Olivia's 11th birthday next week. So against my wishes, we embark on the "birthday week." No one actually says that out loud, but it always amounts to a good seven days before everything is said and done.
I am a "less is more" kind of person. I'm excited about her birthday, brimming with pride about how she's grown and matured. Suddenly tall and thin - where'd the toddler go? Suddenly worried about my feelings when making a decision: "What color would you like, mom?" This just breaks my heart. When did the tables turn? When did she start taking care of me, her elderly and delicate mother? Is that really happening? No, no. Not yet.
So I'm up for (or "down with" depending on your generation) a celebration. Another beautiful glorious year of childhood under her belt, and a whole new year, full of change and possibility ahead. What's not to celebrate?
It's just that I only want to celebrate it once. Or twice. I suppose I can get on board with having a "friend" party filled with, of course, friends, and a family gathering filled with...umm, those elderly and delicate people who need to be accomodated and passified like children. But after two celebrations, I'm out for sure. Cupcakes for school? for the soccer team? the swim team? Then there's the "actual" birthday. The real deal occurs this Thursday, a night when I'm out tutoring and she's at syncronized swimming. So we're having the family gathering on Friday instead. Do we just let the real deal pass without any kind of acknowledgment at all? When did it get so complicated?
Doesn't everyone get a certain defined allotment of birthday energy each year? If you spend it all on one party, on one spectacular day, you have an extravagant bash. If you spread it out over several celebrations, you dilute it. Haven't you ever noticed the bars of "Happy Birthday" growing a bit strained by the third rendition? And how exciting is cake after dinner if you just had cupcakes at school?
But there's the catch. Olivia's friends have already discussed the menu possibilities for next week's birthday "treat." There appears to be no question that we will provide, like it or not.
So, it all starts tomorrow with the "friend" party - 6 friends doing crafts (at AC Moore - where a trained professional will execute said craft activities while I stand by feeling a contradictory mix of complete inadequacy, revulsion, and pleasure at how well it's all going).
My one "less is more" birthday victory: no goody bags. I dug my heels in with that from an early age: "I won't do it," I said. "It's over the top on candy, junky toys and wasteful cellophane bags." I told them to tell their friends that I was mean, that I'd be happy to take the hit for the gross injustice. Surprisingly, they've never needed to. I think even the kids know the bags are ridiculous--no one but the angry and frustrated goody-bag fairy has ever complained.
So I'm back where I started: The eve of "the week." Today she bounces off the walls; me, I'm riddled with anxiety--despite all my opinions. Will it be fun? She knows it will be; that's why I'm so worried. It's like that every year. I can throw a dinner party for 20 without the eruption of one single salty bead of sweat, but a kid's birthday party? I'm drenched. Adults you can ply with wine, but a child will look at you with the cold honesty of a person who has never walked in another's shoes and say, "This party is boring."
To prevent that catastrophe, I'll behave shamelessly for 2 hours tomorrow, giving her everything she wants, just to see her smile. But then it's back to the real world where we'll resist any impulse to provide cupcakes at soccer, swim practice or anywhere else, except school. For that, we'll deliver. Then on Friday, the old folks will gather, sing like it's the first time, and put the thing to bed for another year. Wew!