Birthday Party Retrospective

Goodie Bags

I just finished packing 24 little goodie bags for the boys’ birthday party tomorrow. I’m hoping 24 is enough. When you do the dual-birthday-party, you end up with double the kids in one party. Due to life and holidays and all that jazz, I don’t think we’ll have more than 24, but I have extra bags to fill just in case.

I’ve been thinking a lot about birthdays this week, with BigBrother’s special day falling this past Monday and LittleBrother’s coming up this Monday. TimeHop featured parties from the past couple of years over the week as well, reminding me what I looked like three years ago going into the boys’ birthday, the day my legs buckled in the parking lot due to the pain. A lot has changed since that party; I’ve changed a lot since that party. A lot has changed over the many years of these parties.

Birthday week always makes me turn inward, to look over the past year—the past years.

I remember my only goal seven years ago was to get through BigBrother’s second birthday party without going into labor. I was very pregnant, very achy and just coming off Level III bed rest again. And still I planned a birthday party for my oldest son, a Thomas theme. I refused to not have a party; I felt compelled to celebrate this only son of ours one last time before his brother joined the picture. By the end of the party, my shoes were off because of the swelling, but I made it.

He's Leaned Back
Who is that little blonde child, leaned back with ease in my lap? Who is that barefoot and pregnant, short-haired woman?

LittleBrother was born six days after this party.

I think of the people who were at the early parties, who aren’t now—because of death, because of life, because of friendships that come and go. I think of those people who will be at the party tomorrow who weren’t at the early parties—because it took me awhile to find my feet here in Ohio, to make friends and keep them, to make meaningful connections with people who wanted to love my family through all things. I think of the times my daughter’s family was able to make it for a party, and how long that’s been now. My heart skips a beat when I think of it now, of how much it would mean to the boys, of how hard it is to make any of that work.

I think of how early parties consisted of our families and friends we had, as parents, and their children. And how it remains that way now, but with the addition of their friends they’ve made in their own spaces on their own time. Of how that will continue: their friends, their way. I offered each boy an out of the birthday party this year, but they wanted a party with their friends. And who can blame them, still and yet? I don’t throw parties with big themes to impress my friends or theirs; I throw parties because my sons think their mommy throws the best parties ever.

And so tomorrow I’ll put on my extrovert face and go do all of the extroverted things. And tomorrow night, I’ll cuddle up in the corner of the couch, and breathe the deep breaths of a mother who just threw another party. I’ll look back on pictures of this year some year in the future and remember the ninja theme, the people who stood with us while we celebrated these two boys; I will give thanks for another year, gone; another year, waiting.


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52 Weeks of Brotherhood: The One with the Three-Year Gap

The One with the Three Year Gap

For exactly one week, they look like they’re three years apart.

On paper. The birth certificate variety.

This blows their minds. Blows their minds. Completely. We’ve had various and repeated conversations about this little factoid. How they’re not really three years apart. How Mommy is two years older than Daddy for 18 days. How Uncle M is only seven years younger than Mommy for 11 days. And so on.

Just when I think they’re getting it, they ask a question that makes me shake my head and laugh.

They’ll get it someday. When BigBrother turns big ages like 16 and 18 and 21, he’ll hoard the three years over his brother’s head. Later in life, I imagine LittleBrother will point out his “agedness” at one point or another.

It’s just another part of their brotherhood. They’ll own it in their time.


On Cake

Blowing Out Nine (Trick) Candles

When BigBrother was about to turn one, eight years ago, I asked a question in an online parenting group. You see, I felt strongly about my firstborn son not eating certain things. Boxed cake ranked high for all kinds of reasons at the time, none of which contained any buzzwords like high fructose corn syrup or gluten or any such thing just yet.

I simply wanted to make my kid’s first cake from scratch. That’s all.

It’s hard to imagine now, eight years later, that I was met with all kinds of chastising comments. “Why would you want to do that? Just used a boxed cake; everything is already pre-measured and ready to go. Making it from scratch is too hard and a waste of time. Betty Crocker has been around for years! Trust her!” And on and on.

No one directed me to a recipe, to a website, to a not-quite-what-it-is-today-food-blogosphere.

I made his first cake from a box. With pre-made icing.

He Loved It, Obviously

Nowadays, it’s a sin to use a boxed cake. If you don’t serve your child a gluten-free, sugar-free, GMO-free, homemade, took eighteen hours to bake cake, you’re failing as a mother. Pinterest doesn’t tell me that; other mothers tell me that. And I’ve done it, minus the buzzwords, for years now.

I’ve made countless cakes and cupcakes from scratch in a one week period in the middle of November. We always give the boys a cake on their individual birthdays, the 17th and 24th, to accompany the gifts we give them from us, the parents, on their own special days. We send cupcakes to school on their actual birthdays. For their party, I’ve made cakes and cupcakes both, all from scratch, with my vanilla buttercream icing that I’ve perfected over the years.

It can feel exhausting.

I’m not doing it because I wanted to one-up anyone else. I did it because my kids say things like, “Mommy, you make the best cupcakes ever.” People in my family request my cupcakes, my icing. And I do it, year after year. I enjoy showing my care in these small ways.

At 3:38 yesterday afternoon, I realized I had forgotten to bake BigBrother’s cake.

