Finding Joy in….birthdays!!

Both of my sons were born at really inconvenient times of the year.

Gage was born shortly before Thanksgiving, right in the middle of deer season, at the time of year when the weather starts getting a bit unpredictable in northern Minnesota. His first birthday was foiled by a blizzard the night before, although my immediate family did brave the elements to come and watch him smear blue frosting through his hair while dissecting his first piece of cake.

Pierce’s big day is in July, when the weather is finally feeling warm enough for people to escape to the lake or for families to take that one last excursion before starting to get ready for school.

Add a global pandemic to their first few birthdays that they actually remember celebrating, and we have a dilemma! How do we make their birthday special for them when we just can’t count on people bring around to celebrate? Why do birthdays have to be big, blown up affairs every single year? How does that actually align with our family’s values of “experiences over stuff”?

A few ideas we have gleaned from friends whose kids are now grown (granted, these families each had 7 or 8 kids, so an individual birthday party for each child every year is just not practical for them!):

One mom allowed the birthday boy or girl to pick a restaurant for the family to eat at (They did not generally go out to restaurants. Again, 8 kids!!), and then they would get to invite a friend to join them. Done and done. A gift from mom; cards and cash from extended relatives, and the day was special without being overdone.

The other mom would allow the child being honored to choose dinner for that night, along with a special dessert (spoiler alert: not everyone likes cake!). The parents would present them with a special gift, and siblings could also buy them something if they felt so inclined. Each of them got to choose their BIG celebration on their golden birthday. Celebrations ranged from a 1950s party where friends came dressed in poodle skirts; a dance at a rented out community center; a night with a few friends eating snacks and playing video games. It was fun to see how each child’s personality came out by the nature of celebrations they picked!

(I have learned from friends in other parts of the country that “golden birthdays” aren’t a thing everywhere. So, just in case you’re not “in the know,” your golden birthday is the year that the date corresponds with your age. For example, when I turned 16 on August 16th!)

The “golden birthday” option would not work with my kids, because that would require Pierce to drop whatever he is doing – job, family, wherever life takes him – at age 27 and come back so that mom can throw him a big birthday bash! But we have considered the restaurant and/or “special dessert” option. We do only have two kids in our house, but on my side of the family, the months of May through August are “birthday and anniversary season.” Every 2-3 weeks, all summer long, someone has an occasion to celebrate. It might be nice to encourage our kids to think outside the box and choose pie or ice cream or cheesecake, just for some variety!

Then, of course, we have the issue of one child having a birthday during the school year and one during the summer. This meant a sad little boy who realized that school will not be in session when he turns 6, and he will not be able to bring treats for his class like his brother did. So I emailed his teacher and asked if it would be okay for him to celebrate his half birthday, and she said of course! He will be schlepping donuts and cookies to school next week to celebrate turning five and a half.

All these musings to say that celebrations exist to serve us and make us happy. We do not exist to serve them. If you and your family enjoy over the top, Pinterest-worthy parties and that truly makes you feel joyful, then bring out the Paw Patrol pinata, treat bags, pony rides in the yard, grilled burgers for the whole neighborhood, or whatever.

If that’s not your jam, share in the comments how you make family birthdays memorable with less stress!

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