Last summer I wrote a Facebook status about hosting a belated birthday party for one of my kids; I later developed it into the following essay. After reading lots of chatter on social media this week from moms bemoaning the “non-Pinteresty” valentines to be distributed by their offspring, this essay came to mind. For obvious reasons.
Tomorrow I’ll be giving a birthday party for one of my children. I sent out the invitation this morning. Her birthday was a month ago. We’ll roll out a slip-n-slide and set up some sprinklers in the yard. A simple sheet cake will be served on a well-worn pizza pan and plates leftover from past gatherings. And all the party-goers will be leaving empty-handed, sans parting gifts.
But I haven’t arrived at this point of lackadaisical party-planning easily. With nine years of parenting under my belt and a total of three kids underfoot, I’ve attended my fair share of birthday parties. Some were simple and easygoing, yes. But then there were The Parties. The ones where everything matched, including the adorable invitations sent out weeks before. The ones where the mama had hand-sewn a dozen superhero capes for all the guests. The ones with specially-printed labels on miniature milk bottles tied up with raffia. The ones with specially-printed labels for every dang thing on the table, actually. Tiers of fancy fondant cakes. Pinatas. Pony rides. (I only heard about that one: a backyard Cirque-de-Soleil-type event for a two-year-old.)
Accompanying these actual over-the-top parties is what might be more of the real culprit in making so many of us feel less-than: the media. Popular blogs and magazines and television shows suggest we should be living an always-orderly, color-coordinated, fresh-flowers-on-every-table-in-the-house lifestyle. The one that gives your child every good thing. But as much I love giving good things to my children, I CAN’T DO IT ALL. Something’s gotta give. And in my house, the Splendid Birthday Soiree is one of those things.
I’ve have had moments of brief insanity (which, if I’m honest, have stretched into years) during which I thought could be all that and a bag of party favors. These days, most folks seem primarily tormented by Pinterest; for me, it was Martha Stewart’s Living, with its gorgeous photographs showing how to arrange a bouquet of succulents or make a lattice-top pie crust or spin your own wool. It was there I started dreaming of all the ways I could make my life lovely to behold. Martha made it look so very easy. But over time my frustration mounted as I realized I couldn’t pull it off. I didn’t have the time or energy to fine-tune and beautify the details. Then…epiphany! Martha had no small children scurrying about her home, she was being paid to make it all look effortless, and – minor detail – she had lots and lots of helpers.
As a kid, I don’t remember much about birthday parties, mine or anyone else’s. I remember the time my mom used a guitar-shaped mold to make a number eight cake for my class at school. And I remember the time my junior-high girlfriends came over dressed circa-1960s and we made a pyramid in my living room, falling into a heap of giggling hippies. I can’t recall one single other birthday party from childhood except for my friend Sarah’s bat mitzvah. She invited me even after I insisted to her in gym class one day that Jesus was in fact. without. a doubt. the Messiah. So I went to synagogue, listened to her recite in Hebrew, and then walked into the reception with my other 13-year-old friends to tables full of champagne and caviar. Yes, THAT one I remember.
Here’s the thing: some people are born with mad-phat party-giving skills. They enjoy weaving together all the details of an event that brings levity to life. And I honestly enjoy attending those parties. As an adult, I have an appreciation for all the fanciful details. But that appreciation has only come with adulthood. Most kids I’ve observed (including my own) seem only concerned about whether or not they can have another Capri Sun. But somewhere in there – in the conundrum that is my mind – another mama’s ease of organizing a party with amazingly intricate details translates into the idea that yours truly is not a Good Enough Mother. That ain’t right.
Birthday-party-planning is only one of a myriad of ways we parents compare ourselves to another. For me, it’s a part of the implied parenting competition that I’ve chosen to give up. I’ve released the need to attain the title of Queen Mother of Party-Throwing. There are plenty of other places in my life that could benefit from that store of energy. Instead of making my eyes cross while pasting together teeny-tiny decorations for the top of each cupcake, I’ll use that time to do something noble. Like watch the one-and-only season of Freaks & Geeks for the fourth time. Because a laughing mommy is way better than an irritable, cake-knife-wielding mommy.
It’s freeing to realize I’m the only one who’s putting those Grandiose Birthday Party expectations on myself. And it was freeing again when I decided to officially shake them loose.
So I have. Those kids’ll love the sprinklers and sheet cake. All they really wanna do is play and take down as much sugar as the grown-ups will allow. I can pull off that kind of party.
Take THAT, Pinterest, Martha and all those unrealistic expectations I put on myself.