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Posts Tagged ‘Birthday’

Carla’s birthday is a little more than a month away and I have NOTHING planned. Usually by this point, I have fretted all over this little blog about theme and where to find theme-appropriate napkins and how difficult it was to pin down a venue and which cake I’m going to make. But this year, I have… nothing. 

(Not even a cake request, which is very un-Carla! And perhaps… perhaps this is the year I outsource the cake baking????)

Part of the problem – maybe the MAIN part – is that Carla doesn’t have any sort of specific desire for a party this year. I mean, she wants A Party. But she hasn’t said “I want a tea party” or “let’s all play LEGOs” or “I want to paint pottery!” or whatever. I am not a creative person, when it comes to birthdays. All my creativity crumples into dust beneath the anxiety of planning an event and executing that event and then attending said event with multiple other humans, all of whom I am expected to interact with. 

The only things at all that Carla has expressed interest in are a) a sleepover and b) a party at our house, featuring a treasure hunt. 

Treasure Hunt: When Carla’s cousin was here recently, I made a treasure hunt for them. I’ve done one another time, when I hosted three other families and did a treasure hunt for the kids. I LIKE making treasure hunts. But the older the kids get, the more challenging it is to create clues that won’t stump them, but will take more than five seconds to solve. 

Plus, while I am fine chasing my one niece and my one child around our very safe cul-de-sac while they look for clues, I don’t know a) how I would feel about chasing multiple nine-year-olds around the neighborhood or b) how other parents might feel about their kids being let loose into the wild.

It is almost more challenging to come up with prizes for this age group. Although I suppose if Carla lands on a theme, I could find something that works. 

The biggest challenge of all with treasure hunts is making them long enough. You can make 20 clues and have the kids run up and down the stairs and around the cul-de-sac and it still ends up taking them under 15 minutes to finish. Which is quite deflating when it takes MUCH LONGER THAN THAT to create the clues and hide them.

Party at Our House: The main issue, though, is that I don’t want to have a party at my house. I find the idea of a bunch of kids invading my space SO stressful, even though it shouldn’t be. 

All my birthday parties when I was growing up took place at my house. And they were wonderful! I remember, when I was really little, playing games like Pin the Tail on the Donkey, or drop a pin in a bucket while blindfolded. My mother made treasure hunts, which is probably where I learned to love them. 

My mom was fantastic about birthday parties, my whole life. She always did something fun and delightful. My favorite childhood birthday was the one where she bought a little Troll doll for each guest and we all sat around my kitchen table and decorated them. I seem to remember that it was a contest, but… I’m sure she found some way to make it so that everyone won. 

(Is there a Troll-doll equivalent that today’s nine-year-olds would like?)

There’s also a bit of Keeping Up with the Joneses going on, I can admit. Carla’s classmates often have very impressive parties – think bouncy houses and country clubs and backyard pools. Most of Carla’s friends live in enormous homes with beautiful properties. When we’ve been invited over for parties, there are gorgeous decorations and catered food. Our backyard is (currently) a marsh, and gets so incredibly hot in the summer that it’s not really comfortable for guests. Our outdoor furniture is old and mismatched and we don’t have the ziplines or stone patios or pools that many people have. Our house itself is smallish and somewhat in disrepair – both facts that seem glaringly obvious when we have other people over. Plus, after hosting Carla’s first two or three birthday parties here, I find decorating SO stressful it’s just not even worth it. I want the Instagram/Pinterest-worthy party, but I am not great at executing that level of creativity/cuteness. I suppose I could pay someone else to do it, but that sounds pricey.

If I could be certain that all the parents would just roll up to our driveway and toss their kids out the door and leave… I might feel a little bit better. Kids in general aren’t super judgmental – I don’t remember noticing the décor or size or quality of furniture at any of my friends’ houses – and I think as long as they got to roam around and eat cake, they would be okay. Maybe this is the age where parents would feel okay dropping them off? Maybe this is the perfect time for me to get away with a banner and a couple of balloons and maybe a colorful tablecloth and not do anything else???

I don’t know. Even if it were just kids, I think I would find it very anxious-making. I much prefer going to a specific place that has employees who entertain the kids or supervise an activity and then going home to my quiet, clean, one-kid-only home.

To recap: it feels like having a party HERE would require a) outsourcing and spending a lot of money or b) doing things myself and becoming very stressed AND probably spending a lot of money. I want to avoid it… but I don’t have any alternate ideas. It feels like we’ve exhausted the typical birthday party venues… and I’ve tried looking for others with no success. 

