Both of my boys have birthdays soon. One in April (turning one) and the other in May (turning four!) As far as birthday plans go, my husband’s parents will be here visiting for the one-year-old’s birthday, but we have no plans to do anything out of the ordinary. He’s turning one – as long as he has his family around to snuggle him all day, plenty of nursing, a bit of food here and there, and a clean diaper, he’ll be as happy as can be.
For our older son, his previous birthdays have been very low-key. Just us and one other family with a trip to the park or just hanging out here at home. This year he has more friends and is much more aware of the concept of a birthday and the fact that it’s his special day. So we’re taking it up a notch. We’re inviting five of his friends and their families to join us at one of our favorite parks for some quality kid-time. The park has a great play structure (it’s gigantic – you can lose a kid in it if you don’t pay attention!) that our son loves, and lots of wide open space for kicking a soccer ball or playing with a hula hoop.
Our plan is to meet up with the other families at the park, let the kids play for as long as they want, and eat some snacks. I’ll make our son’s favorite muffins (far more nutritious than cake, and he adores them), and we’ll also take along cheese sticks and pears for everyone to munch on. Our little guy loves cheese sticks, but we only have them on very rare occasions. I asked him this morning if he’d like to take them to the park on his birthday, and his face lit up like a light bulb. He also loves pears, and they fit in nicely with my idea of simple food that is easy to prepare and take with us, and easy for kids to grab when they’re hungry.
That’s it. No decorations, no theme, no party favors, no stress at all. No cake to bake and frost and get just right. It’s about as simple as a birthday party can get, and yet our son is absolutely thrilled with the idea. He loves the park, he loves the snacks we’ve picked, and he loves the friends we’re inviting. He’s happy, we’re happy, and I’m sure the other kids will be happy with the day too. It will be fun for the parents too – who doesn’t love a day at the park?
Although I feel great about the simple birthday celebration we’re planning, I had a few seconds of doubt the other day when I saw a Pinterest board that a friend was creating with tons of ideas for her daughter’s fourth birthday party, which is coming up this spring as well. She’s planning a fancy themed party with a homemade cake and lots of decorations and all the trimmings. For a brief moment, I felt a tad bit guilty. I’ll be spending all of about and hour getting muffins made and snacks packed to take to the park for our son’s birthday. I’m not researching cake designs or looking for themed games to play. I’m not doing much of anything beyond the original idea to spend his birthday at the park.
Then I remembered talking with a couple of my friends (including the one with the Pinterest birthday party board) last year after their kids’ birthday parties. Both of them mentioned breaking down in tears the day before their child’s party because the cake wasn’t turning out right and the party planning was so stressful. They both had fantastic parties (and beautiful cakes!) but they came at a high price – lots of tears and stress the day before doesn’t sound like a good way to spend a day.
So I quickly shook off my feelings of doubt and reminded myself that there’s no rule that says kids have to have fancy birthday parties with themes and oh-my-goodness-that’s-amazing cakes. It does start to seem that way after a while, since pretty much every birthday party we’ve been to has looked like it involved a lot of work. But it doesn’t have to be that way unless you want it to. If you’re all about parties and decorations and you love baking beautiful cakes and the planning won’t reduce you to tears, go for it. But if you’re like me, and you’d rather keep things a bit more low-stress, I’ll be the other mom you know who doesn’t spend a whole bunch of time planning elaborate birthday parties. At least you’ll know you’re not alone!
This morning I took both of our boys on a spontaneous hike through an abandoned field near our house, looking for cool sticks and rocks. We spent about an hour and a half just playing in the dirt, climbing over rocks, and finding various "treasures" of unknown origin. As far as I’m concerned (and I think our son would agree), that was a better use of my time than planning an elaborate party.
If you love the birthday planning process, please don’t take this as a criticism! This post is for the parents who would prefer to buck the trend of fancy birthday parties but feel like they have to go along with the crowd and spend lots of time and/or money in order to give their kid just the right birthday celebration. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. And I know I’m not the only one who has noticed that there seems to be a bit of unspoken competition among parents when it comes to outdoing each other with their kids’ parties. Social media like Facebook – and especially Pinterest – seems to be feeding the trend of increasingly elaborate birthday parties for kids as young as one. For my own family, I want to make sure we never get on that train. That seems easier than trying to get off later on.
If you’re a fan of simple birthday celebrations that don’t reduce anyone to tears or require their own category in the budget, please share your ideas!