July 2017: I had spent weeks making sure that every element of my son’s “Two Infinity & Beyond” birthday party absolutely perfect. I stayed up to the wee hours of the morning painting giant cardboard toys. I made perfect chocolate-dipped alien Oreos. The pool was clean, I had tons of food, Woody & the gang were all there – it was going to be the best party ever!
Que the record scratching sound here.
My perfect day quickly went downhill. About an hour before the party bad weather moved into the area (we all know how the summer storms work here). Before I could even get out the door I saw my decorations and table cloths flying across my backyard. Everything was soaked & destroyed within a matter of minutes. Then the “So sorry, we can’t make it today!” texts started to roll in one after another. No one wanted to drive in the weather to a pool party, who could really blame them? My 55 person party quickly turned into 20, the day completely ruined, and it felt like a total bust. I just remember looking around at all the extra food and leftover mess that evening thinking to myself “I will never do this again.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love to throw a good party! But that day I suddenly realized that what should be happy, memorable times for my babies’ birthdays were being overshadowed by the pressure I was putting on myself to play hostess. I am not the type of person who can do something small, and having a large extended family & friends does not allow for it even if you want to. I realized that I would spend the entire time talking to people and doing things, not genuinely enjoying it or soaking it in. Every year I would complain that it went by too fast. Every year I would have buyers remorse thinking about what I spent on 3 short hours. I was focused on making sure everything was a version of perfect that quite frankly doesn’t even matter to kids. I grew up in the 80s, birthday parties consisted of skate rinks and hot dogs with grocery store sheet cakes. How did we stray so far? It’s the days we live in, where bigger means better. It’s easy to get lost in the minutia. My son doesn’t even remember the “terrible ruined birthday party” that changed it all.
We Traded Them in for “Adventures”
For the past four years now I have not thrown my kids a birthday party. My kids always have the option, because it is their day after all, but they’ve never looked back either! I ask every year “birthday party or adventure”, and every year adventure always wins. I shifted all that time, effort, and money into planning our getaways as a family. My daughter’s birthday is at the end of January, so Mardi Gras is the perfect time to get out of town for a few days. My son is at the end of July, so despite it being hot & dodging hurricanes, we are almost always gone for his. We’ve planned long weekends to Mississippi – going to Oceans Adventures, Ship Island, Gulf Island Water Park & Margaritaville for games. We’ve planned long weeks, last year we went to Chattanooga & Gatlinburg – exploring waterfalls, caves, and the mountains. We’ve done beach trips, Legoland, Disney, Great Wolf Lodge, Barnhill Preserve, etc. My kids hold no expectations of where we are going to go, they’re just excited to go. If we’re out of town on the day of their birthday, I still decorate their room. They get birthday shirts, sweets, souvenirs all the little things that make the day special. We facetime with family & friends who are now used to our new way of celebrating.
Some of my most memorable moments now are from these birthday adventures. Watching my son dance with Mickey as they brought out his birthday cake. Taking my daughter to hand feed a baby giraffe. Rain-soaked dance parties on our balcony at the beach. I feel a little guilty looking back now at how I used to be. These days the celebration has no time limits, no stress of perfection, just the joy of making fun memories together. They don’t need piles of presents that will be broken or donated before the years’ end. And they love my quick dollar store decorations just as much as the ridiculous hand-painted ones I used to make. Over time we’ve all traded more items in for experiences, myself a lot of times telling my husband “Don’t get me anything, let’s plan to do something!” I can’t imagine ever going back to the way things used to be, no amount of parties or presents matches the happiness I feel when we’re out exploring together. These years are fleeting, and I finally feel like I get to enjoy those special moments with them the way I should be.