Last weekend, we threw a jungle-themed birthday party for our three-year-old.
Yes, you read that correctly. I said three-year-old. Was it epic? Of course it was. Will he ever remember it? Hell no; he’s three!
I usually groan when I see posts of Pinterest-perfect soirees thrown by parents desperately trying to one-up their last event honouring their oblivious tyke. Does little Skylan or baby Nazray KNOW he/she is having a Royal Wedding-themed, nine-month birthaversary party, Karen? No. Because Skylan will have no long-term memories from this phase of infancy. She is too busy shitting herself and eating sand to care that the fascinator she is wearing is an exact replica of the one Meghan Markle’s mother was wearing on the big day. And you also hired a child virtuoso cellist to play the big event? Guess what - Skylan is too focussed on smooshing cocktail weenies into the rug and feeding Cheerios to the blu-ray player to give a hot damn about the entertainment, regardless of how far over-budget it ran you.
But, yet, there I was. Being Skylan’s mother. More or less.
I try to resist it. Every year we plan to “spend less”, “be realistic.” We ask ourselves, “Who are we really doing this for?”
So, this year, for our wee man’s third birthday, we committed to not renting a place. No bowling alley, no skating rink, no swimming pool. We would keep it low key. Maybe just family in the backyard. Throw a few hot dogs on the bbq. Boom. Done.
Except we want to invite ‘x’ - we’ve been friends forever. And we’ve gotta invite ‘y’ - the kids play so well together. And we need ‘z’ here - they’re practically family.
And we can’t NOT have a theme. Right? Long gone are the good ol’ days of sitting in a circle on the shag carpet, after a solid round of freeze dance - perhaps a cozy haze of cigarette smoke lingering in the air above us - and playing hot potato before eating Tang and a Betty Crocker cake with edible letters that taste like Aspirin and icing sugar.
Remember when the theme of a kid's birthday party was just "birthday"? Ah yes, the low-pressure, social media-free '80s…
Anyway, here we are in make-your-life-appear-perfect-even-if-it-bankrupts-you-and/or-leaves-you-physically-and/or-emotionally-depleted 2019. And so, we (I) needed a theme.
“Jungle” was the obvious choice as my son talks about jungle animals incessantly. But I would be sensible about it, maybe just throw some of his little jungle animal figures around…
I would obviously need a handmade, jungle banner. And a bowl of coconuts, just because. And giant, shiny hanging flamingoes which, if you ask me, are just practical (if you’re into ornithology and/or LSD). I was happy that mangoes and papayas were on sale(ish) because what's a toddler's birthday without overpriced tropical fruits he won't even eat? I'm sure grandma would have done the same thing back in the day.
I allowed my husband to talk me out of making the cake myself (I didn’t even mention my original chocolate-fountain intentions; my life-partner clearly just doesn’t understand jungles). It wouldn’t fit into the four free minutes I get to myself each day.
Did I go over budget? Maybe. Was it necessary for me to watch 3.75 hours of mountain gorilla footage on YouTube as “prep-work”? Probably not. Did I get some quality photos of my beautiful child having the time of his life on his third birthday? Also no - completely forgot to take photos.
BUT we did have a cooler filled with beers. And we did have a face-painter, thanks to the tireless efforts of my dear friend. My always-game sister even attempted balloon animals which, instructions or not, were all totally ambiguous and alarmingly phallic. It was great.
And I did something I never get to do when I attempt to host these things - I sat. And relaxed. I stopped caring about the details and the mess. I watched my boy. The weather held up and the kids ran wild. It was quite possibly the happiest day of my three-year-old’s life; not one whine, not one tear. He was downright joyful.
Did he love the chocolate jujubes labelled “gorilla poop” and the pretzels labelled “twigs”? I mean, he can’t read, but probably; who wouldn’t? But I think what made the energy so great was the feeling that no one gave a shit. It felt easy. We were all present - even mommy who, in her flailing (and failing) attempts to get it all right, is often everything BUT present.
I think that’s the recurring theme we need to strive for: Not Giving a Shit (I was going to say, “less presents, more being present,” then I threw-up in my mouth a little and opted for the one with the S-word in it. Yes, I am aware of my cripplingly juvenile response to sentiment).
It’s cool if you enjoy consulting Pinterest in a panicked sweat a week before a big event to learn how to arrange the crudités to look exactly like Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. Or if you yearn to sculpt something breathtakingly beautiful and moderately edible with fondant. But, if it all seems like too much, remember that all you really need is good company, a toy or action figure smashed in the top of something resembling a cake and boom! Photograph that shit for the masses (or not) because you are winning at parties AND parenting.
Heather Huybregts is a mother, physiotherapist, blogger (www.heatheronarock.com), wine advocate and puffin whisperer from Corner Brook, NL. Her column appears biweekly.