At some point after the divorce, it became my ex’s job to plan and host the girls’ birthday parties, even if their birthdays didn’t fall on “his” weekend. Since he makes about one frillion times more money than I do, it was easier for him to bring their elaborate birthday fantasies to life and throw some truly amazing parties. I loved that he wanted to be involved in these celebrations, so this arrangement worked well for all of us for several years.
This year, however, he was going to be out of town during Eldest’s birthday week, so it fell to me to plan, host and bankroll her 11th birthday party. We decided to have a low-key sleepover party with just three friends from school, followed by a girls-only breakfast at a local crêperie and a couple of hours to explore the Seattle waterfront. Not only was the party an enormous success, but I was reminded of how much I love simple birthday parties.
1. There is more than one way to show your kid that you care. While expensive party venues, designer cakes and copious amounts of presents are one way to celebrate your child on their birthday, they aren’t the only way. Spending quality time together and simply taking a day to let your kid know how glad you are that they were born doesn’t require having a big chunk of disposable income, and it can be meaningful for both of you regardless of the budget.
2. It’s important to slow down. Our day-to-day lives are fast-paced, stressful and chock full of activities, and our poor kiddos are dragged along for the ride. It’s necessary to take a step back from the craziness once in awhile and give our kids a chance to just be. Sometimes it’s the quiet moments, and not the forced excitement of activity after activity, when the best memories are made.
3. The “value” should come from the guests, not the party. I want my children to learn that it’s the people in their lives who matter, not whether or not they got to hang out at the latest trendy birthday party spot for two hours on a Saturday.
4. Getting creative together opens the door for a deeper relationship with your child. When was the last time you sat down to collaborate with your child on, well, anything? We tell them how to clear the table, when to clean their rooms, which homework questions to fix and when it’s time to leave, but we so rarely get to learn more about how they see the world. Planning a creative party together can be such a wonderful bonding experience with your growing kiddo, and gives you both an opportunity to see each other differently, even for just a few moments.
5. Everything can be an adventure. I think it’s easy to forget that our children (with their PS3s and iPhones and laptops and all the other spoils of our modern lives) are just as capable as any generation of children to turn a stick into a magic wand or a tree into an enchanted castle. Their imaginations are wonderful and powerful and aching to be given a chance to run wild.
As soon as each of Eldest’s three guests arrived home after the party, I started receiving phone calls and text messages from their mothers telling me what a fantastic time their daughters had.
“She loved visiting the gum wall!”
“She can’t stop talking about watching the parrot do tricks at the market!”
“I haven’t seen her smile this much in a long time.”
The girls had a great day exploring and chatting and just having a chance to be themselves. And I was lucky enough to experience this day with them, learning more about my daughter and her beautiful friends with each perfect, unstructured moment. We’ll all remember this day fondly for a long, long time.