My Kids' Birthday Parties Were a Disaster -- Until I Got Over Myself

mom holding out small present to daughter

When I first heard the Golden Rule for kids' birthday parties -- thou shalt only invite as many guests as your child's age -- I'm pretty sure I stopped on the third page of my guest list to roll my eyes. Please! Invite only one guest to celebrate the momentous occasion of my son's very first birthday? How ridiculous! Like most parents, I was eager to throw the Best Birthday Ever for my firstborn.


And so I invited and prepared and baked and even had additional food catered because there were that many people coming. I cleaned my house, washed our dog, and probably even found time to shower and blow-dry my hair. And when the day of my son's birthday finally arrived, it was ... a full-on disaster.

Granted, I don't think any of our many, many guests noticed. But I did. The noise in our house was deafening. Even our Labrador Retriever began panting from the stress. And my son? Well, maybe he made it the first 20 minutes without bursting into tears. The rest of the time I spent rocking him upstairs in his bedroom with the door shut, whispering apologies for really throwing myself a party, not him.

If it had been up to my 1-year-old son, we would have done nothing out of the ordinary. We would have played outside with mud and stones, swung for hours, read Dig, Ivan, Dig, and shared a plate of room-temperature chicken nuggets. My son has always loved easy and quiet and calm. In hindsight, it was me who felt he needed a hullabaloo.

I wish I could say that my son's second birthday party was better, but, well, I guess I'm a slow learner. Truth be told, for several more years, I threw parties with too much food, too gaggy-sweet a cake, too many people and presents and streamers, and far too many kids.

I planned elaborate games which were never played and bought presents that honestly weren't opened for days. And when my daughter arrived nearly three years later, I made the same mistakes with her. Too. Much.

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Here's where I should stop and tell you, I don't seek out the spotlight. Running from it is more like it. And I'm not a crafty type who relishes a chance to break out the pinking shears and jute and create some unique table toppers. Each one of these parties was a huge drain on me, too.

So what the f@*& was I thinking? I have thought about this. Repeatedly. And my conclusion is: I'm just a mom who loves her kids. And unfortunately, that desire to celebrate them sometimes causes me to think about them rather than put myself in their small shoes.

I'm guessing (okay, hoping) that I'm not the only parent who has made this well-intentioned mistake. Fortunately, the nice thing about parenting is that it's not a sprint, but a marathon. In other words, for every goof I make, I have years to redeem myself.

For the past few years, my kids have gotten to pick exactly how they want to celebrate their birthday. I've baked homemade brownies and fudge (yes, at the same time) instead of cake. Made a "double decker couch" for movie viewing. And stayed quiet when good friends were left off the guest list. "It's your birthday. Whatever you want" has become my motto.

Not that it's always easy.

Last fall, for her eighth birthday, my daughter decided she wanted some sickly sweet cinnamon bun ice cream she'd seen in the store.

Actually, I don't think it was even ice cream, but a "frozen dairy dessert." And we live in Portland, where we can get 10 small-batch organic ice creams within two miles from our house. (Hell, I can even make my own!)

"Really?" I asked my daughter. "Are you really sure you don't want --"

"Yes, really," my daughter interrupted, already putting the container into our shopping cart. "Mommy," she reminded me, "it is my birthday. Remember?"

Oh yes, I did.

And so, Dear Reader, we ate heaping bowls of cinnamon bun frozen dairy dessert. And it tasted disgusting. And I didn't say a word. And my daughter had a fantastic birthday, and that's what mattered far more.

Have you ever gone overboard for your child's birthday?

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