More Happy, Less Birthday

I simultaneously threw the least impressive and the most exciting birthday party for my son last week.

No invitations to print, no banners to hang, not even a table cloth. Three balloons, twelve cupcakes, and a zoo full of animals. That was it.

You're probably realizing why I called it the least impressive, though you may not see the exciting part yet. Well, that depends on your definition of exciting. Up until now, birthday parties included (but were not limited to) games, balloon houses, pony rides, creatively named foods, and a backdrop to match the theme. I knew it was excessive, but party planning was a dream job of mine that I chased briefly before becoming a teacher. Planning extravagant birthday bashes was a way of fulfilling that ambition.

I can't even say that I have omitted that definition of exciting. I'm just in the process of redefining it.

If I'm honest, my previous definition wasn't always that fun for the birthday kid. My kids show their true personalities when they are at home living their best lives. Add a house full of out-of-the-norm decorations, stressed out mommy trying to finish it all, and a bunch of adults they don't normally see...you can imagine they were no longer living their best life.

Exhibit A: excessive may not even be a big enough word to describe this circus.

Exhibit A: excessive may not even be a big enough word to describe this circus.

And this was what made him the happiest that day: tissue paper.

And this was what made him the happiest that day: tissue paper.

Becoming a stay-at-home-mom created the need to simplify and live off of one income. For us, that meant looking at how we spent our money and eliminating what was not necessary. We agreed that parties were still important for our children and also that we needed to bring the cost down. By agreeing to that, it meant I was going to have to throw simple birthday parties.

I didn't even know what a simple party would look like. I love decorating. I love DIY-ing. I love celebrating. Birthdays are few and far between, so when I had the chance to go all out, I did.

In my defense, all the decor I used would purposefully end up in my children’s playroom or bedrooms so it wasn’t bought without intention.

In my defense, all the decor I used would purposefully end up in my children’s playroom or bedrooms so it wasn’t bought without intention.

There were approximately 10 adults trying to get baby boy to smile and he wasn’t having it.

There were approximately 10 adults trying to get baby boy to smile and he wasn’t having it.

I had convinced myself that I had already toned things down. Having two kids and being a working mom drove me to utilize local kid party spots to relieve the pressure of cleaning and decorating our house. That still didn't stop me from staying up well past midnight making family shirts, table centerpieces, and themed party favors.

Then the reality of having the firstborn grandchildren on both sides of our family set in. I was finishing up the post-Christmas disaster relief and was ready to cancel all birthday gatherings for as long as they both shall live. There was an abundance of new toys and clothes that had me rearranging and reorganizing for an entire two days.

It's tempting, the party-free life, especially when friends you know are leaving behind parties for family vacations instead. But, if I'm doing this to simplify expenses, then that's not an option for us either.

The hard thing about abandoning big celebrations is the amount of family and friends that invest in our kids' lives. I know the day should be ultimately about the birthday person, but let's face it, without all of those loving people, it's not the same.

I struggled for about two weeks before finally finding the balance between experience and party. Fortunately, our zoo memberships provided us with "bring a friend free" passes for the month of January. Some of our family members already had passes of their own which allowed us to bring in even more people. Besides paying for our memberships last year (which we have taken advantage of), we paid $0 to spend a couple of hours at the zoo with twelve people. Twelve of the most important people in our baby boy's life. Everyone was able to spend time with him. They all witnessed him living his best life getting all the attention while seeing animals.

I didn't make one...oops, okay, I made one shirt for him. I bought grocery store cupcakes and a set of train tracks to put them on in an attempt to make an animal train. We all had the best day, store-bought cupcakes and all.

I wish every party could be that simple and that fun. I know as my boys grow they will have more friends than family to invite along with opinions of their own. I know we were lucky to have free passes this time around. I also know that we all had such a good time that I'm determined to make birthdays happier and a little less complicated. I may not be done with photo backdrops or family shirts, but I will never try to do it all again.

Party favors are one of my favorite things because it sends a piece of my creativity home with our guests. Maybe I’m not done with party favors forever.

Party favors are one of my favorite things because it sends a piece of my creativity home with our guests. Maybe I’m not done with party favors forever.

I know people that don't throw their kids parties unless it's a milestone birthday and I know friends that go above and beyond my party planning abilities. There isn't a set right or wrong way to celebrate. Whatever your finances and family preferences are should decide what best suits your kids. Find the balance of happy and birthday, aiming for more happy, less birthday.

The biggest expense of the party was the little small cake to put the train on.

The biggest expense of the party was the little small cake to put the train on.