Wednesday, July 23, 2008

You Say It's Your Birthday, It's His Birthday, Too

As I looked up from my hot-glue gunning to see the clock flashing 9:37 Saturday night, I called out to P, "Aren't you glad we opted for a simple birthday party this year?" He grunted, hunched over the kitchen table, busily carving two chocolate sheet cakes into sixes.

C and S are turning six tomorrow. Up until this year, they never really asked about a birthday party. Living in rural Maine on a boarding school campus, we simply had the few other faculty kids stop by at cake time. Moving into full-time school this year in a new place, the party invitations started to flood in and the guys got the idea that these birthday party gigs might be a cool thing to aspire to. I have to admit that all the invitations that arrived at our home did not make it up on the family calendar. Due to parental discretion, a few invitations were quietly responded to with a 'thank so much, but we can't make it' without S and C being informed. Despite all that you hear about over-the-top kids' parties these days, for the most part, the parties the boys did attend were totally reasonable. There were some that included themes or rented space or party bags, but nothing was so consumer driven or expensive that it made our wedding reception look paltry.

Interestingly, two of the party invitations we said 'yes' to specifically asked guests not to bring gifts as the parents tried to refocus the giving to others. One suggested, without too much fervor or pressure, that if we did want to recognize E's birthday, we might think about contributing to Heifer International as E had been saving to buy a goat for a family in need in a developing nation. While the boys were enjoying watching chickens and listening to E's family friend fiddle at that party, I became sort of amused, then a bit perturbed, by a conversation a few mamas were having in the corner. "I brought her a gift anyway," one mom declared. "It's all well and good to teach your child a lesson, but you shouldn't punish the kid." I found that remark quite telling. Clearly that wasn't about E or E's parents' wishes at all, but about the parenting choices this mom was making. I could only imagine attending a kid's party where it was implicitly understood that you were to bring gifts and deciding not to bring a gift intentionally because it's against your parenting philosophy/style. How would that go over?

So with this new exposure to classmates' birthday parties, S and C started to have general discussions about what they wanted for a party. "It should be a math theme. I want a plus sign pinata," was one memorable request. P and I began responding to the party talk with some gentle letdowns, "We'll have to see how we'll celebrate your birthday this year." In the end, we decided to hedge it a little: we would have a party with invitations (OK, over email only) but would invite just cousins and keep it old-school: sandwiches, cake, and ice cream. Let it be known that their presence, not presents, was what truly mattered. I remember once hearing/reading a parental commentary on these escalating kids' party ideas that always worked around a theme. Remember when we were kids celebrating our birthdays, the 'theme' of the birthday party was a birthday party, this fellow remarked. And thus it was.

We did want the boys to feel their celebration was special. As always, P took cake requests and after a bit of wrangling, both boys decided they wanted chocolate on chocolate cake in the shape of a six, an idea C came up with while reading a math book (Who gave him that book anyway?). I traditionally have always made them paper crowns but decided to up my game a bit this year, in part inspired by Andrea, who was inspired by another crafty Maine mama. I don't possess any sewing skills, but have learned from Halloween costume creating that I can work a glue gun and some craft foam pretty well. It only took two trips to the craft store to pick up the necessary supplies, and feeling that F would definitely feel left out if he didn't get a crown, I decided I should make him one as well. And while I was doing that, shouldn't I make crowns for all the younger cousins attending the party? Thus, the blinking 9:37 and the burnt thumb--that hot glue really sizzles on skin.

I went to bed, a few hours later, pretty darned pleased with myself. The crowns were complete and I decorated a couple of poster boards, one for each birthday boy, and hung them in the living room. I woke the next morning to the distinct sounds of sobbing. As I swam out of sleep, I managed to piece together the source of this grand unhappiness. S had specifically requested the purple board, but I had, in my crown-making haze, inadvertently made his birthday poster on the green poster board. Bad mama. It was hard not to feel just a bit put out by the tears, but as P explained, "When you're that age and you've had to share everything, these little things to us are a big deal to them." We gave him some love, but the poster boards remained as originally decorated.

In the end, it was a great party. Simple. Cousin-filled. A few gifts but nothing wild. Two appreciative nearly six-year-olds. Oh yes, and one very confused little brother who totally doesn't get why his two brothers are getting presents and he isn't....


Anonymous said...

It is SO frustrating to me that birthday parties are so out of control. We can skip the first birthday and make the second or even the third no gifts, but by the fourth, the kid knows that all his friends got gifts at their parties. And, once you invite the whole class...

I am the lazy mother who would never think to make crowns. Your boys are lucky!

I have an unrelated question, but the comment about sharing everything made me think of it. If two boys are the same size, what do you do to keep the underwear separate? It seems it would get confused in the wash, and somehow it seems wrong to make them share underpants. Feel free to turn your answer into a post :)

Andrea said...

You're such a good mama...I'm much impressed with your and Peter's crafty skills (6-shaped cakes? Wow!) Congratulations to the big boys and to both of you for having survived six years of twin parenting!!