Birthday party burnout

Lily, having her cake and eating it, too

It’s been more than a month since I last managed to get something up on this blog, and a big part of the reason for this lag is not just preparation for Lily’s birthday and party on May 14 – and the subsequent, still-not-completely finished (of course) “thank you” notes that follow – but the five additional birthday parties (and a dear friend’s wedding in Minneapolis) that we’ve attended since. (It’s been a cake and goody bag marathon that’s convinced me, on the basis of a ludicrously small sample, that the bulk of the world’s current pre-schoolers were born between mid-May to early June.)

Now, Lily’s had fun at each party, but Mommy’s feeling a bit beaten down – perhaps in part because this onslaught has coincided with the infamously fatigue-plagued third trimester of pregnancy. Regardless, I’ll need to buck up and get used to this, since I have years of the same ahead of me.

For Lily and two of her cousins, who now both live in the area, were born within a 13 day span in 2008 (which seemed a strange coincidence, but kind of neat, too, at the time); plus, an older cousin also has a May birthday. And while an appealingly pragmatic thought that briefly passed through my head was, “What if I suggest throwing one big, collective birthday party for all the 3 year old cousins?” I was too scared to even suggest it out loud. For I could hear, and feel myself also giving voice to, the inevitable BIG objection as soon as the idea flashed in my mind: Shouldn’t each girl have her own special day/party, where she didn’t have to share the spotlight?

Again and again, the right answer seemed to be “yes.” But as we all know, doing the right thing is often a huge pain the tuckus.

Plus, add into the mix that Lily was also, during this same period of time, traveling with us to a wedding, and invited to attend the birthday parties of two of her preschool friends.

So yes, we attended three birthday parties in the span of one 24 hour block during one weekend. Lily was dragging a little bit by the third party, but generally, she had a ball. I, on the other hand, when we crossed that particular weekend’s finish line for parties, yearned to find a quiet corner, curl up, and sleep for 35 hours or so, while Joe appeared ready to bitch-slap the entire staff of Chuck E. Cheese because they all seemed oddly unwilling or unable to sell him a drink for his parched daughter. (Meanwhile, Lily’s little cousin had found her way up to the human habitrails that run along the restaurant/arcade’s ceiling, and because we couldn’t see her, and because she didn’t seem to be making her way back down, my sister-in-law, also seven and a half months pregnant at the time, somehow snaked her pregnant self up the shelved levels to retrieve her own recently-feted 3 year old daughter.)

We were all flagging, but trying valiantly to push through.

And it wasn’t a matter of the most commonly cited problem these days: parents throwing elaborate, over-the-top parties that attempt to rival P. Diddy’s legendary soirees. No, these were all pretty low-key affairs: we had a backyard grill-out/open house; Lily’s older cousin had a party at a park in Ann Arbor; another cousin invited folks out for Friday night dinner at a child-friendly restaurant, followed by cake and presents at the house; one of Lily’s preschool friends had a party (with a bounce house) in the backyard; we celebrated another cousin’s birthday at Chuck E Cheese; and the last one was at Lily’s friend’s house, where Cinderella stopped by to do face painting, dance, read a story, and play games.

But Cinderella also, while waving goodbye to everyone, backed her mid-size car (no pumpkin carriage in sight) into one of the grandparents’ parked cars on the street. A handful of us stood in the yard, next to the bouncey house, as the poor woman drove back into the family’s driveway, got out of her car, and covered her face in embarrassment.

The event seemed a strangely appropriate end to the past month’s craziness. We all had our hearts in the right place, wanting to do right by all these occasions and celebrate each person as they deserved. But inevitably, as we sang and clapped and chatted our way through each get-together, we lost focus and perspective at times, and occasionally hit a wall (or a car). 

To focus on Lily’s party as an example: though the house was clean, almost no food was out and ready to eat when guests started arriving; a rainy morning caused me some anxiety, since people were inevitably squished into our back porch and the small rooms of our house, rather than getting to hang out in the backyard; Lily happened to have a flip-out just as everyone was preparing to leave, so that rather than telling guests goodbye and “thank you,” she stood in the driveway, obsessing and whining about how she didn’t want any plastic balls in her plastic grocery cart; I didn’t make a point of having her open her gifts before our guests left, so some people may have thought that rude (though it made for a fabulous Christmas-morning like experience the next day, when the rain was coming down in sheets); and when I went to the next party, it struck me: kids parties are supposed to have goody bags with fun little items for each kid that attends. What did the kids who came to Lily’s party get? Nada. Oops.

So despite good intentions and lots of preparation, things went wrong, and mistakes were made.

But watching a woman dressed in a copy Cinderella’s poofy blue ball gown get into her wholly ordinary car and run smack into someone’s fender offered a useful reminder to me. Throughout this past month, we all did the best we could for our kids and our families, and that’s all we could possibly ask of ourselves. Expecting things to happen without occasional lapses in patience, energy, and attention is truly a fairy tale – and as Cinderella’s auto insurance company may now tell you, there’s no such thing.

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3 thoughts on “Birthday party burnout

  1. Emily says:

    And while an appealingly pragmatic thought that briefly passed through my head was, “What if I suggest throwing one big, collective birthday party for all the 3 year old cousins?” ……YES

    Shouldn’t each girl have her own special day/party, where she didn’t have to share the spotlight?….NO. The spotlight is substantially less fun when your mommy is having a nervous breakdown.

    Just my vote for next year.

    • Jenn McKee says:

      Ha! As I mention, I was too scared off from even suggesting it, feeling the idea would be IMMEDIATELY shouted down. But given the whole “nervous breakdown” thing, maybe it’s something we should explore after all. (At the very least, since they’re getting older, maybe we could combine for one big family get-together, and then have a small friends party that’s separate. Might be more manageable.)

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