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Not Bashful About Birthdays

March 13, 2018 - Betsy Bethel
When we were growing up, birthdays for the most part were low key, celebrated with your favorite meal for supper, a Mom-made cake — sometimes layered! — and some gifts. Maybe a few friends were invited, maybe not. I did have a “friend” party when I was 9, complete with party hats and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. And when I was 12, I had my first — and last — slumber party with five or six girls from my new school.?They weren’t close friends, and the whole thing was a debacle. We were a family of modest means, so maybe other people had blowout parties every year, but if they did, I wasn’t invited. Nevertheless, I felt showered with love on my birthday (and every day). It seems, however, that something happened between the 1980s and now that caused parents to get carried away with birthday parties. I’m talking enough balloons to whisk away Mr. Frederickson’s house, hired entertainment, pony rides, renting out movie theaters, elaborately carried-out themes and even destination celebrations. I am not casting stones. I admit to being sucked in and dropping inordinate amounts of time and money on my daughter’s birthdays every year. I can’t speak for any of my peers, but here are five reasons why I do it: 1. I’m selfish. The day Emma was born, 12 years ago today, was the most amazing day of my life. Labor and delivery au naturel was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, before or since. I became superhuman that day. Being a parent is my biggest and most prized accomplishment. I want to celebrate! 2. I’m selfless. I have spent weeks, if not months, planning some of Emma’s birthdays. I have stayed up into the wee hours creating photo books, become a screaming, cleaning banshee (it is a rare transformation), denied myself certain luxuries to put money toward trips, and thoroughly mined the internet and my own creative cache for craft, game and favor ideas. 3. She is easy. It’s fun to splurge on Emma, first because she doesn’t expect a lot and second because she’s always utterly engulfed in something that can be turned handily into a theme. She’s not half-hearted about her interests; obsession doesn’t begin to describe it. One year, it was horses. Then “Octonauts,” then Minecraft and then “Harry Potter,” to name a few. I’ve shamelessly purchased bakery cakes that expertly illustrate the theme. The years I’ve made the cake weren’t so pretty but nonetheless provided indelible memories of batter-covered faces, misshapen layers and gravity-challenged castle towers. This year has been especially simple: Emma made her own layer cake (perfectly proportioned, I might add) and decorated it using symbols from her obsession du jour, a creepy web comic. From horses to creative video games to web comics. Sigh. 4. Parties are fun. I am a people person. For many years, we rented places— I highly recommend both the Children’s Museum of the Ohio Valley and the SMART-Centre Market in Wheeling. That way, I didn’t have to worry about planning activities or cleaning up, and I had more time to socialize with the other parents. In recent years, we’ve had a handful of Emma’s close friends over, and sometimes some of the moms stick around to chit-chat. On Saturday, Emma and five friends ate pizza and entertained themselves making funny videos in the living room while my mom and best friend and I had a grown-up dinner and conversation in the kitchen. It was a win-win. Around midnight, they deigned to allow the moms to join them for charades and Head’s Up. 5. It’s an excuse for an excursion. We don’t travel much, so a birthday is a good excuse. Last year, Emma’s wolf obsession led us to the Wolf Sanctuary in Lancaster County, Pa. Several years, with Emma’s birthday falling in mid-March, we headed to one of the indoor water parks.? I enjoy celebrating Emma’s birthday in whatever way makes her feel like the unique and precious person she is. We put most of the birthday budget this year into a Slate2, an innovative gadget that encourages her artistic side. Next year: 13! I have 364 days to prepare, but I don’t think I’ll ever be ready emotionally. — Betsy Bethel is the Life editor of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register and the editor of OV Parent magazine.


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