When 3-year-old Earl Thompson blew out the candles on his birthday cake, he didn't worry about dousing them all with one breath to get his wish. He knew it was waiting for him outside.
After having his fill of cake, Earl spent his birthday astride a rented white pony, riding in circles around his Yorba Linda cul-de-sac.
"I'm the Lone Ranger," he said again and again as he bounced in the saddle.
Earl and many other Orange County children are seeing some elaborate birthday dreams come true these days, thanks to a few innovative specialty businesses willing to do whatever it takes to grant those wishes--and parents willing to foot the bill.
Whether a child asks for a puppet show or a portable petting zoo, a back-yard carnival or a make-believe visit to a foreign land, it is available, if only for a few hours.
For some families, it is a matter of keeping up with the Junior Joneses. For those with two incomes, crowded schedules and plumper wallets, it is a logical option. And, of course, there are those parents who just want a chance to live out some of their own childhood fantasies.
Ponies? Jonathan Hubbard of Newport Beach had those last year, along with Dixie and Doodle the Clowns. This year, when he turned 4, at his request Dixie and Doodle were back for a party at the Balboa Bay Club that also included a harbor cruise--with personalized life jackets as party favors, a puppet show and the launching of hundreds of brightly colored balloons.
Melissa Pazornik, 3 1/2, got to live out a fantasy last Saturday even though her birthday is months away. Her Huntington Harbour back yard was magically transformed into an English garden, where she and her meticulously dressed guests sat down for tea and pastries, only to be interrupted by a party crasher: a girl named Alice in search of a white rabbit.
There was magic at Amy Deal's house in Orange, too, as Whodini the Magician brought his tricks right into her living room to commemorate her 5th birthday.
"I didn't ask (my parents) for it, but it was what I wanted," Amy said after the show. "Next year, I want to do crafts."
Olivier Rassinoux of Laguna Niguel, however, didn't get what he asked for when he turned 5. His first choice, according to his mother, Nora, was a visit to Chuck E. Cheese, the national chain of pizza restaurants featuring video games and animated mechanical animals that caters to children' birthday parties. "We talked him out of it," she said. "I wanted to stay away from places like that. It's crowded, noisy, and I don't think it's very personal."
Instead, Olivier was visited by Francie, a Huntington Beach mom who blew bubbles, hid stuffed animals in the bushes for a "nature walk" and led the birthday boy, his 7-year-old brother, Pascal, and 12 other guests in songs and games. He was anything but disappointed.
"The demand really is blossoming," said Francie Rosen, who prefers to stay on a first-name basis with the children she entertains. "A lot of moms are working now. They're tired, and they just can't juggle it all. They're overwhelmed. Or even if they don't have jobs, if they have more than one child or a brand new baby, they just can't do two things at once."
And many of their young customers have party schedules that are nearly as hectic.
"I buy at least six birthday presents a month," said Rochelle Pazornik of Laguna Niguel, Melissa's aunt and mother of the young hostess's cousin, Amanda, 5. "It seems like everybody's throwing parties."
Melissa's other cousins, Shannon and Kimberly Gimbel, 7 and 9, of Whittier, almost missed her party because they had accepted an invitation to another one. "They were supposed to go to a sleep-over party last night, but the little girl wasn't feeling well, so it was canceled," said their grandmother, Shiela Gimbel, who brought the girls to Melissa's party Saturday while their parents worked. "And they've got another one tomorrow afternoon."
"I wanted to give her a memory, something she's going to have forever," said Melissa's mother, Barbara Pazornik. Her party, to celebrate not a birthday but the end of the preschool year, was put on by Glendora-based Tea & Cakes Parties, which charges $600 for "afternoon tea parties for the wee ones."
Jonathan's mother, Vicki Hubbard, said she spent that much just for the helium-filled balloons covering the ceiling at her son's party.
Spending several thousand dollars for a child's party isn't uncommon in Orange County, according to Dixie Hibberd, owner of A Dixie Doodle Entertainment in Orange. Hibberd performs at many of those parties as Dixie the Clown (her husband, Preston, is Doodle), and also books other acts and handles arrangements from food to decorations.