“Mom, this afternoon I’m going to have a birthday party at our house. I invited all of my preschool friends, and they will be here at 4 pm. Can I get a Barbie doll?”
I was almost 5 years old, and the colors that changed on my mom’s face when I announced this wonderful news reminded me of the colorful stickers I used on the invitations I’d handed out to my friends.
Brace yourselves, I’m about to share something that breaks a consensus amongst women our age. I know it, and I still choose to share it. I LOVE birthdays. Birthdays and surprises! Something about the positive concentrated attention makes me happy.
I’m not one of those who connect the actual birthday to my aging process. I deal with my aging on a daily basis (and with more attention over the past year), but I love to celebrate the birthday itself. It doesn’t have to be a wild party (I probably wouldn’t like that at all), but it does have to be a day that is all about the person we’re celebrating—full of all of their favorite things and new surprises to make them happy.
ONE CAN ONLY DREAM
The gap between mine and my parents’ wishes probably started with the fact that I’m the third child. When you’re the third, it’s not realistic to dream about excessive parties (or even just some solo attention if we’re really talking about what’s realistic here). Or, maybe it’s because I’m a girl after 2 boys, and their standard for a good birthday was more in the lines of “just give me some money as a gift because I’m saving up for a new stereo.” In any case, from a very young age, I learned that if I wanted to celebrate something, I was going to have to take care of it myself. And that’s how it all started.
When my guy and I were getting serious, I quietly started with our “one month,” “6 months,” and “one-year” anniversary celebrations. It was nothing too extraordinary or even unique, but at least I had a place to channel my need to celebrate. For our first wedding anniversary, I sent him on a country-wide treasure hunt through all the stops of our life together. When I realized I was spending my anniversary sitting in a car and driving him around all day, I came to the conclusion that this wasn’t the most brilliant way to celebrate our partnership.
SEE-SAW MARGERY DAW
As one of six siblings, my guy wasn’t getting much birthday attention either. But, unlike me, he wasn’t looking for it. Furthermore, I very quickly realized that as my wish to invest in his event grew, his stress about my birthday increased. We were sitting on two seesaws at the same time – my need to give against his desire to receive, and my extravagant production fantasies against his party planning abilities and practicality. Most of the time, he felt like he was at the bottom of the swing, incapable of getting up in the sky himself because he was getting more attention than he was hoping for and wasn’t able to pay me back at the same level, all while thinking he was disappointing me when it was time for my celebration.
I won’t lie; it took us years to get to the place where I can enjoy myself planning over-the-top celebrations for others without it having any implications for my birthday. When I feel like a special treat for myself, I make the plans, create the invite list and the schedule, and leave it to him to take care of all the rest. And, if not, then there are a few simple things he knows I will always want on my birthday, and they will be more than enough. No stress.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!
When our oldest was born, I got rid of my last few hesitations, and her birthdays get better with each year. I love fantasizing with her about ideas and themes that she and her friends would enjoy. Then, at some point, I stop sharing the plans with her and work on the fantasy by myself. Because the best thing about birthday parties is that you get to enjoy them yourself!
We’ve had parties where her friends had to free the trapped howling beauty of the north by going on a scavenger hunt in our neighborhood, bonfire and flying lantern parties, sports rivalry parties, pool parties, craft parties, playdoh parties, and escape room parties.
But, my second daughter, much like her dad, is not into being the center of attention unless the attendees are VERY close to her, so sometimes she chooses not to have a big party but to have a special day just with us.
We moved back home two weeks before her 8th birthday, so it was clear we had no one to invite to a party, but we freed up our entire busy schedule that day and had a “tourist” day in our own country. We visited a great exhibit about Jewish Heroes at the Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfusot. Then, we took a hot air balloon ride, had tons of sweets, and met up with friends. A year later, I was sure she would want a class party, especially after her 8th birthday, but no. For her 9th birthday, she still wanted to have a special day with just the five of us.
This year we decided to focus on her favorites. We woke her up to the sound of our tone-deaf singing, all while videotaping her (a tradition I started when her older sister turned one). She immediately ran to the gift table she knew would be waiting for her, but on top of the “regular” gifts and cards, she found a large scratch card combined out of 9 stretchable hearts, one for each year.
The instructions were simple – under each heart hides a family activity dedicated to you. You can choose when to scratch each one, and we will all participate. Among the activities on the card were a family dance party, body percussion lesson (her favorite after-school program), soccer practice with dad, eight-hands massage, ice cream treat, cuddles with mom, and more.
When I asked the birthday girl what she enjoyed best about her day, she said it was the scratch card. It was easy to make, but it contained all of her favorites and everything that we wanted to give her on her birthday. Two weeks later, she already decided what she wanted to do for her 10th birthday party, but at least I have a full year ahead of me to plan it.
IT’S MY PARTY AND I’LL CRY IF I WANT TO
Back to my party in preschool…for a couple of minutes, I thought the house was shaking up in preparations for the party (I guess I confused anger with excitement). I don’t know if my mom frantically called all the other moms in my class to let them know there was no party (and probably wouldn’t be any time in the next 20 years or so) or if the moms themselves realized that something was suspicious about my impromptu invitation.
But there was no party that day.