I have not yet composed the birthday letter to my newly minted two-year-old as per my usual Extreme Birthday Celebrant self. In fact, I didn’t do much of anything that’s usual for Thumper’s birthday this year.
When a birthday approaches, I get into this mode: I craft, I bake, I create, I get fancy. In short, my brain short-circuits a little, and I live outside my comfort zone for the days, even weeks, leading up to a birthday.
For Little Miss’ first year, I decided to go with a tea party (yes, for the one-year-old who could barely drink out of a cup herself, let alone enjoy the tea). It was inspired by a cameo pendant, so I special-ordered a cake to match it, I scoured the local vintage shops for dainty porcelain tea sets, shopped for attire (for both Little Miss and myself) that fit the theme, made scones, tea sandwiches, and teapot shaped cut-out cookies with her initials that I spent too many nights trying to perfect (and possibly cried over a little at 2 AM when they were nearly done, but not quite, and it seemed like it would never end).
Intricate, fussy work is just not my thing. It’s hardly ever my thing, but I thought, once a year, for my daughter’s birthday, I should do something special. Now, it’s twice a year, and so I toil with each birthday. Sometimes, like an idiot.
For Little Miss’ third birthday, my mom, My Guy, and I became a factory, churning out a gazillion and two cake pops for a balloon-themed party to go with the balloon pit, balloon decorations, and balloon favors. Naturally, I handcrafted balloon-inspired thank you cards after the event.
This year, I got Thumper 20 purple balloons and lost 10 of them to crazy winds before I could even reach home. It was painful to watch it fly away from my inches-away grasp, but not the end of the world, because that was just bonus. After our trip to the water park to celebrate her birthday, I’d resigned myself to a simpler celebration, so the balloons were actually a last-minute addition.
In fact, I refused to even call it a party – just a play date with friends – as a way to trick my brain to chill out. That also meant doubling my effort to quiet the chorus of guilt because this year, for this special two-year-old of mine, I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary.
With only three days from the time we returned from our trip to the weekend, which was when we invited our neighbors and Thumper’s closest playmates over for a belated celebration of her big 0-2, and with work taking up most of my “free” time, I had no choice but to surrender my Party OCD to the stars.
And boy, did I ever.
People were scheduled to arrive at 3:30, and I didn’t get home from the store (after losing half the balloons) until 2:30. Everything was purchased, from cupcakes to snacks, and I barely squeezed in a much needed shower. I only decided on Thumper’s birthday outfit when something new arrived in the mail that afternoon. The other option was something in the closet that she had never found the occasion to wear.
In the end, she had a great time. She didn’t know that the guests were casually invited, mentioned in passing during a play date, rather than an elaborate daddy-designed digital invitation card (he’d created an animated GIF invite for Little Miss’ party one year), she didn’t know 10 balloons were missing (and probably making some other kids smile when they spy them floating in the sky), she didn’t know that the hodgepodge of paper plates were leftovers from previous parties, and she didn’t know her cupcakes weren’t homemade.
Nor would she have cared.
I know. I have always known, but perhaps having been a full-time working mom before this led me to overcompensate. I felt compelled to make the weekends more lively for the kids (frenetic for the grownups) and the special days more special (but stressful for me) to make up for the time I didn’t get to spend with them.
Yet, despite the grocery-store-sponsored party, she smiled, she grinned, she snorted, she laughed, she said “butt-butt” and “toot” a lot, she announced “cake time!”, she kicked off her own Happy Birthday song, she said plenty of thank you’s, she kissed, she hugged, she twirled and fell, and she twirled some more.
The Teddy Grahams, raisins, juice, cheese sticks, grapes, and Goldfish crackers made the kids happy, and Thumper even got to devour one cupcake and three frostings. After the last of the guests left, she went to bed saying “Night night, mommy…I wub you…see you in the morning,” just like she does every night.
I didn’t have to do more. The thing is, I never had to. But now that I see that pre-party stress prep yields the same happy, contented birthday girl as pre-party no prep, I can’t believe I once cried into a cookie.