My daughter, who will be 3 very soon, was invited to her first birthday party recently for one of her sweet little friends. She got to go to Build-a-Bear and then try her hand at bowling. She ate pizza and cake and ran around with her gal pal. She was exhausted by the time we rolled into our driveway but so happy. She talked for days about how much fun she had with her “best friend.” (Currently, everyone is Eleanor’s best friend. She bestows that title freely on anyone who plays with her).
I always have such grandiose plans for birthday celebrations. I pin All The Things on a Pinterest board and imagine large balloon bouquets and crepe paper strewn everywhere with color-coordinated paper plates and themed food. I consider all the crafts, all the games, I plan a menu, and mock up invitations. These imaginary birthday parties are epic.
Pinterest Parties Vs. Real Parties
The reality is that we have a pretty low-key approach to birthday celebrations in our house.
There is a birthday banner that goes up the night before. Everyone in the family gets the same banner and we’ve used it ages. I bought it at the Dollar Store when we were living in Kansas City and our son was a tiny tot. I had wanted to make my husband’s birthday a little bit festive that year because I was seeing celebrations and milestones through my new son’s eyes–occasions we never made a big deal out of suddenly felt more important. The banner has been torn and taped back together and the elastic bands that hold it up have long since worn out, but we still use it, even now.
We have rainbow pancakes for breakfast, which just sort of happened by accident when I made them for my son for his first birthday and I’ve done it every year since. Everyone gets to pick out whatever kind of cake and dinner they want. There are almost no rules; Abby turned 18 and wanted lobster for her birthday. She got lobster because, honestly, 18 is worth celebrating big! Finn asks for hamburgers every single year; fortunately, he has a summer birthday and we can grill. My husband wants a steak and German chocolate cake. And our little caboose has deemed this a purple cake and chicken pot pie year. Nobody has ever thought to ask to eat out, and I love that I get to feed my people on their special day.
Carrying On Simple Traditions
Growing up birthdays were, of course, celebrated in our house and, much the same, we also got to pick out our cake and our dinner (although with 5 kids in our house, there were some limitations–like none of the aforementioned lobster… although I’m not sure any of us Midwestern kids even knew what lobster was!) I only had one actual birthday party (it was in 1986, I was in the first grade and my party was CareBear themed and we ate cherry cupcakes with pink frosting). I’m not entirely sure how my mom did it because she had two small kids at home and then she was inundated for the afternoon with six 7-year old girls and all the joy, charm, and chaos that age brings. I had a few close girlfriends over for a sleep over as the years progressed, but it was never anything more extraordinary than renting a few VHS movies from the Fleet Farm down the road and trying to stay up as late as we could. I know I was invited to friends’ birthday parties, too, but they also followed the basic guidelines of your standard 80s birthday: pizza, movies, stay up late. It was a simpler time back then!
Maybe that’s why I’m okay with low-key celebrations for my own kids. After all, there are so many things that are done big in their world (preschool graduation, kindergarten graduation, basically “graduating” from just about anything). I guess I just want to balance some of that, let them know that a birthday is special because we celebrate the person they are becoming and what an amazing addition they are to our family. There is certainly a place for a big celebration and maybe some year we’ll plan a big birthday party for our kids – complete with invitations , all their school friends, balloons, crepe paper, scavenger hunts, amazing cake, and all the wonder of a totally coordinated Pinterest birthday party board. But if we never do that–if they only know their birthday as a family day that we celebrate as together–I think I will be okay with that, too.