The new Jurassic World movie is coming out around her birthday, and Carla is desperate to see it. Our local movie theaters were allowing people to rent them out for birthdays… but I haven’t looked into whether they are still doing that. Plus, I don’t know how many of Carla’s friends’ parents would allow them to see a Jurassic World movie (nor how many of her friends would actually want to see it). That may be something the three of us do as a family. 

Sleepover: Probably the best compromise would be hosting a sleepover. The reason this feels like a compromise is that I would limit Carla to one or two friends, so it would be less stressful. Presumably. But… then she would have to choose just one or two friends, and she’s a kid who has a LOT of friends, so I don’t know how she would choose. In this time of Covid, would anyone even be comfortable with that (not that they aren’t sharing the same air every day at school)? And my beloved child is a person whose energy level escalates in direct proportion to how tired she is, so I am imagining that NO ONE would sleep at all. Not that you are expected to sleep much at a sleepover, but… no sleep sounds pretty dreadful for all involved, including the poor parents who would be collecting their exhausted children the next day. 

Plus… what do you DO for a nine-year-old sleepover? The only sleepovers I remember (and, bless my parents, sometimes I had MANY friends sleep over) involved activities like calling boys on my phone or watching scary movies or playing with my Ouija board… all of which seem a little mature for this age group. 

A few of my friends-who-are-parents don’t do a party at all for their kids. For some, this is just the way it is. For others, maybe some years it works out and some years it doesn’t. I wish we could go this route! But I know Carla LOVES a party, so I’m not sure she would roll with it. 

As usual, the VAST BULK of this stress is mine. I know Carla wouldn’t really care about any of the things that bother me. I know her friends wouldn’t really care, I know even the most judgmental of parents would only turn up their noses for a few seconds before forgetting about me entirely. And yet I cannot talk myself out of feeling the stress. 

So here I am, doing nothing but fretting, as the weeks tick by.

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We had Carla’s eighth birthday party at a nature preserve. It took place outside, in an open-walled pavilion. The “entertainment” feature was to be a dinosaur-themed hike. 

Because Carla had requested a dinosaur theme, I bought dinosaur décor. I had first found some pink and purple dinosaur party supplies, but my husband thought they were too babyish, so we went with a more mature dino look

Very Mature image from amazon.com

It worked out very well for the venue, which had long picnic tables that I was glad we could cover up with tablecloths.  Although it was quite breezy so my mother-in-law had to spend a lot of time masking-taping the tablecloths to the tables. Bless her.

Note the enormous rock in the foreground that my father-in-law used to help keep the tablecloths in place. Added to the theme.

I set up the gift table with additional snacks – eight-year-olds can build up quite an appetite when they are out hiking. Plus, there is ALWAYS one kid who doesn’t want the cupcakes. So I packed Cheez-Its and the flavored raisins I mentioned recently and mandarin oranges and lots of bottled water. I also made sure we had tons of antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer; one can never be too careful, but especially during a pandemic. I also brought bug spray and spray sunscreen. I am nothing if not over prepared!

It looks quite sparse, but that’s because I forgot to tell my husband that half of the table would be for gifts.

My mother-in-law was such a HUGE help with the party, especially with the centerpieces. I wanted something to add a little visual interest to the tables. Yes, I know this is ridiculous; the kids don’t care. But * I * care. So I ordered these matching centerpieces, which were dinosaur cutouts that you affix to sticks and arrange artfully into vases or jars. 

This is what I expected them to look like:

image from amazon.com

My mother-in-law, bless her again, suggested the night before the party that we should set up the centerpieces in advance – for ease of carrying, and one less thing to worry about at the party. Thank goodness she did, because I could NOT get them to look right and was despairing. (My husband: “It doesn’t matter. The kids don’t care.”) But my mother-in-law persevered! She clipped greenery from our hedges and flowers from my flower pots and made the centerpieces look, I thought, quite lovely and wild. Did a single child comment on them? No. But I LOVED THEM. 

I am once again irritated that the decorations are one-sided.

I made cupcakes for the party, with colorful mismatched frosting. Per Carla’s request, they were vanilla cupcakes with lemon curd filling and lemon cream cheese frosting. When I ran out of lemon curd, I suggested we bring half plain, half filled, just in case some of her friends didn’t want lemon curd, and she was very amenable to that. 

Because it was SO HOT on the day of the party, I stuck my cupcake carrier into a big insulated bag and put ice packs under and on top of it. This worked very well, even though the cupcake carrier was too big to fit completely inside the bag. Not a single cupcake melted. (Better yet: no one got food poisoning from over-hot cream cheese frosting.) 

