Birthdays are a big deal at our house…or at least I try to make them that way. Having 2 birthdays in 3 days in October is both convenient and awkward. Joint parties are no longer a consideration as teen boys and pre-teen girls have very little in common. Parties in general just irritate me. A few years ago there were no RSVP’s—I alternated between panicking that no one would come and worrying that everyone would come and I wouldn’t have ‘enough’. The party before that had plenty of RSVP’s from parents who whined that so-and-so could come but they would have to bring their little brother/sister too. Party numbers doubled. Plus, party games and goody bags suitable for 6 year olds didn’t suit the 2-3 and 4 year olds who came tagging along expecting to be part of the day. Personally I thought it was rude but what was I supposed to say, “No?” Regardless of the type of party…I tend to go a bit overboard. Shocking, isn’t it? I buy too much, try to make too much and stress that I haven’t done enough. Finally I decided—Enough! We decreed birthday parties were over and birthday trips were in. The double October birthdays and our October wedding anniversary worked well for this. Combining all 3 made for some grad adventures. We swam with Dolphins at Discovery Cove. Disney was our playground one year. Together, we toured the streets of New York City—TWICE. I love to travel. I love to introduce my babies to new places and new things. I love fall. I love going to places that epitomize fall. Ahh…fall adventures and NO birthday parties. Life was good.
This year my daughter asked if I would think about letting her have a party after a tightening budget made it appear as if a trip wasn’t going to happen. I agreed to think about it. We brainstormed a bit and talked about a fall carnival type of party with homemade candy apples, fall games, apple bobbing, pumpkin carving and popcorn stations. She was tickled and as soon as I got over my disappointment about no travelling together, I got a little excited, too.
SCREACH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Euphoria crashed into reality. It was confirmed. This year there would be no trips. And, after an unexpected $6000 dollars in car repairs bills in a single week…2 weeks before the birthdays…parties weren’t realistic either. Groceries were looking optional as well. On the way home from softball practice one night I had to break the news to my daughter. Telling my soon-to-be 11 year old that there would be no trip, no party for her big day almost broke my heart. Behind her big white glasses her big brown eyes filled with tears. I saw her bottom lip quiver. “It’s okay. I und-der-der-stand,” her voice broke as she tried to get the word out. My heart broke. My own voice broke as I apologized. “Really. It’s okay. I understand,” she put her head down and turned her face toward the car window so I didn’t see the single tear roll down her dirty cheek. I don’t think I ever felt as big a Mommy failure as I did at that moment. I reached over and patted her leg. She sniffed in the dark.
A week later she approached me again. Tentatively. Her proposal—if she didn’t ask for a present could we have a few girls spend the night? I was wrong about telling her no party being my biggest Mommy fail. Having her bargain away her present in order to have a party was an even bigger fail. How exactly was I supposed to tell her that despite her very sensible inquiry I didn’t know how I was going to feed her next week—much less entertain her friends in a celebration of her day? I certainly didn’t tell her that presents were already optional.
Long story short, I told her we would have a party. And we will. It won’t be as grand as what I had planned for her. It won’t be a large scale to-do but it will be a party and it will be for her. I’ll sell what I have to in order to give her a day. Pintrest and I will collaborate to make it cute and colorful and special. It won’t be on her birthday, which is a week and a half away, but it will be in her Birthday month. There are things I can accept—things like not having the latest in name brand clothing or not getting a smart phone at age 10. Those things I can live with. Not letting my little girl have a birthday party…that I just can’t stomach.
Luckily an October birthday lends itself to a Halloween party! I am going to make the homemade apples. There are fall-carnival-like games that I can make. Instead of birthday party favor bags we will have Halloween goodies. Cool fall weather means our back yard will be perfect—no need to rent a place. She’s already asked her Poppy for a photo booth as part of the shin-dig. Orange soda with jack-o-lantern faces colored in sharpie on the bottle will make for cute table decorations. Candy corn isn’t expensive. A bag of apples and a bucket of water and VIOLA! A “bobbing for apples” station emerges. Construction paper cones glued to a circle and witches hats emerge. One small pumpkin and 8 hats and you suddenly have BOWLING-witches style. Cheese puffs from the dollar tree become pumpkin poop. Wood is cheap so we’ll light the fire pit and roast s ’mores. I have burlap. I have a sharpie. Combine the two and you have an adorable fall banner. This will happen and it will be adorable and fun and grand.
Am I a failure as a Mom if Kinsley doesn’t get an 11 year birthday party? No. Do I feel like a failure as a mom because I can’t give her a party? Yes. Does seeing her happy make me happy? Yes. Does the prospect of a party make her happy? Yes. Last night as she was going to bed she ran back downstairs and gave me an extra hug and kiss. “Thank you, thank you, thank you for the party stuff,” her big brown eyes were bright and filled with excitement. I reached up and pushed her too big glasses up off the bridge of her nose. “You are welcome,” I say marveling at how little she could look and seem at moments like these. Vulnerable moments. Moments when she is still my little girl. Most days she seems like 11 going on 18. She is smart and mature and is changing into a young lady right in front of my eyes. She has hips and a bust and long, lean legs. Her hair is longer and she likes to fling it over one shoulder like a super model. Tonight, however, she is young and doe-eyed. Her glasses are too big for her face. Her hand-made pajama bottoms have owls on them and she has her hair in a ponytail. Tonight she looks like my little girl and she is looking at me like I am her hero. “We will make it work baby,” I say. This earns me another hug. “I know! I am so excited,” one last hug and she scurries upstairs squealing excitedly all the way.
The exchange is over in about 30 seconds but I plan to hold onto it for much longer. She’s sassy, smart, stubborn and strong willed. Most of our exchanges are battles of the wills with me at one end and her at the other. I want her to say; she wants to go. I want her to be my little girl; she wants to be her own person. I want her to learn; she thinks she already knows everything. I want her to be obedient; she is defiant. I say NO; she wants a Yes. She wants to be a teenager; I remind her she’s not. She tries but I tell her it’s not enough. I try but she tells me it’s not right. Back and forth and back and forth we go. Day in and day out we bicker and battle. Until now-until moments like this when we band together to get something done.
This party isn’t just a way of telling her happy birthday. This party makes us a team. Planning and creating is something we can do together. She is mature enough to appreciate that we are making this happen. She will thank me and thank me and thank me. Together we will craft ideas and make plans until she has the party she dreams of. And in giving her a party I get to be her hero, I get her appreciation and I get a few extra hugs and kisses in the process. It’ may be her Birthday but it will be my Happy Day.