My daughter turned three this past week. When my son turned three, he had his first birthday party so we decided to do the same for our daughter. When one of my best friends arrived with her only child, who is almost eight months old, she saw the half-hearted attempt at cleaning, the cupcakes on the counter, the baby on my hip and said “I don’t know how you do it – you have three kids and you had time to make cupcakes. I have one and can barely get out of the house.” “The key,” I told her, “is you just don’t care as much.”
There are so many ways this has been evidenced since my oldest become a brother: Baths? Optional. Eating leaves? Fiber. But perhaps in no other arena has my lack of effort become more manifest than in birthday planning. Let’s look back and see how far I’ve fallen.
It was April of 2011. The sun had come out in Portland for the first time in four months. The cherry blossoms were blooming, the grass was lush and green. And, most importantly, my baby turned one. All four of the grandparents came out to celebrate. I made an elaborate cake in the shape of a monkey’s head, complete with cupcakes cut in half for its ears. I may have cried when someone accidentally ate the “smash cake” – basically a leftover cupcake that was going to be frosted for my son to eat. You know, not sobbing. Just teared up a little bit in disappointment. (He settled for eating one of the ears. It ended up being fine – or at least he hasn’t mentioned this being a scarring moment for him.) This was almost certainly the first time cane sugar touched his lips, although I attempted to temper that by loading the cake up with bananas. He had a bib on that said “It’s My First Birthday!” The toys he received were all lovely wooden things, designed to improve his brain, agility and strength. They were wrapped. Quite a bit of effort went into this day.
Similarly, for my son’s third birthday party, we went all out. He was really into the movie Cars at the time. I got wall hangings (wall hangings, people!) with Mater and the crew on them that I taped evenly up to the basement wall. I may have even used a tape measurer to get it even. In fact I’m pretty sure I did. We had Cars plates, Cars cups. I made homemade raspberry cupcakes with raspberry frosting. We gave out party favors containing the greater portion of the toy aisle of the dollar store – coloring books, crayons, stickers, toy cars. It was an elaborate affair.
Fast forward a few kids later, and things have changed. When my baby recently turned one, there were no grandparents or monkey cakes in sight. He did get to have cupcakes, but it was not by a long shot his first exposure to sugar. (Graham crackers are my favorite babysitter.) There was no bib, birthday or otherwise – I long ago gave up on bibs, since I long ago gave up on caring whether my baby is wearing a clean shirt. None of his presents were wrapped. His main gift from us was a hugely annoying plastic guitar, which his brother and sister took from him before he had a chance to play it and which I have already retired, 10 days later, to the back room of the basement where toys go to die.
My daughter’s birthday party was completely lacking in wall decor and party favors. The cupcakes were from a mix – although the frosting was homemade. (I need to give myself a little further to fall for when my baby turns three.) The snacks we put out were of the goldfish and cheese stick variety.It was not elaborate by a long shot. And way less time was spent.
Although I didn’t slave away for either of these recent birthdays, all the bases were covered. Happy birthday was sung. Cake was eaten. Frosting was smeared. Love was spread. You don’t need the entire cast of Cars hanging evenly on your wall or plastic bags filled with useless trinkets to let your kids know that they are special – every day, and especially on their birthdays. And maybe, since I wasn’t super preoccupied stuffing goody bags and hand-crafting monkey faces, I had more time to tell them that.
Or maybe I’m just lazy. Either way – I don’t really care.