In classic me-making-things-as-difficult-as-possible-for-myself, I did not do all the frosting the same. But I rather like how colorful it turned out? I did three colors per frosting bag, trying out different combinations.

As I mentioned, the day of the party was HOT. And thunderstorms were predicted. I bought a book of dinosaur coloring pages – the kind where there’s a list of images to find in the picture – and a bunch of colored pencils, plus a couple of pads of drawing paper, just in case the storm prevented the hike from going through and we need to Do Something Else. Fortunately, it remained sunny and dry (and HOT) for the duration of the party. (It started pouring just as we were driving away, which was so lucky!)

I knew that the nature preserve staff allotted about thirty minutes between when the guests arrived and the hike began, so I brought some crafts to keep the kids busy. I found these dinosaur mask-making kits at Michael’s, and my in-laws helped each kid pick which mask they wanted to make, filled little plastic cups with glue, and distributed Q-tips and glue sticks. The kids seemed to enjoy the project, chatting with each other as they glued eyes and horns and spots to their masks, and making the masks took up the exact right amount of time. 

The hike leader was very sweet and friendly, but she seemed to have underestimated the amount of information kids today know about dinosaurs: every single time she tried to stump them with a question about dinosaurs, at least one child knew the answer. But the kids seemed to enjoy themselves, even if they weren’t learning anything new. It’s a PARTY, right? Not a college lecture series.

One of Carla’s friends told a delightful dinosaur joke: Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl go to the bathroom? Because the “p” is silent. Carla’s friends thought that was hilarious. 

I sneaked around and applied sunscreen to the kids while the staff member was giving her spiel. I mean, I tried to sneak – obviously I had to ask the kids if they needed sunscreen and then sprayed them with it, so I wasn’t invisible. 

One of the staff members led the kids on a hike through the woods, pointing out birds and turtles and plants. My husband and my father-in-law accompanied the group on the hike, to keep the kids together and watch out for stragglers. The kids collected seashells and answered trivia questions about dinosaurs.

My mother-in-law and I stayed behind to clean up the craft and wipe down the tables in preparation for cupcakes. The craft – which required the kids to peel white covers off of approximately six million tiny pieces – was awful to clean up. The breeze had carried the little peels into every corner of the pavilion, wedging them in between the boards of the benches and planks of the pavilion floor. But I got every last one of them (I hope). We wiped down the tables and then my mother-in-law and I went and sat in the car with the air conditioning blasting. 

That was the worst part of the party: being so hot. I am not a hot weather person and I was a melted candle well before the party began. When our friends dropped off their kids, one tried to hug me. “I’m too sweaty,” I told him. He stepped back and looked me over. “You sure are,” he said. That’s a good feeling. Being visibly, appreciably sweaty. 

After the hike, I herded the children – masked – into the nature center, where they were allowed to use the bathroom. (The nature center was still closed to the public.) They all washed (“washed”) their hands and hurried back to the pavilion. We handed out cupcakes (MANY kids rejected the lemon curd, so I’m glad we had the two options) and lit a candle on Carla’s cupcake and sang her happy birthday. 

These cupcake toppers were one-sided too, but still cute.

Then we handed out favor bags (which I apparently didn’t photograph?) and the kids’ parents collected them. It was a quick two hours but very satisfying. Carla and her friends seemed to have a great time. 

I DO wish we’d had dinosaur wrapping paper, but I can’t buy wrapping paper JUST to fit a theme.

For Carla’s actual birthday – a few days later – I carried on the dinosaur theme. We had one tablecloth remaining, and I added the centerpiece sticks to a vase of flowers, and I ordered a big dinosaur balloon. We always decorate the birthday table the night before, so the birthday girl (or man) sees it first thing when they come into the kitchen in the morning. (This is a tradition leftover from my childhood.)

Carla decided to stay home from camp. With all the birthday excitement, plus her grandparents being around, she’d been going to bed super late. So she wanted to sleep in and relax and I didn’t mind keeping her home. (I especially didn’t mind because her camp group was scheduled to go on a field trip that day, which required packing them all into a bus, during a pandemic, and driving them on a busy freeway. Two MAJOR anxiety points for me.) Carla didn’t mind missing her field trip and we decided to have a Girls’ Day. We put on dresses and makeup and did our hair fancy (she put an ornamental bird on her ponytail). Our first stop was a candy store. I gave Carla $5 and she was allowed to buy anything she wanted. I loved that we had nowhere to be, and absolutely no time pressure (I’d made her cake the day before, because it needed to be refrigerated overnight), so she could look at every single candy option on the shelves and take her time choosing. 

