Allie's third birthday was last Saturday. It made me sad, not for the reason you're probably thinking (theÃ‚ she's growing up so fast!Ã‚ sentimental one), but rather because I was worried that she's totally getting cheated.
For one thing, her birthday is three days after Christmas and three days before New Year's Eve. It is smack dab in the middle of insane busy-ness, at a time when planning or attendingÃ‚ one more thingÃ‚ feels like a complete impossibility.
Ain't nobody got time for that.
But yet, it IS her birthday, and she IS entitled to a special day, just as Grace has had many (very many) special days.
So I began to compare (which, as we all know, is the death of contentment).
My sister and I (in the first trimester of my second pregnancy and right in the middle of the sick and tiredÃ‚ stage) made this insanely elaborate, fondant-covered princess castle birthday cake for Grace'sÃ‚ firstÃ‚ third birthday party. This was the party for a dozen or so of the grown-ups in her life.
On her actual birthday, Grace wanted to go to Chuck E. Cheese, so we met my mom and sister there for an evening of games and prizes.
Then,Ã‚ thereÃ‚ was Grace's second third birthday party, the one for 9 of her closest friends. (Allie doesn't evenÃ‚ have 9 friends as of her third birthday.) I planned 8 different activities including crafts, games, and a treasure hunt. I designed an invitation in Photoshop and mailed it out weeks ahead of time. There were decorations and helium balloons and goody bags for all in attendance.
It was a lot of work, and I was working full-time and pregnant, but Grace would only turn 3Ã‚ once,Ã‚ and it was what she wanted.
Actually, she wanted a princess party, and the simple idea turned into a giant princess monster in my overachiever brain and everyone thought I was really great.
What Allie's parties lacked in flamboyance and overachievement has been made up in quantity, I think, but still, I worry the poor kid is getting cheated.
We celebrated Allie's half birthday in June. We made a cake and bought her a few presents and got a package of party hats and noise makers at the Dollar Tree store. She was happy; she had new toys.
Then in November, I happened to think about Allie's birthday and bought a couple of presents and ordered some Dora party stuff online. Grace blabbed to Allie about one of the gifts, so I went ahead and gave it to her rather than hear her cry about it for the next two months. So she thought it was her birthday again. And she was happy because she had another new toy.
Then, in the busy-ness of Christmas and working too many hours and having a sick cat (who eventually died) and missing my mom, I forgot about the impending birthday.
So her actual birthday came along, and we had forgotten until my sister reminded us at breakfast. (Thank you Jesus and Amanda.)
Joe took Allie to Walmart and let her pick out a birthday cake. We let her choose a restaurant for a fancy dinner out (McDonald's), and Aunt Amanda came over and we all sang Happy Birthday and gave her another couple of presents. She liked them, but she was still euphoric over the amazing Christmas presents she had gotten, so the birthday stuff got lost in the shuffle.
A few days before her actual birthday, we decided that we should have the grandparents over the week after her birthday since the weekend between Christmas and New Year's is so hectic. So when that weekend rolled around, and Allie had another little party. Only 3 people came - everyone else in the family had the flu - but Allie got to choose another cake at Walmart and get more presents.
I bought another birthday hat at the Dollar Tree store.
Grace donned her fanciest dress.
Joe hung one lonely Dora streamer upside down around the kitchen and dining room. No balloons. No decorations to speak of. Not even a cake shaped like something fun.
Joe didn't even have them put her name on it.
Fortunately, I had thought ahead to buy the Dora stuff, so we ate plain cake from fancy plates with fancy napkins and Allie licked the icing off of fancy candles.
She ran around naked all day (which is pretty much how she rolls), got more presents, and basked in the love of her grandparents and aunt Mimi and, of course, Momma and Daddy and Gracie.
And she was happy.
In the end, even though I still think she's getting the short end of the birthday stick, she felt special. She knew the birthdays (all four of them) were all about her, celebrating her, her own special days.
There was no fluff. Nothing extra or glitzy. No friends to bring presents. No stacks of thank you cards to write (and then forget to mail - the ones from Grace's June party are still sitting on top of the DVD cabinet in the living room).
But like the Grinch who learned that Christmas comes with or without all the stuff, I learned that birthdays can be happy without banners or helium or character-printed tablecloths.
Parties can be special without being ostentatious. Every party doesn't have to be elaborate.
Simple celebrations can be enough as long as there's plenty of love to bask in.
With or without your clothes.