On a glorious autumn afternoon, 20 little angels are soaring through the trees, relaxing on beanbag "clouds," and feasting on angel-topped cake and angel-hair pasta. In the center of this celestial mayhem is lively Kyra Kennedy, who turned 5 at summer's end but chose to celebrate her birthday a few months later with a heavenly host of kindergarten classmates and friends.
Luckily for Kyra, the Bedford, NY, home she shares with her parents, architectural designer Mary Richardson Kennedy and attorney and environmental advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and her brothers, Conor, 6, and Finn, 3, is truly a child's paradise. Inside, the furnishings are both comfortable and unpretentious, with family photos and keepsakes filling every available nook and cranny. Outside, an inviting expanse of lawn creates the perfect setting for games of tag, trampoline acrobatics, and the ultimate thrill ride, a harness and zip line that allow the squealing angels-and a few mischievous devils-to take to the skies. "For Kyra, angels symbolize all that is good and beautiful," says Mary Kennedy, explaining the impetus for her daughter's birthday party. "Both Bobby and I come from very large Irish-Catholic families-I'm one of seven children, and Bobby is one of 11-and Kyra feels strongly that we all have a guardian angel in our lives."With a laugh, Bobby Kennedy adds, "Kyra is always saying that she's struggling to listen to the little angel on her shoulder. When Mary was putting Kyra on a plane recently with her aunt, she reminded Kyra to be polite and behave. Kyra replied, 'I know-I have to listen to the angel on my one shoulder and not the devil on my other shoulder.' She cocked her head and said, 'I can hear the angel now, laughing and talking and having a party.'
That image comes to life at today's celebration, as Kyra's friends excitedly exchange school uniforms for snow-white leotards, tights, and skirts (all from Danskin) topped by fluffy wings. The girls decorate their own halos with a variety of sequins, feathers, and pipe cleaners, then it's out to the backyard, where they frolic among the Kennedys' menagerie of peacocks, guinea hens, cormorants, and geese. (A small barn houses a family of hawks carefully tended by Bobby, who serves as vice president and chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson Valley environmental group Riverkeeper.) Darting in and out of the action are Kyra's devil-clad brothers and a few of their friends.
After warming up on the trampoline and climbing on the circle of beanbags, the guests eagerly head to the rear of the Kennedys' lawn for the main event: flying! In honor of the birthday girl, a family friend who builds sets for Broadway musicals has rigged up equipment from Flying by Foy, the company that has sent several generations of Peter Pans soaring across the stage. The little angels and devils line up for turns in the bucket-shaped seat, and Bobby pulls the ropes to send them up, up, up in the air.
A crowd of 25 very young partygoers might seem daunting to most hosts, but Mary says, "For us, this isn't a big group at all. Every Sunday afternoon, we invite an ever-expanding group of people to come and play Capture the Flag. Bobby's older kids [Little Bobby, 16, and Kick, 12] are with us weekends, holidays, and summers, and Bobby's family has more than 50 nieces and nephews, so nothing we do is small. Last weekend, there were 60 people of all ages here. We play games outdoors, with regular cookie and lemonade breaks."
As the afternoon sun begins to go down, Kyra's band of hungry angels heads inside for a dreamy dinner of angel-hair pasta with sautéed chicken chunks and Parmesan shavings, freshly baked halo-shaped breadsticks, strawberries dipped in powdered sugar and whipped cream, cloudlike meringues, frosted angel cookies, and baker Sandee Martensen's exquisite (and delicious) multilayer birthday cake, frosted with moldable white chocolate, filled with Swiss meringue buttercream, and topped with hand-sculpted white chocolate angels. In addition to their costumes, guests will take home tiny goody bags containing a guardian angel pin and cherubim stickers.
For Mary Kennedy, the key to a successful birthday party is simple: "Open your home and your heart, and let things happen. Kids just enjoy being together."
That's certainly true of Kyra's young friends, who say good-bye as the tired but happy guest of honor begins opening her presents. When someone asks what she enjoyed most about her angel party, Kyra replies without hesitation: "Flying!"
Copyright @ 2001. Reprinted with permission from the February 2001 issue of Child Magazine.