Then we went to a local bakery that sells macarons. I have taken Carla there twice since it opened, and each time, it was closed. But because we went this time so early in the day, it was finally open! The bakery has a little restaurant as well, and one of the tables is a beautiful Cinderella carriage. Because only two tables in the whole place had diners, I let her ask the manager if she could sit at the carriage table and get her picture taken. She wore her mask the whole time, but the photos are still really cute. She also told everyone we met that it was her birthday, and everyone was very charmed by her and wished her many happy returns. We got her a macaron to bring home and I asked what she wanted to do next.

Turns out, she wanted to go to Barnes and Noble and look at toys. (This despite the fact that she had JUST gotten a million new toys from her friends and had a million more family gifts to open later that night.) Fine! We spent a nice long time in the toy section, where she examined every Barbie and LOL and LEGO set and craft set and piece of Harry Potter merchandise in the entire store. Did we look at a single book? No. Again, it was lovely to be able to be as leisurely as possible, and let her take her time and enjoy herself. I took pictures of her holding things she wanted to buy, which I think gives her the same little thrill I get out of putting things I want in online shopping carts.

Then we stopped at a deli to pickup takeout sandwiches and headed home. 

For dinner, she requested homemade tacos. You KNOW I was happy to comply. And then we had raspberry cheesecake for dessert. 

It was a perfectly serviceable cheesecake. The crust was buttery and crunchy and the cheesecake had a good texture (except for the center, which was a little too soft for my taste). I had reserved some of the raspberry puree and we drizzled that over our slices. 

If only the entire theme could have been Sparkly Pink T-Rex. I would have really leaned into that.

Not my most beautiful or favorite cake, by a long shot, but it was what Carla wanted and I think it turned out okay. 

All in all, a satisfying – and surprisingly low-stress (once I secured the venue) – birthday celebration!

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Near our house is a pond. On the pond lives a blue heron; Carla has named him Jeff. We drive a specific way home from camp these days, just so we can drive past the pond. We look for Jeff. Any time we are in the car, Carla asks if we can drive past Jeff’s pond – even if we are approaching home from the opposite direction.

This feels so very Carla, and I don’t know why. 

She loves birds. She has always loved animals in all forms, but this year a second-grade study of birds really brought her ornithological passion to the fore. She has a pair of binoculars and a bird book and loves to cart them around with her. She exclaims over every feathered friend we encounter, no matter how common: “Look! A robin!” “Mom, look, look! I think that’s a pigeon!” “Is that a mourning dove?” “A chickadee!!!!!” Her enthusiasm for birds is boundless. Her grandmother recently took her to the craft store and she bought a bunch of tiny birds – the kind you see on Easter wreaths – and she wore one in her ponytail for several days.

Every time we see a bird of prey, she speculates it is either a red-tailed hawk or a vulture. I was not aware that our suburban area features vultures, and remain convinced that they are hawks, even when Carla insists otherwise. But then again, I am not the bird lady in our family.

She is equally enamored of dinosaurs, and somehow deeply knowledgeable. She will spot a dinosaur in a book or on TV and will immediately notify me that it’s a Spinosaurus or a Plesiosaurus or a Triceratops. Except that she knows dozens and dozens of dinosaur classifications, while those three dino-types I just listed are among the maybe five or ten I know. Her dinosaur birthday party went over quite well, I thought. Just the right amount of dino-décor for her party, and I surprised her with a dinosaur balloon on the day of her actual birthday. It was such a nice way to memorialize this current fascination. 

Carla, of course, remains especially enchanted by dogs. New over the past year, she has been granted permission to ride her bike or scooter around our cul-de-sac (ringing her bell as she passes, so I can listen for her; and if she goes over the ten-minute mark, which is how long it takes her to make the circle, I go out and look for her; she is always petting a dog), looking for dogs to pet. (Only the dogs of neighbors, not stranger dogs.) 

She continues to love crafting, and it is fascinating how her brain works: she can see a collection of raw materials and envision their endpoint and then actually make it happen.  (She brought home a stack of foam sheets and a zipper and told me she was going to make a backpack for her Barbie… I could NOT see how that would work, but she DID IT. A wearable, fillable, zippable, recognizable backpack!) She is a Maker, through and through. We watch Making Ittogether, and I hope it inspires her, shows her a few of the many ways she can transform everyday materials into something new, gives her ideas for potential careers doing something she loves.

She is obsessed by candy and TV, two things I try (and often fail) to moderate. She loves all things sweet, like her father, and is always asking for ice cream and s’mores and cupcakes. We have had all three, plus cheesecake, in the days since she turned eight. 

