We Gonna Party Like It’s Your Birthday

We had two birthday parties for Saoirse Sunday.

Yes, that’s what I said. Two birthday parties, one right after the other.  Saturday, we were doing our “homework” around the house to prep it for listing, since we’re supposed to meet with our agent this week. I’m typing this right now from my spot on the (recently decluttered) floor, face down on the carpet, slightly catatonic, quietly begging for somebody to bring me some wine.

Here’s how it went down: Saturday morning, I cleaned out a bunch of miscellaneous stuff, the biggest being the playroom, again. Most everything is gone: a bunch of stuff is in the trunk of David’s car on the way to our local charity’s drop-off center, a bunch of other toys were packed away into bins and bags for the crawl space, which is quickly filling up. David was flying around the house, doing the heavy lifting, replacing lighting fixtures in a bathroom, alternating between cursing under his breath and whistling 50 Cent songs (you know, because it’s her birthday). There were trips to Lowe’s, and a lot of vacuuming, an excursion to a bakery and to the grocery store and the beer store, and me realizing at 4:10 p.m. that I was still in sweatpants and a raggedy ponytail, the power to all the bathrooms was turned off, and I was supposed to be going to mass at 4:30 so I wouldn’t have to worry about it in the morning (such a good Catholic I am, getting church out of the way when it’s convenient for me).  I prepped jambalaya, and two pots of chili, and fixings for appetizers and a big salad. By 10 o’clock I was mumbling nonsense and walking into walls.

Sunday, twenty-three very excited children and their equally patient and kind parents arrived at our local My Gym. Twenty-three because we invited all of Saoirse’s preschool class plus a bunch of her friends outside of class and yes, my child may know more people than I do. I must tell you that I was showered on this particular morning, a fact of which I am particularly proud, with hair actually blown-dry and (gasp!) styled. This is big for me, and I realize that I should probably start getting up a half hour earlier every day because it’s nice not to weep when I glance sight of myself in the mirror. The morning was a whirlwind of catching up with friends, small talk with aquaintances, cake and fruit and juice boxes and teeny tiny sandwiches. It was balloons and sweet gifts and lots and lots of attention on Saoirse, about which she wasn’t necessarily keen, if the horrified expression on her face during her grand solo sled ride into the middle of a clapping circle of fellow preschoolers was any indication. And then after that our sweet families came back to the house to hang out, pick at that chili and jambalaya and give SK even more thoughtful gifts. The day was full. The day was all about SaoirseSaoirseSaoirse. And God bless this kid, she took it all in stride.

Here’s the deal: David and I sat down that evening, after everyone had gone home, after the children were in bed, to talk about the day. I’d suggested splurging on the big MyGym party for really only reason:  Quinn gets so much attention for being the cute redheaded toddler who whistles through her teeth and has entire conversations and loves to dance in circles. Saoirse lately is always sort of on the outskirts of it all–hanging out on the edge, looking in, while we fawn over the Mighty, while strangers walk by and comment on that hair, while we reprimand Quinn for throwing her fork across the room because she wants to feed the cat for the fifth time that evening, all the while SK’s been quietly sitting in her chair, chewing on her pasta. So there’s that. I’ll admit I do like the idea of making a big deal out of our kids’ birthdays–not necessarily a 23-kid-strong birthday party, mind you, but I want to make our children feel special on that particular day. David and I try not to spoil the girls. We don’t buy them toys or gifts outside of holidays and birthdays. And even that night, I asked David: did we overdo it? Was it too much SaoirseSaoirseSaoirse? It seemed like all of the children had a blast, and I really liked being able to get to know or see grown-ups we don’t hang out with that often. And of course, any excuse to get the family together, I’ll take. But. Was it too much? Saoirse isn’t a diva-type. Did we warp her little impressionable, innocent brain?

Today answered my question in three steps. For one thing, Saoirse has been playing in the gutted-out playroom for two and a half days and hasn’t mentioned once that she has very few of her toys left. She’s hasn’t even noticed. I daresay she’s spent more time in the room than usual. So there’s that. And then, already today, she’s twiced offered to give Quinn a toy that is similar to something she already has. This is the kid that hates, hates, hates, to share. And yet.  And finally–this is huge for me–I sat down with Saoirse today so we could start writing her thank-you notes for her gifts. I fully expected this to be a multi-day process, and figured we’d get about five finished before the four-year-old attention span detonated. Can I brag to you? Of course I can: Saoirse and I sat at the dining room table for I can’t even tell you how long, writing those notes. We talked about what each person gave her, and she told me what she wanted to tell each gift-giver. She traced her name on each card, and put stamps and stickers on each single envelope. She was grateful. She was appreciative. She knew the importance of thanking those who were thoughtful enough to give.

The best part was, and this is totally selfish of me, was that I got to just sit, quietly, during this time with my daughter, for an hour and a half. We talked, and she displayed her sticker works of art. There was no rushing–she was too tired from yesterday’s shenanigans for that, anyway–and yet, the time peacefully flew. We listened to The Lion King soundtrack (always. She hates the movie, loves “I Just Can’t Wait to be King”). Quinn played nearby, walking over periodically to check out what was going on, and that was that.

I realize this post is sort of long and rambling and rather tedious, but please just stick with me while I figure myself out. Yesterday was sort of an exploration into what kind of parents David and I want to be. And we’ve decided that (even though we knew this all along, but you also knew that in the beginning of this post, didn’t you? Which means I could’ve just cut to the chase and saved you twenty minutes of your lunch break, but then what else would you’ve done? Balance your checkbook?), as fun as that shindig of ours was yesterday, we’re not about to get all Kardashian up in here and rent out ballrooms for our children each year (there’s also that whole one-income family thing going on, but you knew that already, too). But I do know that I still want to make a big deal of our children’s birthdays, but on a more simple level–a cute little present tucked into a backpack for her to find at school, or a room full of balloons when she wakes up in the morning (we did do that, last year, for SK, and had a request again for the “balloons when I wake up like last year”, which is as easy as blowing up a pack of balloons we got at Target for a couple of bucks). I do want the children to feel special, and wanted, and just, well, have the attention on them for that one full day, so that won’t change.

Today, SK curled up in my lap, which never, ever happens anymore, and we paged through a magazine I’d gotten in the mail. She said, “Mom? I love you,” and I wrapped my arms around her for a moment–just a moment longer than she usually lets me before she wriggles out of my grasp to go find Thomas, or ask to watch a DVD. I looked at the stack of thank-you notes, all thirty of them, piled on the table, watiting to be mailed. Okay, I thought. This is right. We’re doing something right.

And I have this in writing now. You heard me say it, right? Because you know I’m going to have to keep reminding myself of this for the next, oh, fourteen years or so. Because some days–some moments–we just have to grab what we’re doing right, so we can dog ear the page, go back to it, and remember what worked, especially when the book gets so thick and garbled we start to lose our place. And today, it was thank-you notes. What do you know.

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