I didn’t have to make a big dinner as he requested a local Chinese restaurant as his birthday meal, but I didn’t have time to throw a from-scratch cake together. So I reached up onto the top shelf and grabbed a boxed cake mix, threw it together quickly, and tossed it in the oven while I finished up my workday.

After we got home, I grabbed for a pre-made icing container—and found that it expired in August.

I quickly opened the fridge, grabbed out two sticks of butter, warmed them for 15 seconds, tossed them into a bowl, threw in three cups of powdered sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla and two tablespoons of heavy whipping cream, and set the mixer on high. LittleBrother and my husband both watched with wide eyes as the ingredients folded together to form my buttercream icing. I slapped it on the cake, served it up, and we ate the celebratory cake together. Happily.

Nothing went as planned with the cake this year. I’m even buying a cake from the bakery for the boys’ party this weekend. But when LittleBrother told me at bedtime, as he always does, that I make the best cakes, I didn’t care that I used a box or that we nearly had an icing mishap. I thanked him.

And maybe even agreed a little bit. Truth, I don’t even like cake; I love that my children love my cakes any way they get them.

LAUGH at the Trick Candles


You Are Nine, and You Are You

Happy Birthday, BB!


Today you are nine.

I have known you for nine years, longer if you count the time during which you rolled and kicked within my belly. I have watched you grow, daily, for one year shy of a decade. I have held your hand as you learned to walk, as you learned to read, as you cried, as you laughed.

I have loved being your mother these past nine years.

I’m not always great at it, I know. I don’t always know what to do, well, because you’re the oldest child I have the honor of parenting. Sometimes I’m flying by the seat of my pants. I mean, mostly. I know you don’t know this yet, but parenting can be hard—is hard. I want to do the best by you, and so does your Daddy. We love you so much.

You keep growing and changing, and we’re working hard to keep up with you.

This year, you’ve done so much. I’ve watched you tackle big things in a way that only can be described as yours. You love and live so fully, and yes, sometimes it’s overwhelming but it’s who you are. I talked with you last night after our nightly prayers. Daddy and I have noticed some changes, and I wanted to see if you were okay. Your honesty with me, the way you admitted that it hurt your tummy to talk about it, the relieved look on your face when I assured you that you weren’t in trouble, we just wanted to know the best way to help you—all of it reassured me that you are an amazing, strong little boy. When I told you that you can be you even when your friends tell you that the way you speak or act or dress isn’t “cool” enough, I wanted to cry at how happy and relieved and reassured you looked.

Buddy, your “you” is always, always good enough. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

I know you’ve had some hard times this year—with friends, with school, with death and the loss of your great-grandmothers. I know you’ve taken some of these things hard; you don’t just wear your heart on your sleeve—you are your heart. I love that about you. I can’t promise this coming year will be easier, that kids will be nicer, that school will be easier, or that we won’t endure any other losses. But I can promise you that we, your Daddy and I, will be there for you… and that you, just the way you are, are more than good enough. You are amazing. Believe it.

I wish you the world this year, my firstborn son. I am more than thrilled that I am granted a chance at another year to learn more about you, to love you in only the way that I can.

Happy Birthday, BigBrother.

Mommy (and Daddy)


All He Wants for Christmas Is His…

Toothless McGrinner

…teeth, in general.

Oh Dear

In fact, that other top front tooth is wiggly. (Gag.) So maybe it isn’t that he wants his teeth for Christmas, but instead, he wants to lose his teeth for Christmas. Or, maybe it’s that I want him to lose the teeth.

I know.

I am normally anti-losing-teeth because omg, GAG. But. But…

Toothless kids at Christmas? Cutest thing ever. Can’t even handle the cute!

So for the first time in my entire life, I’m encouraging someone to wiggle a tooth on a regular basis. I’m not going to touch it. Or look. I might pass out when it falls out. But if that tooth falls out before Christmas, well, maybe one of my wishes will come true.


The Things You Learn in the Principal’s Office

Waiting in the Principal's Office

We sat side by side this morning, waiting to see the principal. My mind drifted from thought to thought. I thought about work. I thought about how I had a crush on my principal when I was in second grade. I thought about my family, the boys who were already off in their classrooms without us, the date night ahead for the two of us. I thought about faith and anger. I thought about the cute kids coming in the office to pick up their birthday pencils; I thought about how BigBrother will get one on Monday, LittleBrother the following Monday. I thought about loss and grief and how everything feels so broken right now; I thought about normal.

And then we walked down the hall to sit in chairs across a desk from the principal.

My arm pits sweat when I’m in the principal’s office, even when I didn’t do anything wrong. Even when it wasn’t my kid that did something wrong. In fact, I sweat profusely at parent-teacher conferences too. Basically, I sweat a lot.

We shared our concerns regarding something that happened on the playground the day before, and the principal handled it professionally and perfectly. Then he said something that caught us both totally off guard.

“I thought you were coming in to complain about the kids playing ‘Ebola Touch Tag’ on the playground.”

Nope. No, that’s not why we were there at all. Not even a little bit. Oh dear, kids.

I asked the boys when they got home if they knew about the game.

“Ebola? What’s that? Is it bad?”

“What kind of game is that anyway?”

Oh, you know, just the kind where we pass infectious diseases to each other by touching—except not really.

The good news is that the bad thing happening on the playground will be stopped. The better news is that my kids aren’t friends with any of the kids playing Ebola Touch. Maybe that means my kids’ friends’ parents aren’t fear-mongers and we can all get along in perfect harmony. Or something.