Two and a half hours in a church hall on a Saturday afternoon. Thirty yellow balloons hovering just above the ground. Twenty-eight second grade girls. Eight large pizzas. Seven two-liter bottles of soda. A huge vegetable tray. One full sheet cake. One karaoke machine. Three microphones. And, the soundtrack to High School Musical 2 playing…over and over and over again.
I did a lot of counting today - and not just the numbers of balloons or bottles of soda at my daughter's 8th birthday party. I counted all the birthday parties I've hosted for my four children since I became a mother. The sum total took me aback: last weekend's birthday celebration was party number thirty-two. 32!
I searched my mind to recall their themes.
There were at-home parties featuring unicorns, Star Wars characters, pirates (twice), firefighters, Harry Potter, kittens, astronauts, butterflies, Dora the Explorer, horses, Legos, marine life, and Rescue Heroes.
My sons have celebrated their birthdays at bowling alleys, at a minor league baseball game, and at laser tag facilities. One of my daughters had a wonderfully messy and creative party at our community center's pottery studio. We've had a luau, ballet parties, and a big backyard rainforest party with sprinklers and plastic wading pools.
We've had store-bought sheet cakes and ornate home-made ones. (You should have seen the pirate ship I made, complete with root beer barrels, malted milk ball cannonballs, and little plastic pirates climbing the wooden dowel masts.) I've scoured the Internet for the right spun sugar toppers for cupcakes. I've made treasure hunts and modified "Simon Says" in countless ways to fit the day's theme.
Can you tell? I love it!
Gary Chapman is the author of the "Love Languages" series of books. He states that there are five primary ways that people "speak and understand emotional love." These are: "physical touch, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and words of affirmation." Chapman writes that everyone communicates love in one of these ways.
Maybe he could add a sixth one: "giving birthday parties!"
With a busy family life, for me creating my kids' birthday parties every year is a tangible way to show each of them that I appreciate them as individuals. The child whose birthday is approaching is singled out. We pore over birthday party websites and circle ideas we like in catalogs. We discuss guest lists at length. At those times, I often learn new things about my child's current batch of classmates and the specific reasons why my child most values each friend. We bake, address invitations, and assemble goody bags together. We decorate for the party - often creating homemade decorations to supplement whatever we've bought.
I know parents who make other choices - parents, perhaps, whose love language isn't "giving birthday parties." I have friends who allow their children a party every second or third year. They have dinner at a favorite restaurant or go on a special outing to celebrate on the "off" years. Some children don't enjoy big parties, so instead they invite one or two friends over to watch a movie or spend the night. I admire parents who limit the number of guests their children can invite to the age that child is turning on her next birthday. All of these are sensible ideas and ones I can recommend whole-heartedly.
But…I have to admit - I don't follow them myself.
The parties I give my children aren't lavish. For my daughter's recent High School Musical party, the karaoke machine and microphones were borrowed from a friend. The pizzas were inexpensive and the cake was $15 from a warehouse club. The girls spent most of the party dancing around the room. There was no magician and no pony rides. It was just a very large group of girls dancing and singing.
The most excessive choice I've made because of my "birthday party language of love" happened a few years ago. My younger son was turning eight and had just finished a difficult school year. Among other things, a new boy was bullying him and a few of his friends. My son and his friends struggled for months to try to figure out what to do about the problem, not wanting to be "tattle-tales."
Finally my son told his teacher about the bullying. The school acted swiftly to end the bad situation. The principal met with my son and the boy in question. The principal then met with my son's whole class to talk about the importance of telling adults when you are being hurt. All the attention - even though it ultimately solved the problem - embarrassed my son. His birthday was the day after school ended for the year.
The day before the party, I surveyed our plans. I was glad to see that all of his friends could attend. We had materials to transform the backyard swing set into a pirate ship. All the boys would receive eye patches and bandanas. The aforementioned pirate ship cake looked magnificent.
But, I thought to myself, how can I make this even better? On a whim, I drove to our local appliance rental shop. There were large, blow-up "moon jumps" for rent, but these were too expensive and weren't theme-appropriate. I walked past hefty power tools and gardening instruments, but couldn't find inspiration.
But, then, I saw it: a cotton candy machine! For about $100, it could be mine the next afternoon and I could have all the blue candy sugar I wanted.
The back yard was a delightful sight the day of the party. There were about 20 young pirates wearing eye patches, gold hoop earrings, and drawn-on scars. They pantomimed sword fights with their inflatable swords. They swung off the sides of the huge pirate ship and held sticky cones of cotton candy. My son was beaming. It was great to see him smiling again.
So, I've been a Mom for 11 years and, so far, have hosted 32 birthday parties for my children. Next month will be party number 33. My soon-to-be six year old is already drawing up her guest list.