the undone birthday

If this were a movie, I’d now be admitting how much I preferred the simpler birthday, what a self-revelation it was to discover that the unplanned mess of a birthday was better than anything you can plan. I’d maybe liken the experience to a child preferring the cardboard box to the toy within it. My life, though, is not that movie.

In the past, I spent weeks bookmarking entertaining ideas, pulling up Photoshop, designing gift tags, coordinating bags, labels and thank you notes. Yes, outfits that tied into the theme. And, no, it wasn’t just for me. The kids did appreciate and remember it all, down to the toppers on their cakes. This year, there was none of that. Was it any less of a birthday? No. Any more of a birthday? No.

I scrambled the day of their birthday to bake two cakes. These were not complicated layer cakes. They involved cake mix, fresh cream cheese frosting, homemade chocolate ganache, fresh whipped cream, but this year there wasn’t any sewing involved, just draping. With my cake stands still in Texas, the spread this year was… themed “around the house.” That’s right. Those upturned mixing bowls serve as excellent cake stands. An Ikea crib tent stowed away in the back of the garage cabinets, there’s your centerpiece. Gifts. We didn’t give them a single gift for their birthday.

With beautifully wrapped gifts flown in from grandparents and cousins, would our five-year-olds even notice fewer gifts from their own parents? No. They never noticed, or never made a point of mentioning it. They got it. They experienced their birthdays with us at Disney World. On the actual day of their birthday, we scooped them up from school, both still wearing their glittered classroom crowns, and escorted them to a 3D showing of Hugo followed by a dinner at Houston’s, then finally, eyes fighting to stay open, they ripped through birthday wrapping papers, jumped up and down the way you see in ice cream commercials. Though I can’t remember the last ice cream commercial I’ve seen. It’s something that doesn’t take much of a sell. Point is, we were all happy. It was low stress, intimate, and lovely. They got to blow out candles and watch their mother eat both their cakes, mostly while standing, leaning on the refrigerator door, eating with my fingers, re-wrapping it back up, then at it again.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it does all work. No one is upset, everyone is happy, everyone is tired, and I think we all feel that the day was special. I liked the way it was all thrown together, how it still worked to meet my own expectations. So the chocolate cake didn’t bake evenly and looks like a molehill—all the better to reach great heights.

I guess what I’m also trying to say is that no, it wasn’t my first choice, I would’ve liked more time, but the insight I’m gleaning into myself is that it’s okay when it’s not everything, when it’s not coordinated, when it really is just thrown together. I’m not drinking the water long enough to believe it’s better, this last-chance to-make-shit-happen-way, but it’s livable.



  1. Well, there is that small detail that they just went to disney!! I don’t think they lack for anything!! You are so right to remember that you don’t have to make everything perfect; they don’t really notice or care. All they notice is that attention was paid and love was doled out.

  2. Finally – a glimmer of hope! That birthday sounds great. And normal. All the anxious planning, over the top crafts, etc. is better left out of a 5 yr old birthday celebration. I am sure Phil was relieved.

    Any update on your TX house?

  3. I love your intent–to make a fabulous birthday for your twins, and it sounds like it was. If you have even a hint of a thought that it’s “less than”, quash it immediately. It looks like more than fine, more than fabulous.

    Truth is, this is the way most of us live–without all the excess–excess stuff, anxiety and details. I think you’re right, it’s meeting your own expectations that’s the issue, and maybe this means you are starting to relax a bit about all that. Which would be a blessing.

    It sounds like this is a different time in your life and also sounds like that’s a good thing. It’s nice to see less rather than more in your life for a change.

    I wish your family the happiest of new years. And every time I see those children in photos I’m charmed–they are just adorable. And the cute stories we get from time to time are sweet. They seem to be grounded and chock-full of the right values. Kids anyone would want as friends for their own. You two are doing a great job!

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