This past weekend was a big one for our family. Lots of baseball and softball. The Wake Football Spring Game. And two birthdays! One of the things I didn’t realize when our family was growing was how much birthday fatigue would set in when you have 5 kids to celebrate! I love my kids. I love the days they were born. I do not love birthdays. Here’s why: it is so stinking hard to manage the excitement. I want them all to feel so loved, but I don’t want to spend money in a way that is inconsistent with real life. I want them to have a fun treat and get to make some fun decisions, but I don’t want the next day to be awful because they are crashing hard from a sugar rush. Doesn’t that sort of moderation sound fun? Clearly birthdays aren’t my best skill.
When our family started out we lived MUCH closer to our extended families. At one point we lived about 40 minutes from my mom and dad and both my brothers. So for birthdays we were able to gather all the troops. There were cakes and big meals and celebrations with presents and family. Now we live 7 hours from the closest family members. Fortunately there are a lot of us, and so even just our immediate family can feel like a party sometimes. But when birthdays hit during real life busy seasons, it is so hard to make the day special. Our oldest has a birthday during football season. She has a fabulous attitude about it, but it’s not ideal. My youngest son has had three birthdays at bowl games: in buses, in hotels, in stadiums…no cake…no presents…but three victories so we will roll with it.
Gifts all arrive via Amazon (thank goodness for Prime!) But then I’m usually trying to figure out what is from whom and putting presents into gift bags so it looks a little more festive than a pile of cardboard boxes. And then there are gifts to buy from us! I am a gift purchasing procrastinater. I will have great ideas in my amazon cart for months, and then talk myself out of them. But this year I had a great idea for my son, an Arizona Hotshots T-shirt! You see, John Wolford, former Demon Deacon quarterback and all around great human, was leading the Hotshots to a phenomenal run in the inaugural season of the American Alliance of Football. Our family was seriously enjoying football games that we could watch all together (football WITH Dad!! What??!!) We had a favorite player, a favorite team, and our team was winning games with their star quarterback. (Who had been a star at our University!) So I ordered my son a t-shirt. I didn’t rush the order because I just needed it to be here when his birthday arrived. When I ordered it, the Hotshots had just won a game to lead the division. When the shirt arrived the league had been disbanded. This was not my most successful gift purchase. To add insult to injury, I got a shipping update that the package would not arrive until two days after his birthday. Lame.
Birthday parties with a dozen friends are so hard to wrap my mind around. With the 5 kids I have in tow, trying to be in charge of a big group of extra kids is overwhelming. Between sports and spring games it would have been me vs. my five plus party guests. Instead we usually opt for me+5 doing something I usually say no to. Staying up a little late to watch a movie? Check! Going on an early Saturday morning to Surge Trampoline Park? Check! This weekend for my daughter it was: chocolate milk with your lunch? Check! Painting your finger nails at the dining room table? Check! My son: board game with Mom after school? Check! Remember the Titans and popcorn? Check! See what I mean? Wild and crazy parties over here.
Between recruiting and softball practices and baseball games we didn’t have a night where the kids even had a chance to eat some birthday cake or blow out candles. They each opened a few presents during breakfast on their birthday morning: one early before school and one early before church. But you know what? I didn’t hear many complaints. The kids had a few requests that didn’t quite work out the way we wanted them, too. I offered a few rain checks for Spring Break week when we have the whole day to do things like roller skate and go to the park.
When I asked Lucas what he wanted for his birthday he said “You are so good at choosing things, so just whatever you think I would like!” That is some pressure. And it nearly all blew up with the t-shirt to support the team that no longer exists in the league that folded, but we had one more gift in mind. We took Lucas on Sunday morning after church to the Dick’s Sporting Goods to try out bats and get one of the cool baseball bats many of his teammates have. The ones we’ve said “no” to for the past 5 seasons. And watching him carry that bat around with a huge smile on his face, watching him hitting off the tee in the back yard, hearing his sweet “thank you”s over and over…made it worth it.
Lily on the other hand knew exactly what she wanted: roller skates, a reading pillow, and a hula hoop. This is not the first year she has asked for a hula hoop, but hula hoops really don’t have the longest life expectancy. If we get a full summer out of a hula hoop before it becomes a lasso, a horse harness, and a moving football target and breaks apart, I count that a victory. So I gathered my $5 and bought the girl another hula hoop. Because it’s the little things. She skated around in her new roller skates with her sisters after lunch, and I have never seen a kid so happy to sit up in bed and read at bedtime. Perhaps the managed expectations I struggle with are working out alright for the kids.
The night before Lucas’s birthday I heard Lily sadly say “we won’t get to drink out of the fancy cup because it’s still packed away from the new kitchen!” So I knew that birthday tradition was important. My son got to drink out of the Belk Bowl Champions cup on his morning, and I dug through the remaining boxes and found the glass coffee mug that Lily loves for hers. I pulled out one dish from my china set that used to belong to my grandma’s sister and the birthday kid got to eat their breakfast off the “fancy” plate. I hung a birthday banner from the window behind the table. It all meant setting my alarm 15 minutes early and setting up easy-to-replicate traditions for the past 11 years.
I don’t think their birthdays feel any less special than the birthdays that come with parties for 50 at a fancy destination. I do think there is probably a middle of the road that other moms and dads have mastered that looks pretty wonderful. And I am human enough to admit that I’m working toward that middle ground on a lot of things. But I’m also a mom with a sense of reality, and I can see the years of birthdays I have ahead. I did the math, and I have 42 more individual birthdays to celebrate before all of my kids turn 18. And one person can only be expected to hire clowns and put up bouncy houses so many times in their lives. Kind of like how my best part of each day is reading to each kid before bed, my favorite part of each birthday is when we are sitting at the table for whatever birthday meal we have managed and the kids get to hear their brothers and sisters and mom and dad say something that we love about the birthday boy or girl. I can absolutely watch those faces light up at least 42 more times.
It may not be perfect. It may not be Pinterest-worthy, but someday I hope my kids think back and remember the way they felt during that moment in their birthday dinner. Because that feeling certainly lasts longer than gifts…especially hula hoops.