By: Sheila Gaudet
For some strange reason, my family has a thing for January birthdays. My mother thinks it’s a conspiracy to tap out her gift-giving creativity by having all the birthdays so close to Christmas. I promise it is nothing that diabolical.
Nonetheless, in my house, both boys and I have January birthdays. My step-sister, as well as three out of four nieces and nephews on my side of the family, also have birthdays in January. It makes for some tricky planning of celebrations.
My oldest son’s birthday has often fell during the winter holiday break from school which made it harder to get out invitations (who needs more stuff coming home right before the holidays?). This year he turned 15 so we are past the days of sending out invitations. He gets a big family party every year at his paternal grandparents when he’s visiting his dad over Christmas and comes back spoiled rotten with attention. It’s been our tradition the past several years to go out to eat, at his request, at a hibachi steakhouse. This year I made the reservations, invited his girlfriend and prepared to go.
As fate would have it, he came home sick from school that day so our plans were cancelled. Luckily, we had made plans for my brother, nephew and some friends to come visit the following weekend. That gave us a total of five boys between the ages of 8 and 15, my brother, my husband and me! My youngest’s comment, “All right! A man cave!” summed it up. We were fortunate to be able to get tickets for all of us to attend Frozen Fenway that weekend and my son brought his girlfriend as his birthday present. The weather was very cooperative (I think it was 50 degrees when we arrived) and a good time was had by all.
My youngest son, Andrew, turned 9 this weekend. Andrew has never had a big birthday party with friends, just smaller parties with family. Large groups and lots of activity have always presented challenges to Andrew who is particularly sensitive to loud noises and changes in routine. He’s made great progress though in the last two years so we decided to give it a try. I knew that we would need to have some structured activity as part of the party to keep things moving and everyone engaged. I enlisted his teacher and support staff at his school to help me invite some boys that would provide a “good fit” for the party. We selected bowling, something he’s done and enjoyed a few times, and booked the party. It happened that his father was able to fly into town for a visit as well, so that added to the planning process.
I made the cake myself, with the help of an accessory decorating kit from Michael’s which I think covered the fact that part of the cake was shorter than the other and the frosting didn’t have the consistency I normally can pull off. It tasted fine – I keep telling myself that’s what counts. For “goodie bags,” I used stadium cups and picked up a number of little things for boys. We put in some pencils, little planes, a couple pieces of candy, fake mustaches, Chinese finger traps (only caused one minor mishap), and some glowing bracelets and finger lights since the bowling alley uses black lights. We chose to not include anything that makes noise because of Andrew’s sensitivity and knowing the noise level at the party would be high enough for us all.
Due to conflicts with some invitees sports schedules, we ended up with four boys at the party which was the perfect number. Our intention was to have it be a successful party and therefore didn’t want it to be too big or overwhelming. Andrew’s brother, dad, and step-dad all bowled as well and I couldn’t have asked for a better outing. The boys acted like boys with a little good-natured teasing, celebrating, and horseplay. Pizza was included and we had plenty left over and the kids were impressed by the cake! A few bucks worth of tokens for the video games and the afternoon was complete. The gifts were also exciting to Andrew (and the other boys!) as they were excited to see what was given and received. It was so fun to see them all talking about things I still don’t understand (I look forward to the day when Pokemon disappears from my vocabulary). We truly couldn’t have asked for a better experience. I’ve included some pictures of the party and a video of Andrew’s impromptu dance moves while waiting his turn to bowl.
When your kids are little, planning a birthday celebration is different as you have more control and knowledge about who your child knows and who you invite. As they get older, you have to be able to adjust to their personality, their likes and desires. Each child is different. My older son always wanted as many people as possible at his party and the louder and busier the better! My younger son loved having a smaller group of friends to do something with. Prior to the party, he’d expressed some reservations about trying something new and bigger, but in the end he loved it. Both ways of celebrating are fine! My goal is to make their birthday be about what is meaningful for them. In Andrew’s case, it was also an opportunity to meet some of the friends he’s made at school and their parents, hopefully to lay some groundwork for other play dates. For Anthony, bringing his girlfriend (who is a really nice girl), was a way to acknowledge that, like it or not, he’s growing up.
Now…for my birthday….I’m hoping to ignore it quietly at home!