My daughter, India, will soon have her birthday. Even now, as I write this, my palms are sweaty with anxiety as I think about birthday party plans and how to celebrate her big day. Do we have a birthday party or not? Big party or small party? Princess theme or Elmo theme? Indoor or outdoor? Garden party or park party? Yikes!
A few years back, for her first birthday, I boycotted a party all together. That’s not to say that her father and I didn’t celebrate and acknowledge the day, singing her “Happy Birthday”, looking at photos of the day she was born and of course, patting ourselves on the back for surviving our first year of parenthood. The mere idea of putting together anything bigger than our little party of three seemed so overwhelming.
For me, the responsibilities of day-to-day parenthood were piled high on my plate and I saluted my friends who created big baby bashes, for which, I must admit, my inner child was green with envy. And here we are one year later and I am confronted yet again with the same question: what to do?
These thoughts are fresh on my mind because India and I attended the birthday celebration of a friend whose daughter was turning one. As we drove up the street to their house, already a block away, I could see big balloons suspended in the sky. As I parked the car we heard “Emotional Rescue” by the Rolling Stones interrupting the afternoon’s peace and quiet. I briefly had a flashback of a hazy night in high school, came to and then looked around to see if maybe there was a weekend barbeque going on elsewhere in the neighborhood.
Walking up to the house confirmed that the rock music was indeed coming from the small girl’s party. There were more balloons inside among craft tables, face painting, a yoga teacher, cup cakes, mini-hamburgers and a pool full of splashing, screaming kids. I wondered if maybe the small picnic in the park I was planning for India would have her in therapy later on. Would she feel deprived? I remembered that when I was a little girl, my parents gave me some great parties, but every year I had to up the ante. Did my parents feel pressure every year to outdo the last?
India and I actually had a very pleasant time at that party but it wasn’t long before I spied the birthday girl with a glazed expression on her face, rubbing her bleary eyes. I wanted to take her upstairs into a quiet room and rock her to sleep. I took a mental note about that as another clue for what to do on India’s big day. Maybe a short party is best. I have to say, I am a bit perplexed about the whole kid’s party thing. And I wonder why. Maybe I just don’t feel like organizing some big to-do. Isn’t the simplicity of apple bobbing, picnics in the park and musical chairs enough? It all just seems a bit out of proportion. A big party for a little baby? Will India remember it? Will she be mad at me later if she learns I wanted to bypass the fanfare for her next birthday? I am sure my friends would forgive me if I decide to forgo something major. I hope so anyway.
When did the issue of throwing a party become an existential reflection? Maybe I am missing the point. Maybe I can keep it simple. A birthday celebration is a time to celebrate the birth of one’s child. It can also be an opportunity to vicariously live through our children, experience joy, love and connection or even the odd stomach ache from too much cake. I will go as far as to say that a birthday party is a celebration for the grown ups as much as it is for the kids because each year that passes is another year we survived. My mind is all over the place because the next the thing I know, November 30 (India’s birthday), will be upon me. Part of me wants to do the big party and another part of me wants small and intimate. I think either way India will know she is loved and celebrated.
On another note, over time I would also like to remind India that her birthday is not just a day when we all celebrate her, but a time for her to acknowledge the Universe for her place in Creation. In the Sikh tradition Yogi Bhajan asked birthday boys and girls, children and adults alike, to make and bring cookies to class to share with everyone. One’s day of birth is not just a time to receive gifts but a time to give as well. Let’s face it, in the grand scheme of things this is not a major issue. I am sure picking what school she goes to will be more stressful. I am the only one placing the pressure on myself. I think if I just ease up a little, India will let me know how she wants to celebrate. ‘Till then you can bet I’ll be taking notes at every party we go to.
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