I usually start planning out my kids’ birthday parties two or even three months in advance. By “planning,” I mean picking a theme and going to town on my Pinterest boards, and then slowly whittling down the Pinterest ideas into the more manageable, doable decorations that I can handle.
As I started falling down the Pinterest rabbit hole for my son’s March birthday in January, I checked the calendar for possible party dates and had myself a little chuckle. I couldn’t plan his party yet! Our FISH had a birthday in February!
Meet Cuddy, our hardy little swordtail whom we’ve managed to keep alive for an entire year.
You might be laughing already, but I stopped looking for train-themed four-year-old party decorations and started looking up fish-themed decor.
We were going to have crepe paper seaweed, balloons, bowls of Goldfish to snack on, blue Jell-o to look like water… we were going to have a birthday cake and gifts for the fish. This fish was going to feel the love.
(I know you’re laughing now. Just remember, lots of people throw their dogs birthday parties!)
Life, as usual, gets in the way of things, and my ideas, as usual, were more time-consuming than my life allowed. I knew I’d be scaling back (pun intended), but there would definitely be decorations, a cake, and a gift– the staples of any birthday party.
Unfortunately, I wound up in the hospital and then on bedrest three days before Cuddy’s birthday. Back home, I bemoaned the party that wouldn’t be. I think my husband was genuinely concerned for my mental health as I tried to figure out ways to spark some sort of birthday magic.
“Why are you so worried about making this happen?” he asked. “Why does the fish HAVE to have a birthday party?” (The underlying questions was really, “Are you crazy?!”)
Why was I so fixated on a party for a stupid fish? Why was I prioritizing something that mattered so little in the grand scheme of things? Now here was an opportunity for some soul searching.
I think it’s just part of my personality, and a big part of my personality before I had kids. I have alway loved making silly, wacky, “I don’t have time for this” kind of projects for my friends’ birthdays and other special occasions. If there was an opportunity for me to go out of my way to make something for someone, I did it. And I am always trying to grab on to anything that makes me feel like the me I was before I had kids.
And now, I have kids, and I want to be Mommy AND Erica– two things I can’t always be at the same time. But every once in a while, the two parts of me get to line up. You know who would LOVE a birthday party for a fish? My kids, especially my oldest son. He would go nuts for it. And I’m all about trying to make childhood as special and magical as possible. This is prime “magical memory making” ground here.
The gravity of life hit me hard while in the hospital, and while that was what prevented the original party from coming together, that was also what made it seem downright necessary. We needed some levity. We needed some laughs. We needed to sing happy birthday to our fish because, while that sounds so abnormal, that’s really perfectly normal for my funny little family.
And so I managed to make it to the grocery store for a mini-cake. I picked up a tiny little succulent plant that would serve as a present (Cuddy could see it from the tank, and I liked it) and stuck it in a bag at home. I made a single party hat to place atop the fish tank to serve as decor. We lit candles and sang happy birthday and then my kids took turns blowing the candles out… and then we all ate birthday cake.
It was silly and funny and we all laughed and praised our fish for surviving a year with us. My kids went to bed smiling, and I felt a little more like me. That’s a win-win.