Sunday, September 20, 2009

Birthday Madness

I admit it: I go a little nuts over birthdays. Not my own, God forbid -- I'd just as soon forget those.

And not my husband's, either -- I've learned my lesson after two surprise parties. They were fun for everyone except the birthday boy, who would, if his life had turned out differently, have chosen to live as a monk in a cave somewhere.

But with my kids, all bets were off. I'd put up banners, tape their birthday cards to the door, get party plates and napkins, silly hats and horns and "I'm the Birthday Boy/Girl" badges. And that was only the beginning.

Birthdays were always events -- the kids didn't just have parties, they had theme parties. (I know, I know.) Clown parties. Magician parties. Decorate-the-sun-visor parties. Roller-rink parties, parties at the gymnastics center, Chuck-E-Cheese, Q-Zar, the Family Fun Center, slumber parties, surprise parties -- you name it, we did it.

Several of my daughter's birthdays stand out: on her second birthday, we had just moved to New Jersey and were living in a Sheraton hotel until the movers arrived with our furniture. While I was on the phone with the moving company, Jessica wrote all over her body with a pen -- I do mean ALL OVER. She looked like the Tattooed Baby -- I worried about her getting ink poisoning!

Then there was her 11th birthday, where I let her invite 11 friends for a sleepover (I think my hair started to turn white that night). The year she turned 13, Jessica had a pen pal who lived in New York City. After much begging on her part and much angst on mine, we flew to New York the weekend of her birthday. We met her friend Thyrza -- who turned out to be very sweet -- and visited Tower Records, a retro record store in Greenwich Village, Strawberry Fields and Times Square. We saw "Grease" and went to an Ani DiFranco concert in Central Park. In other words, we had a blast.

Jonathan had several memorable birthdays, too. Around the time of his 11th birthday, he was into challenges and puzzles, so I wrapped several gifts and hid them around the house. Then I made up riddles that he had to decipher in order to find them. I kept a copy of the list -- and the answers -- for myself, remembering how we'd lost a few Easter eggs that way. When we found them, months later, it wasn't pleasant.

His first birthday was memorable, too. My sister was about to move into a new house -- they had closed on the old house, but the new one wasn't quite ready. In the meantime, my husband and I, our two kids and two cats shared the house with my sister and her husband, their three girls and their dog.

And then her kids got chicken pox. Somehow, my kids -- who were sharing beds/cribs with their cousins -- didn't get sick, but Jonathan was still colicky and cried a lot at night. NONE of us got much sleep. My main memory of his first birthday was four adults in zombie-mode, surrounded by a gaggle of kids and animals. It was a memorable birthday, even if it passed in a blur.

The first time my kids spent their birthdays away from home, I felt a little lost. Today is my daughter's 26th birthday, and she's spending it in New York City with her boyfriend. My son came home for the weekend closest to his birthday to keep my husband company while I was at RWA National, and we went out for birthday dinner on our way back from the airport on my return. Right after dinner, he headed back to Chicago and spent his actual birthday partying with friends three days later.

Yes, I went way too far with my kids' birthdays when they were young. Too many presents, too many parties, too much of everything. But my kids didn't turn out too badly and, you know, I'd probably do it again. Relatively speaking, there's only a short time when birthdays are fun, and you might as well make the most of it.

What about you -- your own birthdays, your husband/significant other's, your kids? Are you a party animal, or do you try to hide until the day is past? Do you tell the truth about your age when people ask? Or are your birthdays stuck at 29?


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