of the children to take a turn cutting their own board out of an actual tree.  Parents were not left out either and Chris and I were both as giddy as the little folks when we got to operate the largest power tool we have ever laid our hands on.  We all took turns cutting ten foot lengths of fresh poplar to take home as a souvenir from the day’s festivities.

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid
After the saw mill, the group ventured into the woods for hike up a steep ridge and spectacular view of the area.  Along the way, Roger’s dad and grandfather took the time to teach the children (and adults) about the environment we were in.  We found abandoned wasp nests, deer antlers and a giant dying hemlock (I was unaware that hemlocks will soon be nearly extinct in this region to the spread of an Asian aphid - the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid).  At the top of the ridge the kids threw gourds, took in the view with the aid of binoculars, and rolled hula hoops down the 200+ foot slope we had just ascended.  

Once we made the trek back to our starting point, we engaged in the typical birthday festivities of gorging ourselves with cake and watching the delight in Roger’s eyes as he opened his presents.  Then the kids toasted marshmallows over a campfire and used a hunting blind as the world’s coolest tree house.  When it was time to leave, none of them were happy to go and I doubt that I was the only adult there to share their dismay.

I wanted to share this event for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost, I would like to thank Roger and his family for inviting us to share such a wonderful day with them.  Secondly, I have to commend them for thinking so far outside the box when it comes to a kid’s birthday.  They threw the formula out the window and put together a really unique and exciting afternoon that the kids and parents could all enjoy equally.  Finally, I want to highlight this as one of the great things The Upstate has to offer.  Less than 30 minutes from downtown Greenville you can find yourself on a farm in the mountains with nothing to remind you of the city or suburban life that dominates our existence.  I never take for granted how lucky we are to have such a scenic and peaceful destination this close to home. 

One more note - we did not leave the party with only memories of a great day. We also left with the boards that Ivan and Chris and I cut and we are looking forward to a crafts day when the wood is properly dried.  In six months we will be able to build a birdhouse (or ten) out of the poplar we cut and in a year we will be able to make a table out of the fresh slab of cherry that Roger’s grandfather gave me.  I am looking forward to these projects with my family and cannot wait to see what kind of adventure awaits next year when Roger turns eight.  Finally, I have no idea what we will plan for Ivan’s seventh birthday in April but I definitely feel the pressure to come up with something unique.  The bar has definitely been raised!