Kate’s actual birthday is November 7 and we were supposed to have her birthday party way back in November. You know, before all of this Christmas shopping and before it started getting dark in the middle of the day and before the weather became garbage. But then she got the flu. And then, Thanksgiving. And then we had a lacrosse tournament. So we actually held her birthday party this past Saturday. As in December 8. And let me tell you, it was a delightful treat to plan and execute a party in the midst of December. Look, to all of you parents who have kids with December birthdays: I salute you, may the odds be ever in your favor and Namaste. I don’t know how you do this every year.
Originally, we had planned on having a scavenger hunt around the neighborhood. You know, you split the kids up into teams, pick one kid to be the photographer/videographer and give them a list of challenges like, sing Happy Birthday to a stranger, reenact a scene from a movie, see how many garden gnomes they can find, etc. It’s the perfect birthday party because it is A) cheap, B) gets them out of the house and running around and C) the kids love it. But now that the party was in December, when it gets dark so early we’d have to start the party at 4:00 in order to have some daylight and it looked like it was going to be both freezing cold and pouring rain, this was no longer an option.
So… plan B.
Kate and I sat down to come up with a winter version of her party and we discussed a lot of options. The thing was, I had told her to go ahead and invite anyone she wanted because it was just a scavenger-hunt-sleepover-thing and easy to manage a load of kids. But taking twelve 13-year-olds to the ice skating rink was out of the question… and out of our budget. So after some talking, we landed on a sort of chopped-like cookie decorating contest.
Now, in my mind this wasn’t going to be that big of a deal. This is a recurring problem I have. I get an idea, I think it’s going to be totally fun and relatively simple and by the time I get in too deep and it’s too late to turn back, I want to throw the entire situation into the garbage because it’s all just too much. And that totally happened. But at this point, when Kate and I were talking, I was still in the blissful, happy, planning place. So we decided that we (and by we, I mean I) would make cutout sugar cookies, we (I) would make icing and we (I) would put together baskets with all the things to decorate. Then teams would compete to decorate the best cookie. So fun!
And, right on time, two days before the party, when I was heading into Costco, which was my 700th errand that week, and I still had to make sugar cookie dough and gingerbread cookie dough (why, Heather, why both??), roll it all out, cut out shapes and bake them and that was just the freaking cookies… I was kind of feeling like maybe this wasn’t a good idea in real life.
I was ready to light a match to the entire thing and take everyone to Chick E Cheese and just get it done… and also probably get dysentery. So there I was on Thursday night, looking at my list of things to do and feeling completely overwhelmed by the fact that I had gone from the easiest party ever to the not easiest party ever.
But the thing is, I really love throwing birthday parties. I’m not good at all that much (I can’t organize my recipes, my cleaning routine is totally haphazard, I currently have three books on my nightstand that I’m in the middle of reading), but I can throw a decent birthday party. And it brings me some joy. Maybe that’s why I always end up with extravagant, complicated parties that require more of my time that makes any sense. Because, for some reason, I like it. I have no idea why… probably something about celebrating these kids of mine that are kind of my jam.
So I did all of the freaking things, while binging the Great British Baking Show and sometimes drinking wine. Which was not terrible. I baked the cookies and colored the icing and put it all together. I coerced Emma and her friend into being judges (which meant eating cookies, so it wasn’t hard) and made dinner for a million people.
Each team got a tin with cookies, different colored icing (I even put them in freaking piping bags, you guys, like this is actually something that I do) and lots of different toppings. They had 45 minutes, which proved to be way too long for everyone except my daughter, who has a bit of an issue with being a perfectionist… so there were nine (normal) girls bouncing around my house, eating candy and cookies and icing while I watched the time tic away and cursed myself for not making it 30 minutes. Or 15.
Eventually, after all of the decorating and after the winners had been announced and everyone picked out their prizes, all the girls stood around and sang happy birthday and Kate blew out candles on a mountain of brownies (because let’s have a tub of sugar AND BROWNIES and not go outside!) and that’s always when I look around and have a little moment. A moment when I try and take it all in.
I thought about the fact that Kate, my youngest, is thirteen. And I tried not to think about how fast it’s going or how many birthdays we have left to celebrate with her at home or how old this makes me feel. I thought about who she is becoming. How hard she makes me laugh, how much she loves to decorate and redecorate her room, how hard she works in school. How when we are standing up her head rests perfectly on my shoulder and she can tuck it right into my neck. And how that reminds me of how she felt as a baby, resting on my chest and how I can remember thinking even then that I would miss this. And when I did find myself thinking about it, as I watched her blow out thirteen candles, I absolutely did. And so in that moment, it all feels worth it… all the time it took to make this celebration special. Because I know that somewhere in the future, I will remember how her head rested perfectly in my neck when she was thirteen. And I will miss it.