My third child was born at home. It was a planned homebirth, and for those of you who have planned a home birth, you know it takes a lot of planning. What I did not know when planning the home birth, was that each birthday would take on more and more planning! My daughter is turning six this week and we have decided to have a picnic dinner as a family and see some outdoor theater. A nice quiet night together. I then imagined that we would go home, open some presents and have cake.
Earlier this week my daughter announced that she was excited about the family celebration and she was even more excited about the friend celebration. Well, I hadn’t planned one of those. I think it is a great idea to celebrate with friends, it’s just that modern birthday parties often seem so out of control to me.
What happened to gathering at someone’s house and playing games? What happened to, the children running around the back yard while the adults chat? What happened to parties where it felt like a holiday celebration with all your closest friends there? What happened to watching the birthday child open all his gifts and the anticipation of seeing his expression?
I want to celebrate my children’s birthdays. I want them to be surrounded by their friends. I want them to feel free to play and have undirected time as they giggle and explore the new toys. I want them to experience sitting around the table at home while all their friends sing happy birthday. This is a part of our culture that has such wonderful memories tied to it for me. But it is all but gone. It has been replaced by companies packaging what a birthday party should be. Giggling and sneaking extra finger dips of icing has been replaced with the expected goody bag of toys (I will forever be tripping on in my home).
Why add the stress of an enormous, processed, and expensive birthday party (some with even a Disney character appearance – which developmentally freaks out most children any way!)? Really what children want is to have a special day with the people who they enjoy the most. I understand that there are many (Pinterest!) ideas out there, calling your name, saying “your child would love a birthday that looks like this:…,” but know that your child would love a birthday that doesn’t look like that too. I have fallen victim to Pinterest. I have pinned the jars of beautiful candy as décor and the personalized banners that are Martha-Stewart worthy. But this year I have limited myself to three pins. And they must be executed by me and my children, because we will build this celebration together.
So, we will have a gathering of friends for my daughter’s birthday. We will have her friends and their parents over. We will grill and enjoy time visiting, and we will have a Piñata (a special request of the birthday girl). If her friends bring her gifts, she can open them in their presence. This is one that I believe is a failure of society right now and feeds greed and consumerism. It is ok to give gifts, homemade or purchased. It is fun to think about the person you are giving to and what they may like. It is our responsibility as parents to help our children to learn to give freely and then be able to appreciate the recipients’ reaction to the gift. It is essential that our children see the joy in the face of their friends and not receive anything physical in return. This is helping them develop empathy. They have a natural tendency toward it anyway, but when allowed to exercise through the act of giving, their empathy grows stronger. This is another way we help our children to connect with their peers and build stronger community. Because a birthday is not just about one person, there is so much more behind it. The day of the birth there were many people involved and every day since then there are many many more who have helped, supported and come to be a part of that child’s life. Maybe a birthday party should be to celebrate all who have contributed to a child’s life…
On her sixth birthday, I say, “Happy Birthday!” to my sweet Syl. And “Thank You” to Blaire and Colleen, her midwives, Ellen and Alicia her first teachers, the grandmas and the grandpas, and most of all her Papa! Our baby girl is six!