On Birthdays at the Table
As a little girl I remember how much I loved when it was my birthday. My invite list always exceeded the maximum occupancy in our little 900 sq ft home. I didn't mind the sardines in a can affect, because it was my birthday, and birthdays were worth celebrating.
Years passed and I found my birthday wasn't as special as I thought it should be. Maybe it was circumstantial, or being in a family where money was often tight. I felt like the importance of celebrating got lost, and a birthday was merely another day in my family's mind.
When I married Ben, I realized how big of a deal he made my birthday. His mom came from a family where the joke was the birthday person never caught a glimpse of the birthday cake. So at dinner one night when my in laws were still dating, my father in law, unbeknownst to him asked, "Where's the cake?" Everyone aghast at this tomfoolery responded quietly and sternly, "We do not talk about the cake." Minutes later Grandma would bring out the cake to the chorus of "Happy Birthday." This tradition continued by my mother-in-law for her kids as well.
I remember my father in law remarking how it was silly; but, I think over the many years of my mother in law doing this it has worn a love mark in his heart. When we know someone has set aside resources and energy to secretly make a cake special for you to "surprise" you on the day you entered the world, it speaks to the longing we have inside of us. It's the longing where someone says, "You're uniqueness is worth being celebrated. You are worth my time to make this token of love."
On Wednesday we celebrated our youngest birthday. She turned three and had special ideas about what she would like for her birthday dinner. "S'ghetti and Meatballs! A circle cake, vanilla with pink frosting, and rocky roady ice cream," she gladly announced as her menu. We didn't do anything elaborate. There was no themed birthday, favors to be bought, or even the house #KonMari clean.
In January I wrote about bringing back 80s birthday parties for kids. I primarily received positive feedback; but, there were some not so cheery responses. Responses saying how they go all out for birthdays, because it's what their mom did for them, or they set the day aside as something special and worth celebrating for their kid. They felt what I wrote served against these feelings.
However, I strongly believed then as I do now how important it is to celebrate the people we love on their birthday. Maybe I could clarify a couple things during the time of my oldest's birthday/party in January to present about my youngest birthday. The 80s birthday party post came from:
- a mama who had just had a couple panic attacks less than a month prior,
- a husband who was gone the whole week leading up to the birthday,
- a mama who was taking care of three sick girls and one sick mama from the flu solo,
- a birthday girl who had dislocated her thumb with a visit to the ER at night,
- a mama still grieving the loss of her brother who shares the birthday of her oldest daughter.
In writing those words in January, they were grace words, words to say, "it's okay mama, I see you and know you want to do more; but, this is your best, so be kind to yourself." I gather that so many other mamas feel the same way. We want to create beauty for our children. We want to buy them everything their heart desires, not to create spoiled monsters; but, to see the sparkle in their eye when they see what we wished we would have seen as a child. We feel the need to create magazine beauty, because it means accomplished.
In a world where our ideals don't or cannot meet our best effort when it comes to giving our children the best birthday, we as mothers need kindness for ourselves.
Fast forward to present. The day of lining the cake pans with parchment, measuring the ingredients on the scale, and beating the buttercream came sheer delight in giving my girl the gift of a homemade cake. I had the energy and mental acuity to bake and decorate the lovely circle cake you see before you. I did it not out of obligation, or constructed idols of motherhood. I beat the egg whites into stiff peaks for one simple reason. I love my sweet girl.
So, it doesn't matter if what you do is a full-blown party complete with professionally decorated cupcakes to an intimate family dinner with cake from a 9x13 pan. What does matter is our heart. Our heart is the basis for every outpouring of hospitality. Whatever your birthday parties look like for the ones you love, don't believe in the lie that it needs to be the same as the ones your mother threw, or by the amount of presents your child opens, or even if the cake is made from scratch.
There will be seasons in your life when you simply cannot do what you normally do, or what you wish you could do. That's okay, because gentle love should also be given to us as mothers. When we do give ourselves this gift, our children will get so much more in return.
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