I showed L. Beckett the invitation to his sixth birthday party, the electronic last-minute card I put together, and upon seeing the glorious outline of a T-Rex (patterned with Hello Kitty), fat possum tears dribbled into his mouth. “No, Mama. No.” These were the only words he could manage, his nose now leaking past his lips, onto his chin. He shook his head and pinched his eyes shut. He was having none of it. No pink, and certainly no Hello Kitty.
Image from Amy Atlas
Phil argued that it was a non-starter. That is, I shouldn’t have shown it to the boy, that they’re kids, they’ll be happy with what they get. And if not, maybe they shouldn’t get anything. Tough titties, tot. As for me, Phil said, I should stop giving a shit. Mind you, “How can I help?” is how the conversation began. “You know, just pick up some stuff for the goodie bags,” I said. “Hello Kitty for the girl bags, dinosaur stuff for the boys.”
“Not happening,” he said. “They all get the same. Some M&M’s, something else, and a coloring book, all the same. Kids don’t care. There’s a mad dash when they’re leaving; they just want something to hold, no one cares what it is. These kids don’t even play with one another. I’ve seen it. I’ve been to enough of these. No one cares who shows up, who doesn’t, or what it looked like. Stephanie, you’re the ONLY one who cares.”
He was right. To a point. I’ve been to the same parties, where no one cares, the generic party, where the kid is happy because she got the rock-hard sugar flower off the cake. I was that kid. My mother never created a “sweets bar” or coordinated the thank you notes with the napkins, and I loved every last party, even the one at the amusement park, where the cola spilled on my hamburger and my father told me to go ahead and eat it anyway.”It tastes the same,” he said. “And all ends up in the same place.” “The crapper,” he might’ve said.
Parents are happy to mingle or drop-off their child, thankful for the break, no matter what or where the party is (except in Boca Raton, when one child in Abigail’s class threw a party at Chuck E Cheese… and Abigail and one other child were the only two to show up, because the parents refused to bring their kids there). It’s not about the parents, supposedly. Which, ask anyone who has ever attended a catered birthday party for a one year old, is bullshit. Because on some level, we feel we’re being judged, not so much as parents but as entertainers, as talents, as homemakers, judged on our creativity and thoughtfulness. When my daughter returns from a spa birthday party with a parting gift, a bathrobe and frilly slippers, that cost more than the gift she gave to the birthday girl, I do marvel. Not at the money spent but at the time taken, the details checked, at the creativity and packaging of the moments.
Images from Amy Atlas
Birthday parties should be about joy. They are meant to celebrate, to make the honored guest(s) feel even more special; they’re part of our childhood. Sometimes the parties are outfitted with bounce houses at homes, other times it’s pizza at a bowling alley. I can’t say that it makes a difference, that anyone feels more, either way. I drive myself crazy with the smaller details because when the day comes, when I let go of “perfect” in favor of “done,” I feel joy, having given a gift to my children, born from my creativity and heart.
To Phil, he’s happy to “slap it together, who cares?” and that’s fine; it’s his way. And for me, my way, my gift, is orchestrating a coordinated day with icing smiles, where the handmade water bottle wrappers match the cakes and birthday outfits. Stepford? A little, yeah. But it’s truly my way—at least one way—of expressing love. It might be different if the appearance was all that mattered, if I was trying to spread a thick layer of frosting over the mess of a mom I can be. But I happen to showcase my mess on a daily basis, so I needn’t illuminate it further with a coordinated paper lantern.
Now, I will overextend myself (once again not writing for my writing class tonight) by attempting a boy girl color palette that will coordinate with a Baryonyx and a pink pouty kitty–that first top image from this party does a pretty good job coordinating pink into the dino palette actually. It does bring me joy… if only there weren’t so many other things that also brought me joy. I suppose it’s a good problem to have, no? Cakes to be ordered, cake bunting to be sewn, and parting gifts to scavenge.