It was the party of the year. My daughter was turning six. We had just bought a house after a three year stint renting a condo, and we invited all her friends to come enjoy our new family friendly home and back yard. The party was amazing. We secured a giant princess bounce house, tied up a colorful piñata, bought a huge Little Mermaid sheet cake, catered pizza, and packaged up fun party favors for all. Kids pop music blared through the house, snacks were staged conveniently in every corner, and thirteen bouncing little girls showed up to the party dressed in their finest princess garb. We even had family come in from out of town to make the day complete, and hired a babysitter to help manage all the children. It was epic. It was perfect. It was a fabulous failure. It was the day I quit birthday parties. Let me explain.
Sienna and I had spent a year talking about and planning her birthday party. There were lots of expectations. We don’t do huge parties every year so we wanted to really live it up. We went a little overboard mostly due to having just had a baby and compensating for all the transition Sienna had gone through that year becoming a big sister, starting kindergarten, and moving homes.
Birthdays are particularly special for Sienna because it’s not just the day she arrived, it’s the day she survived. Due to a life threatening birth defect known as gastroschisis, the memory of her first day of life is one haunted by fear, and worry. Her first four days of life included two surgeries, and her first thirty three days of life were spent in the NICU. Birthdays are always special, but when you are also celebrating avoiding a near death experience, birthdays become something more.
After spending her epic sixth birthday fussing over all the details, entertaining friends, cutting up pizza, blowing out candles, and managing a gaggle of girls watch Sienna open up a million presents I was spent. From my perspective it was the best birthday ever. I quietly patted myself on the back on a job well done. This would be one of those memories that would stand out forever in her mind. Her first real home, her first epic back yard birthday.
After the last guest left, and we were picking up the pieces of the party I turned around with a smile on my face to find Sienna full of dismay. I was shocked as she proclaimed full of frustration that it was the worst birthday ever.
Tears of resentment filled my eyes. How could she be so ungrateful? We had bent over backwards to give her what she wanted. It was the best birthday ever. Look at all she got, look at all the fun she had! What more could she want? How spoiled could she be?! I was furious.
She tried to explain, but the words didn’t come out right. How could a six year old tell her parents what she really meant when it came to not enjoying her party? There was no right answer. We both went to bed angry and upset.
The next morning her grandparents from Tennessee arrived and we had the bounce house for one more day. She spent the happiest day playing with them as well as her Dad and I on this bounce house. Instead of a gaggle of girls, she had quality time with her family. At the end of the day she expressed how much fun she had. It was the best day ever.
The bitter sting of resentment still haunted me. I sat in thoughtful silence trying to sort it all out. Why was the party so hard for her? My social, spirited daughter loves people. How could she not have loved the perfect party I gave her. Slowly it hit me… the party hadn’t been for her. It was for me. If I was being honest, I had to admit that somewhere deep inside I was trying to give her the “Best Party Ever” so I would remember it that way. What if the “Best Party Ever” for Sienna wasn’t what we thought it should be? What if, what she really needed was a deeply meaningful birthday?
In her own way she was trying to tell me that. She didn’t need tons of presents and all the bells and whistles we thought went with a big fabulous party. What she really wanted was quality time with us, and someone who really “got” her. My “AHA Moment” came over me like a tidal wave. This was all too much. Too much for her, and too much for us. It was time to simplify. From that moment I swore I would never do this again. All the stress and crazy work it took to pull off this giant facade of manic happiness. No, next time it would be more meaningful.
Flash forward to a year later. Sienna still asked for a party, but this time we forwent the crazy chaos and opted for a fun day with one friend. She took the wheel and planned her fun day (within reason). We took her and her friend to a bouncy gym for a few hours, then to get their nails done, followed by a fun family dinner where the girls made their own pizzas. She received a few presents, but nothing outrageous. It was simple, it was peaceful, it was pleasant. At the end of the day without prompting Sienna gushed that it was “The Best Birthday Ever”.
I could hardly believe it.
This weekend Sienna turns eight. She wanted to have a party with more friends this year so to be creative we came up with something a little different. We rented the bounce house for the weekend again but instead of a huge party I created a sign up form for five individual play dates. Sienna invited five friends to sign up for her “Quality Time Birthday Bounce House Weekend”. Each friend will get a three hour window to bounce their hearts out, make crafts, eat treats, and spend one on one time with the birthday girl. No vying for attention, no social politics, no anxiety. Just a meaningful day, with friends that are special to her.
I can’t think of a better way of spending her special day, and that’s why I quit Birthday Parties and maybe you should too.
Enjoy the Journey!
xo- Amy West