Celebrating Birthdays Big

A Pinterest-worthy jukebox and my sister and I modeling the poodle skirts made by Grandma.

My mom was Pinterest before there was Pinterest. She once turned a washing machine box from the local appliance store into a jukebox for a ’50s birthday party. My grandmother even sewed poodle skirts for my sister and me to wear to the birthday “sock hop.” Perhaps that’s proof my penchant for big birthday celebrations is genetic. (The bar is also set pretty high.) So, naturally, I would throw big birthday parties for my now four-year-old daughter Madeline and 18-month-old son Bennett.  

When Madeline turned one it was my birthday debut.

I was a bit manic (read: totally manic) trying to make everything perfect. My colors were pink and gold (not blush and bashful). There were at least 40 people in attendance and I served champagne punch in addition to other dainty bites. Shortly after all the guests left my husband asked, “Couldn’t we just have a simple party with cake and ice cream?” The look on my face made my mother, now acting party assistant, laugh out loud. Simple is not in my wheelhouse. I am a born organizer and planner. My strengths are attention to detail and a flair for drama. It served me well as a TV news producer. Amazingly, those same skills I used to navigate breaking news seem to translate to toddler birthday parties.

Do I realize how ridiculous I sound? YES. Can I hear the collective eye rolling? ALSO YES. 

Fortunately, a few years and a few birthdays later I’ve toned things down a bit. Even my husband admits my ideas are not as elaborate as they once were and I’m doing a better job taking things in stride and stressing much less. (Although at the last minute my husband did talk me out of serving baked beans at my son’s lumberjack birthday party in mini mason jars despite my dramatic protests.) My go-to sources are still Pinterest, Etsy, Hobby Lobby and Amazon Prime to snag all my party theme looks. I call on family and friends to let me borrow things from their homes like a “vintage” toolbox from my Dad for the Lightning McQueen party. I subscribe to one of the same party strategies as fellow Knoxville Moms Blog contributor Kara Williams. When my daughter wanted a Mickey Mouse party for her third birthday I opted to have a few character decorations. Then I used solid coordinating colors for the rest of the decorations, plates, etc. (Kara shared that tip and others in her “Let’s Party” post). Needless to say if the guests at my daughter’s Lightning McQueen party this year looked closely they would have seen some of the exact decorations from the year before (I am getting better at re-purposing them so they don’t look totally identical).

The next generation of big birthday celebrations!

But it’s not all about the decorations and the themed food despite what my Pinterest boards tell you.

My daughter slept in the day of her party this year, which almost never happens. When she woke our house and backyard had been transformed into pit road and a racetrack. As she walked around and marveled at the decorations (many she helped make), she exclaimed again and again “Oh my!” clasping her hands together in sheer delight and smiling from ear to ear. Then she proudly showed everyone the party favors each of her little friends would receive (again she helped put them together). Once all the guests arrived, smiling kids began running all around our backyard, “racing” Power Wheels around our track, eating/smearing chocolate cake, and happily playing “Pin the Bumper on Doc Hudson.” (That game, by the way, was dreamed up by the birthday girl herself — sign of a big party planner in the making?) At the end of the day I asked Madeline if she had a good birthday. “I loved it mama! Thank you!” she said giving me the biggest hug her four-year-old arms would allow. Celebrating birthdays big is one thing. The rewards of celebrating birthdays big are even bigger. 

That’s why I won’t be slowing my party planning down, although I am taking the summer off before tackling the next one. You won’t be seeing me on MTV’s “My Super Sweet Sixteen,” I promise. At some point my children may not want a big birthday celebration. That will be okay; they’ll already have one of the best birthday gifts. It’s something my mother and father gave me: sweet memories of big celebrations with family and friends.

How do you celebrate birthdays at your house?

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