The cheesecake, by the way, was okay. Not great, but not bad. I had A Crust Incident when I was making it, but it was easy enough to scrap the crust and start over. (Less easy was wiping all the leaked butter out of the bottom of my oven. You live and you learn.) 

Carla’s tastes are growing and changing. Instead of dresses every day, she gravitates toward jeans and t-shirts. She is newly scornful of her unicorn-and-rainbows backpack, and wants one that is ALL BLACK for third grade. (We did put a selection of backpacks in front of her the other day, in the form of a Lands End catalog, and she liked ones with stars and galaxies moreso than the all-black option, so we’ll see what we end up with.) She loves experimenting with makeup and tattoo pens and stick-on jewels. She loves asking me to do new things with her hair – small ponytails, high ponytails, braids. (I didn’t say my hairstyling repertoire was vast.)

She can read very well now, and is able to read almost anything, but it’s still not an activity she likes or chooses to undertake very often. Over the past year, she’s grown very fond of audiobooks and will listen to the same ones over and over until I request that she try something new, or at least something we haven’t heard in a while. She went through the entire Judy Blume catalog (well, the lower grade books) and most of Beverly Cleary’s books and a lot of the Lemony Snicket “Series of Unfortunate Events” books and whatever else I can persuade her to listen to. She has heard Socks probably a hundred times, I am not even kidding. Ribsy is not far behind. I kind of miss the days of podcasts (Wow in the World and Story Pirates were her favorites) but I love that she is enjoying books in any form. 

She has fallen in love with poetry, though. She found a battered copy of A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein and read it over and over and over, memorizing several of the poems. She often chose that book for us to read when we put her to bed, each of us picking a random page and reading, then handing the book to the next person. Some nights, she would help me memorize one favorite poem. Other nights, after we kissed her goodnight, she would continue reading long past bedtime. We got her Where the Sidewalk Ends and the Random House Book of Poetry for Children for her birthday. If Carla is in a phase of loving poetry, well, I want to stoke that fire. 

This year, she continued to excel at skiing. She needs lessons to help build skill, but she is an eager skier and has no trouble keeping up with her friends. She tried out ice skating, for the second time in her life, and I was very proud of her for keeping at it even though it did not come easily to her. She had a few days of feeling very insecure, but she really worked hard and I think she has a good foundation of balance. 

Second grade was Carla’s best academic year yet. Her class was small (only ten children) and her teacher was phenomenal, but I am so very proud of how hard Carla worked. Not only at math and reading, but at paying attention and staying focused on her work which do not come easily to her. I am also so incredibly proud of how well she did during Covid in general, and during remote schooling specifically. It was so hard. And she really powered through it all.  

She has a bunch of friends from school and loves them all. It was so fun to see her at her party, with all these other little girls who are all so different and who all, somehow, get along so well. One of her friends moved away and they bridge the distance by playing Animal Crossing together, over Facetime. At another friend’s birthday party, Carla led the entire group in a toast to the birthday girl. Her voice and her enthusiasm carry. She wore a rainbow dress with rainbow sandals to that same friend’s birthday party and one of the other mothers commented that it was so appropriate an outfit because that’s exactly what Carla is: a dazzling rainbow of a kid, who attracts people to her and makes them smile. What a compliment, right?! 

Carla is increasingly sassy and I have to remind her on occasion to be respectful and to rephrase things. She hates having her hair brushed. She dislikes cleaning her room (her coping method is to “plean” which is her word for playing and cleaning; I am not a fan because “pleaning” is at least 95% playing and often whatever small amount of cleaning that occurs is soon erased by the playing). But in the main, she is cheerful and friendly and kind. She is enthusiastic about nearly everything (except sleep) (except when we are about to be late for camp) and my husband and I comment frequently about what a happy kid she is. She still, sometimes, wakes up singing. We both hope she never loses that innate zest for life that lights up everything she sees, that draws people to her, that makes her glow from the inside out. Seven has been a surprisingly spectacular year and I can’t wait to see what Carla-as-an-eight-year-old is like. 

This year, I didn’t fall as deep into my annual “my baby is growing up too fast” pit of nostalgia and despair. Probably because the shiny rainbow lining of this awful pandemic year was that I got to spend more time with Carla than ever before. What a blessing. I feel less like my time with her is slipping through my fingers, more like we can find pleasurable time in one another’s company, more grateful than ever before for the things outside of me that help her thrive (school, camp, sports, playdates). I am so happy she is growing and I love being able to witness as she has changed from a squishy, spit-puppy baby to a toddler dynamo to a thoughtful, eager-to-learn, happy-about-life child. What a privilege it is, to be her mom.

Eight. Eight is going to be great, I just know it.

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