Monday, April 29, 2013

Another year wiser

I remember planning my first kid's birthday party as a new mother.  Everything had to be perfect.  As this was in the days before Pinterest, I spent months Googling themes, tearing out magazine ideas, and running around town to find the items that would create the ultimate event.  I felt such internal pressure to make the day a reflection of my love and pride.  Subconsciously, I'm sure that I was struggling against the unreal expectations of parenthood as viewed through the magazines and blogs I inhaled for comfort and advice, and the stress that this mothering thing was so much harder than I had imagined.  I felt a need to have everything together on the outside, or people might just see my internal cracks and I would be labeled a failure.  I remember little about his birthday (outside the memories held by our photos), but I can clearly recall bursting into tears the night before as I struggled with his birthday cake.  John came to the rescue, baffled, I'm sure, about how a party that Brady wouldn't even remember or understand could trigger such stress for me.
The adorable finished project, thanks to John (my miserable attempt was not captured on film, thank goodness.

On Brady's second birthday, I was hugely and miserably pregnant and just hoping I could make it through the party without going into labor.  We had it at a playground so that he could run around with his friends...and I could sit down at the picnic shelter with the food.  I was smart enough to hire a friend as photographer so that I could truly be present and just observe.  I was mortified when she captured the scene of our two-year-old tackling his friend to the ground, in a fight over bubbles.  We can laugh about it now, but at the time it was another reminder of how little control we really have (as desperately as I cling to my illusion of control).  

I can barely remember his third party, as I was busy planning a first birthday for his sister, Maryn, and breaking up their fights over the gifts.  In the pictures I can't believe how put together I look-- young, slim, and smiling--when I remember feeling like such a mess on the inside.

In year 4 and 2 for our two, I wised up and did a joint party.  It was exhausting, but they seem to be mostly happy in the pictures (and John and I look older and very very tired).

Last year, I made a deal with my kids that we would take a family trip to Great Wolf Lodge (an indoor water park resort in Williamsburg) if we could skip the whole (double) birthday party ordeal.  It was expensive, but the saving of my sanity was worth the price.

This year as they turned 7 and 5, I felt that they needed the fun of celebrating with friends, and I felt more prepared.  After all, now there was Pinterest to guide my planning (or set impossibly high standards).  Brady was happy with a small party at a frozen yogurt place where they supplied the decorations, food, entertainment, and clean-up.  It was a win, and gave us time to just enjoy talking and laughing with our friends as we watched our kids dance and attempt karaoke.  For her party, Maryn wanted a mermaid themed play date at our house, which happened this weekend.  That could be crazy-making, but at this stage of the game, I'm more at ease.  The kids are at that wonderful age where they can tell us what they want (and, oh boy, do they ever).  They can entertain themselves while I plan and set up, and they actually get all giggly and excited about all the preparation.  The best thing, though, is all the help I received.  My fabulous husband is not only a fantastic cake-fixer, but is also an artist, and was easily talked into doing the posters for the decorations, among many other tasks.  A talented student friend was hired to make whale cake pops, which was the only cake item that Maryn found acceptable (and yes, they had nothing to do with mermaids, but she would not be deterred.  She also stated that they must be chocolate and in the colors blue, pink, and purple.  Fortunately, I remembered that it was actually HER party, and we broadened the theme to "under the sea".  Problem solved.)  

A lovely friend brought her daughter, and stayed to be a part of the party.  She was a wonderful help as crafts and games with 4 and 5-year-olds are crazy, fast, messy, and always verging on disaster.  She also jumped in to take pictures, and I ended up with one of Maryn and me that I adore.

When I look at the photo, I see a mom who looks older and definitely not as put together as she'd like.  But more importantly, I see a more confident, less stressed mom, proud to hold a delighted little girl who loves her mommy, successful party or not.  I see a mom that realizes that Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, and this blog are not the measure of her worth nor are they the foundation of her legacy.  I see a mom that has realized the importance of asking for help and receiving it, and has learned to share, not in comparison or show, but to remember a smile, the joy, and that spunky pose of a 5-year-old that is growing so fast and yet will always be her baby.

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