Besides an annual gingerbread house/structure at Christmas and an Aprilâ€™s Fool Day where anything goes, you could say that another treasured â€œtraditionâ€ in the Marketman household are memorable birthday â€œpartiesâ€ for The Kid. As a teeny-bopper, she got great cakes, lots of balloons, dÃ©cor, etc. but things really hit their stride around first grade with the introduction of homemade treasure hunts, a Marketman patented specialtyâ€¦ Party themes at age one were Winnie the Pooh, later The little Mermaid, The King and I and later still, a sleepover Camp theme, An African Safari, and even an Arabian Nights theme complete with Belly Dancer (an outrageous columnist friend performed) and Fortune Teller (yours truly, and we called parents beforehand to get the kids’ deepest secrets…they WERE AMAZED!). Depending on how creative you are, how much effort and imagination you put into it, and the planning and phasing of clues, treasure hunts are a fantastic way to keep kids occupied and amused for say 30-60 minutes. But they have to be age-appropriate.
In second grade the hunt meant finding clues inside the house. By third grade the hunt included clues outdoors. In fourth grade (by special request) the hunt took on a Halloween theme and kids had to venture through dark portions of the garden, have costumed monsters jump out at them, hands dipped in ice water reach out and grab their legs from under tables (yes, like the cartoons, kids can propel themselves straight into the air without bending to gain momentum!) and jump into the pool to find the final clue. By last year, in fifth grade, they wanted to be scared again and in addition to a hunt at home, they got into the car with a driver and had to find clues at a nearby park where they ended up singing the theme song of Friends on a park bench at 7 pm while it was raining and there were still people in the parkâ€¦ Needless to say, these hunts have hopefully created fond memories that are permanently burned into their young brains.
Frankly, I thought last year was the last treasure hunt I would do in my life. With the Kid at 10 years of age, going on 15, if you know what I mean, I thought I had exhausted my repertoire of potential clues, challenges and gimmicks. So when plans got started on this yearâ€™s birthday gathering, The Kid asked for another treasure hunt, this time at the beach and she would have just a few friends over for the weekend. I couldnâ€™t say no. And I worried that they were just too old to be amused. But letâ€™s just say they seem to have had a blast and they were chit-chatting about it all the whole way home in the car so I think it was a success.
What was the theme this year??? An Amazing Race meets Fear Factor Hunt. With over 30 clues/challenges/etc, the hunt, which I thought would run 30 minutes turned into a 75 minute event that taxed all of my creative and planning abilities. It sounds like a production and it wasâ€¦but it is worth it. And actually, cost wise it was far less than some of those party folks many people turn too to amuse their kids at birthday parties where the kids sit on plastic chairs and look horrifyingly bored. Hopefully, The Kid will always remember these birthdays/treasure hunts with fondness. I know I willâ€¦I and my entire crew are totally exhausted right now!
This yearâ€™s hunt featured scary Halloween music (CD, SM Toy Kingdom), clues throughout the house, venturing into dark cellars with flashlights, fighting fish fights, all manner of bugs, spider webs, masked monsters jumping out of cabinets, and my newest addition â€“ Fear Factor-like tasks that had them screaming, screeching and in a tither. First, up top, was a whole humongous pig head that I purchased at the nasugbu market for PHP400 that was placed in a laundry sink in ice and they kept petting it thinking I had found a really good replica and when they turned it over to get the clue and realized it was real they were truly amazed and let out one of the shrillest screams I have ever heard. This was followed by having to transfer isaw or chicken intestines from one bowl to another with chopsticks and carrying palms full of chicken feet from one place to another. The grossness factor was pretty high for a bunch of squeamish 11 year olds. This was a highpoint of the hunt. And not to worry folks, all of this food was then cooked and eaten so nothing at all went to waste.
From the house they ventured to an empty lot next door where we strapped them with a life vest and safety rope and they had to go down the steep hill to recover one stuffed monkey each (PHP30 from Divisoria) hanging from a tree. Next they ventured down to a nearby beach where we had set up kerosene sulo lamps (they looked SPECTACULAR on a full moon evening) to dig up more clues, deal with 300 live mealy worms (50 centavos each from Cartimar, disgusting odor, feed to your fish afterwards) and finally unearth three â€œshrunken headsâ€ (coconut wonders I unearthed from my parents basement where they were stored for 30 years+) before being attacked by a costumed gorilla (mask PHP250 at SM). On the way up, they thought the worst was over and they got their next clue/challenge which turned out to be grass skirts (Divisoria) that they had to don and sing a song (they had earlier prepared/practiced) while standing under a nearby street lamp.
Of course, as serendipity would have it, despite the evening hour, a golf cart filled with tourists passed by and the girls were utterly but pleasantly mortified, embarrassed and amused; all at the same time! The hunt ended up in the pool flinging kitchen sponges (PHP20 and re-usable) at each other, diving for the last clue and for their treasure they got colored hair spray (washes off with water, 2 for 1 bargain at a bazaar) and a Ferrari cap each (Divisoria, The Kid is an F1 fan)â€¦ Oh, and terrific Halloween chocolate to munch on (Rustanâ€™s just got a shipment, terrific variety!). Their favorite part of this yearâ€™s hunt? Dancing and singing in grass skirts, the pigâ€™s head and the pool. And just when they thought the weekend was coming to an end, we stopped in a safe low traffic street and we pulled a “Chinese Fire Drill” where everyone in two cars had to change places and passersby observe this spectacle…Heehee, they LOVED it (cost, zero)! Remember, they only have an 11th (or 7th or 9th) birthday once. It isnâ€™t so much about the presentsâ€¦itâ€™s about the memoriesâ€¦