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As humans we all have our area of crazy, that one special
nook in our lives where we just can't contain ourselves: book collections,
penguin fetishes, a growing mound of cardigans in our closet. As parents, our
crazy is made manifold by the presence of our children. What was once a quiet
little niche of crazy suddenly becomes a full-blown mental state. In nine
months, your love of Christmas kitsch becomes an Instagrammable, Pinteresting
obsession with the Elf on the Shelf. Your organic food habit becomes nights and
weekends spent making your children wholesome, peanut-free, gluten-free,
For me, it was birthdays. I love birthdays. I view them as
my own personal New Year, a time to celebrate making it through another year
and barreling into the next one.
For my 26th birthday—after a particularly tough
year of deaths, car accidents and hard truths—I threw a giant party at my
house and invited 60 of my closest friends. I borrowed a second TV so we could
have two game systems going and spent a lot of money on cases of wine.
Thus, it follows, that when my first child turned 1, I
threw an epic party. It was carnival-themed birthday party, with corn dogs, popcorn,
root beer floats, balloon arches and carnival games. Her second birthday was "Curious George"-themed, I
spent all night relabeling small water bottles so they would color-coordinate
with the balloons. Year three was princess-themed (her choice) with pink tulle
everywhere, dress ups and a costume ball. When my son turned 1, we had an
outdoor feast with ribs and a bounce house, small pools and a water table and
water balloons. Over-the-top? Yes. I know. But I don't go over-the-top in any
other area of parenting, so I allow myself this indulgence.
I also allow this indulgence because I love these little
milestones. For me, they are a way of marking all my child and I have been
through and learned together that year. Birthdays are a celebration of the
future and the surprises and wonders and headaches we will face in the next
Watching my daughter smile proudly ... with nothing matching but everything perfect, I realized this lesson of letting go is one I will be learning over and over for the rest of our lives.
And of course, these big parties are partly about me. They
are what I want and thrown the way I want to celebrate. Well, that's what
they were, until this year. Because my kids are relatively young, I've been
able to get away with this crazy. They barely understand what a party is and
have little choice.
But this year, my daughter turned 4 and she
had her own ideas. She begged to pick out the balloons and the cupcakes and
hang the decorations herself. The theme was Princess, Lego Tea Party. OK. I can work with that. I decided on
a rainbow theme, with Lego people on the cupcakes and princess hats at the tea
party. But of course, I failed to consult her, and she wanted pink accessories,
even though the cupcakes she picked were rainbow colors. She wanted tiger print
balloons and pink polka dot gift bags.
OK, its fine, let it
go, you are being a crazy person, I repeated over and over, when I found
myself obsessing over how to unite the disparate accessories to make the theme cohesive.
I thought I was doing well, until the day before the party, when I found myself
wheedling my 4-year-old to pick color-coordinating candy for the gift bags.
"Mom," she said firmly, "you are making dis berry difficult
I apologized, said nothing else, and put the candy she
wanted in our cart. I don't deserve a mom medal. Just the opposite. I deserve
to be smacked in the head.
The day of her party, we hung a blue birthday banner, served
rainbow cupcakes with Lego people on them to a ragtag band of kids wearing
princess garb or not (one kid dressed like an alligator) at a table festooned
in pink. The balloons were tiger-print and polka dot.
"This is the best party ever!" Said one 5-year-old. My
daughter smiled. She was so proud of all she had done. This was the party she
had chosen and set up and concocted out of her own imagination. I was proud of
I don't know when it is that kids become their own selves
entirely. Perhaps life is just a constant pull away from our parents and we are
never truly free until they leave. Or maybe we are always ourselves, wholly and
completely. Maybe parenting is the process of learning to let go.
I know it is crazy to hold onto the ideal of a coordinating
party. I know it's completely nuts. I know I should just let go and not have
had any qualms about letting my child own her own party. But if it weren't her
party, I'd be crazy over something else. Maybe shoes. Maybe outfits. Maybe
Watching my daughter smile proudly and hand her friends
balloons and candy, with nothing matching but everything perfect, I realized this
lesson of letting go is one I will be learning over and over for the rest of
our lives. Maybe by the time I learn precisely everything I need to let go of
my crazy, she will have a child of her own, who is pushing her away while she
holds on, maybe just a bit too tightly.