Some things go together like matzah balls and chicken soup; some don't. And the wedding/kid combination traditionally falls into the latter category. After all, unlike the bar/bat mitzvah bash, which is generally a party designed with kids in mind, the wedding celebration has adult written all over it. Toss in a stressed-out bride, a drawn-out nuptial ceremony, imported caviar and free-flowing liquor, and you've got an event that's about as kid-unfriendly as they come.
Nevertheless, the flower and ring bearer must march on. Not to mention that there are times when kids belong at the wedding. As in cases of second marriages and blended families (statistics show that in America alone, 1,300 new stepfamilies form daily), family obligations (it wouldn't be nice to blow off your soon-to-be nieces and nephews, would it?) and out-of-town guest considerations (Cousin Howie and the gang came all the way from Florida to witness your big day. How could you ask him to deadbolt his kids in a claustrophobic hotel room with a rent-a-sitter for the night?).
Fortunately, it's perfectly possible to welcome children at your wedding without compromising the sanctity of the event or the sanity of any involved parties. The following kid-friendly touches will help ensure your littlest guests remain happy and occupied throughout.
It's in the Bag
Upon arrival, present children with a special wedding goody bag packed with items like crayons and coloring books and bride and groom paper dolls. Be sure to throw in some kid-friendly snacks like granola bars, raisins, and goldfish crackers to fend off any hunger-induced meltdowns during the ceremony.
Put Them to Work
Kids are amazingly capable of rising to the occasion -- especially when they have an "important" job to do, like passing out wedding programs, manning the kippah station or ushering guests to their seats. And they needn't clock out after the ceremony. At the beginning of the party, give each child a disposable camera labeled with his or her name and explain that they have been hired as a junior photographer. In doing so, you'll not only keep little hands snapping and out of trouble, you'll capture unique, child's-eye-view imagery of your celebration that you wouldn't otherwise have.
Make It a Happy Meal
Let's face it. Your pint-sized guests have a bagel's chance at a Passover seder of successfully sitting through a five-course meal made up of exclusively grown-up fare. So ask your caterer to set up a kiddie buffet line. Nothing extravagant -- a no-frills table topped with carrot sticks and ranch dressing, chicken nuggets and french fries is all it will take to keep the younger set satisfied. (Happy Note: This strategy is liable to work in your favor from a cost-per-head standpoint, too.)
Set Up a Playspace
Off in the corner of the ballroom -- or a nearby nook or cranny -- create a makeshift kid-zone. Blocks, LEGOs, board games, Play-Doh, minimal-mess art supplies, even a couple of muted GameBoys will give jittery kiddies a welcome retreat from the adult-oriented wedding festivities.
Arrange a Mitzvah Station
Include in your playspace an area where kids can take part in an act of gemilut chasadim (lovingkindness). Put out papers, markers and stickers and let children make cheerful cards for patients at a local hospital, or have them pack care packages for American and Israeli troops. By orchestrating such mitzvoth you'll cap the festive flair of the evening with some good old-fashioned Jewish values.
If you will have a significant number of children in attendance (and some extra funds in your budget), consider hiring a kid-friendly entertainer to work the crowd at the party. Magicians fit the bill nicely as they traditionally don black-tie attire that won't clash with the decor while captivating the interest of children and adults alike.
Send Them Hunting
Keep kids constructively mingling with the crowd with a wedding guest scavenger hunt. Give each child a pencil and a list of descriptions, such as "a member of the bridal party" or "someone from Georgia," and challenge them to collect signatures of guests who meet each criterion. Award prizes to successful searchers.
Hire "Camp Counselors"
Truth be told, even taking kid-friendly measures, such as those mentioned above, can't ensure your littlest guests won't stray into the lobby for a round of elevator races or -- worse yet -- into a crowded parking lot or hotel swimming pool. Keep your troops safe and under control, while giving their parents a welcome break, by hiring some trustworthy individuals to act as camp-style counselors at your event. These responsible parties should orchestrate games and activities in the kiddie corner, ensure children move smoothly through the buffet line and other child-friendly activities and put out fires caused by sibling spats and other munchkin meltdowns. (Hint: If you have a sizeable age span among children, assign one counselor to the older kids and another to the younger group.)
Wind Them Down With a Video
If your wedding celebration will last into the wee hours, arrange for your event facility to set up a television and DVD player in a nearby-but-out-of-earshot-of-the-party spot. As the bewitching hour draws near, have your counselors invite all of the children to watch a G-rated late-night flick. Supply pillows, blankets and a couple of bags of popcorn and -- with a little luck and a well-chosen movie (nothing too peppy or scary) -- your crowd will be crashed by the closing credits.
Sharon Duke Estroff is an internationally syndicated Jewish parenting columnist, award-winning educator and mother of four. Her Jewish parenting book, "Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah?" is now available everywhere. www.sharonestroff.com.