Every time it happens. A few days out from a birthday party and my husband asks me why I’m doing so much. Why I’m (in his words) “killing myself” over a party for a kid who won’t likely even remember it, no matter how well the bunting matches the theme. And my answer, every time, is “I’m not sure, but I kind of feel like I have to.”
This is my eight time at this particular rodeo. The first few were simple, no theme, no games, no loot bags (though I did have have homemade cookies complete with handcrafted “thank you for celebrating with us” tags). In hindsight, I’m surprised I didn’t do more. But then again, that was BP (before Pinterest). Then came my eldest’s third birthday. In those days, any screen time afforded him was devoted wholly and fully to Angry Birds. So, naturally, I planned him an Angry Birds birthday party.
I went all out – not with my wallet, but with my efforts. I spent hours hunting the internet for “do it yourself” ideas. I made games, planned activities, and printed colouring sheets. But my crowning achievement was the cake. After a couple of cake decorating classes I had some new skills to show off, and even after wrangling some assistance from my husband, it took me hours… Enough so that when we were finally finished in the wee hours the night before the party, neither of us could quantify what we’d done. “How long do you think this took us?,” I remember asking. “I have no idea, but please tell me were done,” he pleaded. I was exhausted too, but giddy. The party was an incredible success and I reveled in the accolades of my friends and family who regaled me with phrases like “amazing” and “how do you find the time” (to this day, still a personal favourite).
Since then, I’ve done a Lego party, a Sesame Street party, a Dinosaur party, and today, a Very Hungry Caterpillarparty. And truth be told, no matter how insane my aspirations, and no matter how much frustration they entail, I love doing them. I am the quintessential “take a theme and run with it” kind of mom. (My husband would say, “sprint”.) I love creating the posters, tags and signs. I get giddy discovering clever ways of displaying food and snacks. And I love draping our house in a blanket of celebratory decor pieces (balloons, anybody?), leaving a trail of used up ink cartridges and laminating pockets in my wake.
I’ve learned, over the years, that the part of all this where tend to “fall down” is ploughing through the plethora of existing ideas (yes, it may well be I have a slight Pinterest obsession) and committing to the 5-6 party projects I love most. It is deep in the eleventh hour of surfing that I find I’ve pinned 147 “ideas” to my Eric Carle Birthday board. It is here, where my creative juices are oozing out of every pore and my passion for party planning has my senses tingling with an energetic drive that I can describe only as Devine, where I have to reign in myself. When the horses driving this cart are in a full-out gallop and I’m loving the wind in my hair, it’s hard to say “whoa!”
But I’ve also learned that putting on the brakes is the key to maintaining some semblance of balance throughout the planning process. My new mantra in party planning has become “keep it simple, keep it simple…. I think I can, I think I can.” A couple of crafts while guests are arriving, a few activities and games to keep them busy, kid-friendly food, and cake. That’s it. No bells and whistles. No clowns or other over-priced entertainment – simple and fun. This was the birthday party of my childhood. When I was little no one had bouncy castle birthdays – we played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and called it a day.
And perhaps this is part of why I feel the need to do these birthday parties as I do. To reclaim the fun memories of my childhood, championed by my stay-at-home-crafting-sewing-made-our-own-yogurt-and-dried-our-own-fruit mom. She made birthdays special. Ironically, what I remember about those birthdays isn’t in the details. It was being made to feel very special. And now that I’ve joined the Mommy Club, I get it. I understand completely why birthdays were (and still are!) such a big deal to my mom. Because they mark her journey too.
Celebrating the day my children were born is just as much about me as it is them. It’s just as much about my journey as a mother as it is about their journeys becoming little people. I get that now. And perhaps it sheds some light on why I go a little crazy when it comes to marking these special days. They are, as it turns out, my special days too.
As we celebrate Zach turning three this week, I will remember his quick entry into this world (he was born 3 minutes after my water broke – seriously). And watching him running around with his friends today makes me realize that he’s always been in a hurry to get from A to B. When he blows out the candles on his Very Hungry Caterpillar cake my only wish will be that I be granted the honour of many more birthday party fevers in the years ahead.