how to make a birthday happy

May 15, 2010 at 9:04 pm 6 comments

The only thing better than loving my child so much is being around other people who love her too. Today was Echo’s third birthday, and what a blissful day it was. A cherry tree in full glorious bloom, green grass, blue skies, and our favorite people smiling and laughing, it was truly beautiful. The day was so wonderful that of course my mind went searching for more reasons to explain why. This is what I came up with.


1. Gifts

Our policy is to let our girls open presents as they come. This means that when an eager guests ran up with a pastel package tied in a bow, we did not add it to a pile of other presents waiting for “present time”, instead Echo opened it. This was FANTASTIC because Echo had individual interactions with each guest, was able to connect the giver with the gift, thank the person personally, actually notice the gift, and even play with it for a stretch of time. She avoided having to wait for presents. She avoided getting caught in the gift opening trance where the purpose is to open as many presents as possible, as quickly as possible. She also avoided the social pressure of having so many eyes focused on her at once. At one point Echo was wearing the baby sling Gabe had lovingly made for her while Janet slowly and patiently read her another gift. How often does that kind of opportunity happen at a typical birthday party?

2. An early party

The most important part of the day, in Echo’s mind, was the party. So instead of making her wait until mid-afternoon for the fun to begin we scheduled the celebration as early as possible, 11am. Waiting is difficult, not just for the party girl but for the party guests as well, so everybody was happy to convene early avoiding the agony of watching the clock. The kids also had plenty of energy as no one was nearing or missing nap time. Later I discovered that Echo had figured she didn’t actually turn three until after the party took place. I am so glad she didn’t have to spend the bulk of the day still a two-year old, waiting and waiting for both the party and the new age to begin.

3. Cake

We ate it as soon as we wanted, not following the program of “cake last”. When everyone was ready we went for it. The kids avoided the torture of waiting and the parents avoided the torture of answering, Is it cake time yet???????, repeatedly.

4. Candles

The kids I know love inserting candles, blowing out candles, and then finally licking the frosting off of candles. Echo didn’t care how many were on her cake so we loaded that thing down with so many that every kid got to stick, blow, and lick candles. Little Sascha, at the end of the table, couldn’t get her breath to reach as far as the cake so we lit another candle just for her.

5. Ours

We don’t use possessive terminology in our house, meaning that no one owns anything, everything is shared. So when Echo started opening up presents, Xi wasn’t writhing in jealousy, she knew that those very same gifts would be in her lucky hands very soon. In fact, each time any of the girls receives a gift there is always collective enthusiasm because each gift is a gift for all. That being said, we did wrap a couple presents for the other girls to unwrap as well, to celebrate their big-sister-ness and generally make even more fun in the day.

6. Accidents

We brought the kitchen table into the yard for the party which meant that, you guessed it, there was a big empty space in the kitchen. As it turns out, this was perfectly delightful to the kids. They whirled, danced, hula hooped and generally went crazy in the newly opened expanse. I didn’t imagine hanging-out inside even a little bit during the party but I had completely underestimated the wonder of rearranged space.


1. Advance action

We did as much as humanly possible the days before the party. This meant that we were making party favors four days in advance, and making cake at 1am the night before, but it was worth it. This morning I had time to sit on the couch and watch Echo play with her most coveted gift, a watering can. And later I was able to be at the party, to sit in the sunshine, to hold babies, and to enjoy myself.

2. Support

I decided beforehand to accept help, graciously, without keeping a tally for payback later. This is big for me. There is so much sweating and hustling I do to be self-sufficient, to not be a burden to anyone, to not receive help so that I don’t appear ungrateful later, and I recently realized that this is suffering. That I can receive help that is offered, thereby making my life easier and giving someone else the pleasure of being of service at the same time. I can let go of tally sheets, guilt, and the desperate desire to pay anyone back. So this morning when I realized we lacked paper napkins and juice cups I tried on the idea of dragging the kids to the store for a mad-dash shop but then remembered my decision. So instead I sent out a text to my killer women friends and they replied eagerly, I’ve got cups!, We’ve got napkins!, and it all came together. No sweat, no stress.

3. Simple

It always sounds like a good idea but I usually get caught up in birthdays and pretty soon it becomes very complicated. This time I really did keep it simple. Track down a pitcher to make lemonade at the last minute? No, our plain old water filter pitcher, tap water, and cups did just fine. Elaborate party games, clowns, and balloon animal guy? No, good food, a big batch of Gak, and a cluster of helium balloons was perfect.

4. The point

I gave birth to a 7 pound girl three years ago. And we adore her. That’s the point of a birthday party, to acknowledge that simple but profound phenomenon. I was able to remember that today. Earlier in the week I constructed a birthday tree with photos of Echo at her previous birthday parties and her actual birth, and gazing at it over the last few days, and anchoring it in the middle of the party today kept me mindful of the purpose of the day. If I had the foresight to set the clothing and jewelry I wore at the birth aside, it might have been nice to slip those on today, to reach back into that life-giving space and connect it to these  festivities three years later.

The birthday girl sleeps now, a satisfied smile curling her lips. She spent the last part of the evening constructing elaborate thank you cards for her friends, and marveling at the new skills she has suddenly acquired upon turning three. I spent the evening looking back on the day, filtering through happy image after happy image. I am so grateful for this day, for this girl, and for the people who love her.

Entry filed under: birthdays, life lessons, parenting principles. Tags: , , , .

let’s live glory, glory

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jessi  |  May 16, 2010 at 2:10 am

    Happy birthday to both echo and her mama! ❤ you both are such wonderful, beautiful, strong women – keep up the growing, healthy, happy work! 🙂

    Sorry i missed the party, would have loved to have been there.
    I'm sure it was wonderfully fun! 🙂

  • 2. Jessi  |  May 16, 2010 at 2:12 am

    i didn’t mean to leave the rest of your crew out of that happy birthday wish so:

    happy birthday to the papa, and the older sisters! you’re lives have all changed and blossomed since the arrival of echo; and they will all only continue to grow and bloom from love!

  • 3. Joanna  |  May 16, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    What day was her birthday? Axel-boy turned two on May 13th. It was simple too. really sweet. I re-read my birth story. So glad I took the time to write that down, I had already forgotten so many of the details. You have a beautiful daughter. xoxo

    • 4. nataliechristensen  |  May 16, 2010 at 4:25 pm

      It actually fell on saturday this year. Happy Birthday to little ( or not so little I guess) Axel. I didn’t realize their birthdays were so close. Thanks for the reminder about the birth story. I need to dig that out. And happy day of birth to you too! xo

  • 5. angela  |  May 17, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    happy, happy birthday dear echo, and mama! your family is so precious and sharing a glimpse into how it all works for you is such a gift to us. hope you have a beautiful week, around here we celebrate those big days for at least a week! we just celebrated a two and a half birthday for my baby girl (love the half birthdays!) and my little guy turns 7 (gasp!) on friday! love those spring babes.

  • 6. dig this chick  |  May 24, 2010 at 8:49 am

    What a thoughtful and fun birthday. I adore the idea of opening gifts as they arrive! So much better…really, who (esp a little kid) has the capacity or desire to sit and open gift after gift? A great, simple solution. Happy birthday Echo! And happy birth day mama.


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