Entertaining 18 boys on a rainy day.
In the third bang, a candy waterfall erupted from the cracked piñata and the kids dove for the floor and scrambled over the sweets, fighting each other to fill their pockets with the goodies they want. And that was it – six hours of work destroyed in six seconds. No wonder some parents ask me why I do this. Why do I spend my nights crafting themed birthday parties for my children?
For this particular piñata, I had cut strips of newspaper and, one by one, wet them in a mixture of water and flour and layered them over an oversized balloon. I repeated this process over and over for six hours over two nights because my son asked for a Death Star piñata this year. I could have said no, it’s too much work. But he loves Star Wars and his parties and he was turning 10 – I don’t think there are many more themed birthday parties left on him. My eldest this year turned 12 and chose to invite his friends to the movies instead of having a party. I’m glad that for 11 years I was part of his celebrations and helped make his date of birth memorable.
I’ve heard some mothers arguing that elaborate kid’s parties are the epitome of the ‘invisible labour’ of the gendered work of caring and that this should have no place in the lives of today’s modern women. It’s also not uncommon to read about mothers showing off how accomplished they are at mothering by throwing impeccable parties. Others have said these parties are a form of ostentation. There are as many views as there are people and all these arguments may hold true in some cases but for me, birthday parties are a celebration of both childhood and a new year of living. I feel that I’m creating beautiful memories while celebrating friendship, sharing food together, preparing and opening our house for visitors.
This year marked the beginning of a new era. It was a strange feeling, having my son saying he didn’t want a party. “Not even a cake?” I persisted. He shook his head. “How about invitations?” “Only if it’s a plain invitation, no cuteness.” And that was it. A night at the movies and Mc Donald’s with his mates. For years, he chose a theme for this party and got excited about the invitation and birthday decorations. Every year the party’s theme registered a different stage in his life. From Nemo to pirates to dinosaurs to bushwalking. This year, the lack of a theme indicated the beginning of a new phase of his journey towards independence. I felt a sense of pride as I watched my little man marching towards the movie theatre surrounded by friends.
You will never get this moment back again. There will come a day when we don’t know but we will be doing something for the last time. That’s why I was determined to create a Death Star and didn’t give up when the balloon collapsed into itself. Once the covered balloon was dry, I cut a hole on the top to later put in the lollies and was going to start the painting and decoration. But something went wrong. The papier-mache started to crack and the balloon couldn’t hold its weight. I tried to bring it back to shape with duct tape but to no avail. “Mum it’s ok, you’ve put so much effort already.” My wise 10-year-old brought some sense to my desperation.
But I was determined to make his Death Star come back to life. I looked online for alternative ways to accomplish my goal and realised I would have to start from scratch. I decided I was going to try to cover another balloon with plaster and went to the craft shop to buy the ingredients. I stood there, staring at the shelves and in my mind’s eyes I pictured myself covered in white power swiping the dusty floor at 2am. My son’s voice echoed in my ears. Everything has a limit. Two hours later I returned home with a $12 piñata from Kmart. It wasn’t the Death Star but the kids enjoyed it all the same.
Celebrating our 20th themed party. Last weekend we had a Pokemon party.
Chocolate heaven. I remember the aroma of chocolate that impregnated the whole house. Mum used to bake delicious treats for our birthdays and chocolate cake was her specialty. A bit muddy in the centre and crusty on top. Decades later I still recall those special days. It doesn’t matter how hard we work to leave our children real state assets and unearned money, most of what we really leave behind are memories. Memories of who we are, the time we spent together and the essence of our relationships. One of the most powerful sources of memories of my childhood are birthday parties, mine and of my siblings’. We didn’t have that many parties and they weren’t fancy but I still vividly and fondly remember them. It’s funny I have no recollections of the gifts we received but memories of the experience and the emotions it recalls on me is as fresh as my mum’s bread oozing with melted cheese waiting to cool in the kitchen table.
It’s no surprise then that I was naturally drawn to creating similar memories for my kids and wow how time flies, I’ve just celebrated our 20th birthday party last weekend. It doesn’t matter how busy I am with work and everything else, every year I manage to whip up two memorable parties (well, if they’re as memorable for the kids as they’re for me it’s unclear). It’s always a lot of work and painful paper cuts but I enjoy the late nights in this labour of love. I feel as excited as the kids, planing, organising, baking and sometimes I spend so many hours on these projects that I ask myself why, why… the kids would be as happy with an indoor playground party. But I feel it’s the little things that colour our lives and each family has their little things. For our family one of these little things is making birthdays extra special days.
I remember a family when I was growing up that didn’t celebrate birthdays. The father used to say that every day was special so he didn’t have to single one out. This sounds good in principle but in reality we are too distracted with life to make every day special. It just doesn’t happen. Our day of birth is a great opportunity to remind ourselves and our children that we are more than a speck of dust in the universe and that yes, every day is special but we need to stop and acknowledge it. All memories aren’t created equal. We are most likely to keep memories that are associated with emotions. If everyday is the same routine with no emotional experiences our memories of our early life will not be as colourful.
Long before I had children I realised that a birthday party can send a powerful message to a child. I was going to church back then and there was this migrant family whose mother had returned to their home country in Africa for a few months and the father was left with the kids. They had a daughter who was turning five and it broke my heart to think she wouldn’t have a cake, that no one would be singing happy birthday in celebration of her life. I ended up organising a party for her. I will never forget the sparkle with joy in her eyes when she arrived in the church hall and found it had been decorated for her. She held a smile on her face the entire party. That kind of smile that says “I’m special, I was noticed.” I can’t tell if one event like that can have a lasting impact on someone’s life but I’d like to think that any positive impact, even if temporary, makes the world a better place.
I sometimes think of starting a charity organisation to provide birthday parties for children in foster care. I imagine that most of these kids don’t get to celebrate their birthdays. How cruel is it to remember your childhood and think that no one cared enough to celebrate your birthday. No memories of cakes, piñatas, pass-the-parcel. I don’t know if there is a market for it, I don’t know if I have the energy to make this happen, at present it’s only an idea, but as my kids get older they will require less labour intensive parties and I feel like I could share the joy to other addresses. If you are a foster family reading this, please leave a comment, let me know if you think there is a need for a service like this.
Thanks for reading and hope you are creating colourful memories for yourself and your loved ones.