It’s birthday week all rolled up into first-day-of-school week. A daughter turning eleven and a son turning nine. Those numbers are so big and so are those long legs and those eyeballs are getting ever nearer to staring evenly into mine rather than up. They’re excited about their upcoming parties, see, I celebrate them wildly. Not expensively, mind you, not extravagantly, but I just pour out my creativity and all my energy and make them wildly delighted, wildly celebrated.
It starts with that first look on their first on-the-outside day. When my eyes meet theirs and my soul widens with joy.
Or maybe when I first suspect and the two lines appear and I giggle in the bathroom. The life begins to be celebrated. Welcomed and rejoiced over.
So…birthdays. There is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating simply. And I’m glad there’s nothing wrong with celebrating boisterously. There was the time in Chile when Edison asked for a panda birthday and there were panda-shaped pizzas and a big panda cake, huge jungle leaves cut out of shiny paper and strung across the ceiling. Internet radio provided rainforest sounds and Edison was so, so happy. There was even pin the nose on the panda. All homemade, all just love poured out via scissors and powdered sugar and joy.Lego men approach a volcanic island whilst a Lego shark approaches maliciously. The volcano was an upside-down ice cream cone and the lava was a bit of homemade jam. The sandy shore was brown sugar, and my boy? His eyes went wide with wonder and happiness.Cupcakes wear handmade sombreros for Sophia’s Mexican birthday. They were made by melting candy wafers into the bottoms of mini muffin tins and were topped with Dots candies. Below Edison’s Snow Owl birthday cupcakes stare up at the world with cookie eyes and candy beaks.The children make “dolls” out of clothespins, decorating them stylishly with scraps of fabric and ribbons.On the days they were born, I labored hard. Every birthday since, I’ve labored hard to make at least one day of their year shine with celebration over the gift of their life. I don’t always labor well; sometimes I get stressed-out and snappish as I try to make it all come together. I can forget that the day isn’t about having the house all presentable at the same time (a near impossibility with this crew). I can forget to make the day more about smiling and less about sweating. I make mistakes, but my children have graced-memories; they don’t remember me scurrying about, they remember the cakes and the fun and the friends. They love to look at pictures of birthdays past and all year long they daydream about what theme they’ll choose for the next one.
This week we’re preparing for Edison’s Science Birthday. The budding scientists will be mixing up a batch of homemade glow-in-the-dark slime. Clearly we needed lab coats. Clearly I’m not going to pay $15.00 a piece for little lab coats. We headed down to “the bins”, a local Goodwill outlet where all the clothing is dumped into bins with no rhyme nor reason and is sold by weight. We found six white men’s long-sleeved dress shirts that will make hilarious baggy “lab coats” for about $2.00. Today we’re headed out in search of cheap safety glasses and gloves. I can hear the giggles already.
I’m also preparing for Sophia’s Embroidery Birthday. We bought vintage white handkerchiefs and a whole passel of embroidery hoops at a second-hand shop, so each little lady can make and take home their creation, complete with their own embroidery needle and hoop. We managed that for about $3.00. I’ll decorate her cake in frosting embroidery stitches and will make bouquets of all the blooming flowers in my gardens to make our home burst with beauty.
We spend so very little and get so very much. Here’s some handy tips for making your loved ones’ birthdays memorable and festive on a dime:
1. Pick a theme that isn’t based on a movie character; it’ll be easier to make decorations if you’re not trying to replicate a professionally-rendered character. So if your kiddo is wild about the Cars movie, make the theme cars in general, OR make a cake with a roadway going across and plop Cars toys driving across the top.
2. Don’t buy disposable napkins, plates, cups, silverware. Not only does it save money and a whole lot of unnecessary trash, it really is beautiful to set the table with nice settings. I have a collection of enamel plates that I’ve amassed over the years at yard sales and they always look nice and don’t break easily in the birthday frenzy. If you do buy some disposables, I recommend colorful napkins as they can bring such a cheap pop of color to coordinate with balloons, the cake, etc.
3. If you’re serving a meal, I recommend homemade pizza or beans and rice. They both cheaply, and deliciously, serve a crowd. For drinks, nothing beats homemade lemonade: 6 cups of water, 1/2 c. fresh squeezed lemon juice, and 3/4 c. sugar. For a special treat, smear the rims of half pint jars with your leftover lemon halves and then dip them in colored sugar for a festive look to serve it in.
4. For favors, make the bags from colored paper or calendar pages taped into pouches. The favor doesn’t need to be a cheap toy from China that costs ten times its worth; send home a homemade cookie or some trail mix, or like Ed’s birthday this year, a baby food jar full of slime and a “lab coat”! 🙂 For Sophia’s Tea Party Birthday years back each girl went home with a cute little teacup and saucer with candy inside the cup. Tiny teacups are easily and cheaply found in thrift stores or dollar stores.
5. Have it in your home or a local park. Yes, you’ll have a mess to pick up, but kids love it just as much as the bowling alleys or other special venues. If your child really wants to go to a trampoline place or other costly place, give them the option that they can do so if they bring just two friends, otherwise they could have all their friends to your home or park. You’ll see which the child most wants and they’ll feel a part of the decisions.
6. Get your scissors out. Poster board is cheap and even the most artistically-challenged can make fun decor to set the ambiance of the party. Coloring pages can be printed out for free as can masks that the kids can color and cut out. If you can cut a triangle you can make lovely banners of them on a bit of string.
7. If you like to use disposable plastic tablecloths, leave some markers out for the kids to doodle on it. Draw some tic-tac-toe grids to get them started. You could even write out each kids’ name at the their place on the table to make them feel special.
8. Pick up invites at a second-hand store or make them yourself. Kids enjoy decorating the cards!
9. Instead of having a clown or a movie entertain the kids, let them learn a skill, do something with their busy little hands. We’ve had my husband teach the kids archery, and this year I’ll teach the girls how to do basic embroidery stitches. Even letting them assemble their own pizzas will be a joy to them.
10. Let them play. Let their imaginations set the agenda for the party and get out of the way if need be. You can set up areas of interest, like a bubble-blowing area or set some games or a bin of dress-up clothes out, but let them decide what’s fun; even if it’s just tearing around the yard on bikes.
In all, let your child or loved one feel celebrated. Rejoiced over. Whatever your style or budget, let them feel that this day is special because their lives were given by the Father who loves them wildly. That rich or poor, their birthday is remembered and joyful.