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.