Birthday Parties, Slivers of Empty and Being Okay with Motherhood

P1040480“Mama?” says Lilah. “When is my birthday party going to be?”

My newly minted four-year-old looks at me slightly confused but with full confidence that I will have just the right answer to this question. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Her actual birthday was more than two weeks ago deep in the heart of the summer. We celebrated with extended family during a beach vacation, but I haven’t planned a proper birthday party for her, the one with all her friends, a big cake and a surprise visit from a favorite princess. The one she’s been talking about all summer.

2006-DEC-HULAWhen my older two were younger, I went all out planning and executing the most amazing birthday parties for them. For Ella’s first birthday I rented a petting zoo complete with chickens, ducks and a miniature meh-ing goat. Then there was the elaborate woodland puppet show, a princess party with a visit from Cinderella and the Under The Sea party for which I painstakingly created a treasure hunt and a Pin-the-Tail on the Mermaid game. Ruby, my now 10-year-old, celebrated with a teacher-led music party, a Hawaiian themed party, an art studio party and a Fancy Nancy Tea Party.

I spent hours imagining and creating, scouring party stores and online stores for just the right coordinated napkins, paper lanterns and matching goody bag treats. I had to get it just right. It had to be magical, unforgettable. Perfect.

IMG_3840Meanwhile, of Lilah’s four birthdays, she’s had only one party. Last year I rented out a picnic area at the zoo, bought a bunch of ride tickets and fed everyone snacks and cupcakes. Totally fun, but not at all fancy. I look at my daughter’s sweet, expectant face and feel a twinge of guilt: why don’t I go to the same effort for my third child the way I did my other two?

Thirteen years ago when I first became a mom, I struggled. I wasn’t sure what motherhood was supposed look like, feel like. I decided to stay at home full time, but felt restless. The days ran tedious and long punctuated by moments of joy, but few of the accomplishment I was used to. Frustrated and confused, I didn’t want to admit to the sliver of empty slowly expanding inside me. Instead I kept busy creating a perfectly choreographed and decorated childhood – the cutest nursery bedding, the most delicious organic homemade baby food, the hippest toddler t-shirts. The birthday parties were my crowning glory. Motherhood didn’t come naturally to me, but putting on an unforgettable party? That I could do.

When I found out I was pregnant with Lilah, I freaked out a little. Ruby was almost six and I wasn’t sure I could do the new motherhood thing again and be okay. It took the whole nine months for me to decide to be okay, to forgive myself for not loving every minute of motherhood and know I’m still a good mom. I decided I would fill that sliver of empty with the sustenance I needed – writing, time on my own, connecting with friends. Most importantly, I knew I had to slow down, ditch the busy and the perfection and just be with my girls. If I manage to throw a super-amazing birthday party too, that’s just an added bonus.

I gaze down into the chocolate brown eyes of my littlest girl. In the last four years, this child has brought me so much joy, with her never-stays-brushed hair and insistence on wearing the same two pairs of sweatpants all week long. Her child’s desire to always be with me gently reminds me to stay in the moment. The least I can do is throw her a birthday party.

“When’s your party?” I ask, grinning. “Whenever you want.”

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post. This week’s sentence is “When I think of birthdays…” and was hosted by Kristi of Finding Ninee and co-hosts Stacey of This Momma’s Ramblings and Mimi of Mimi Time.

15 comments on “Birthday Parties, Slivers of Empty and Being Okay with Motherhood

  1. This is amazing! My baby will be turning thirteen, in a couple of weeks and while we have some tentative plans, money will decide how far we can go. She is excited though, no matter what we do. Have an amazing weekend!


  2. Putting on an unforgettable party…that I could do. I felt like that when my kids were little – I think their parties were projects I could tackle and feel productive. That feeling subsided a bit as they grew, and as they had their own ideas about birthdays I learned to back off a bit.

    I do miss the parties a little…I loved watching so many people celebrate my amazing kiddos.


  3. I love the balance in this: you can satisfy your daughter’s wants and stay true to yourself. xo!


    • I hope so! She wants a Magic Carpet Swimming Party. Hoping to contain it to one or the other, although I’m not sure what a Magic Carpet party would look like…


  4. Ohmigosh every so often I forget how much I love your writing, and then I dip in and remember every bit of why.

    You’re a wonderful, shinybrightAWESOME lady 😀


  5. Oh I relate to this so much!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kristi Campbell - findingninee

    This is wonderful, Lisa! For my son’s first and second birthday, we rented houses – one in Estes Park, CO and the next year in the Smokeys of Tennessee and had all of his family fly to one and then the other. It was great but he was one, and then two, and so for three, four, and five, we just went to the beach – just us. This is the first year (six) when he’s wanted a party and while I sort of went “all out,” it was mostly handled by the place we had it. I hear you on finding the perfect party bags, etc. though. Here’s to staying true to you and to throwing your gorgeous little girl the birthday party that works best for both of you. Thank you for linking up with FTSF. xo


    • Thanks Kristi! So glad I linked up this week – lots of good pieces to read! There’s something about throwing your kid an amazing birthday party that is so satisfying, even when it’s exhausting. I for one feel birthdays are important and we never miss celebrating them, it’s just figuring out HOW to do it that’s got me thinking about motherhood here, now, in my 40s. You know, midlife musings 🙂


  7. Loved this Lisa! Your thoughtfulness shows how lucky your girls are to have you for a mother. My caboose also had to wait until he was three before he got a party of his own, and it too was nothing fancy like the others. Maybe our four year olds will meet one day and commiserate or maybe they’ll talk about how lucky they are to have older siblings and wiser mamas. 🙂


  8. Oh, I love this Lisa! We had a disastrous birthday party for our daughtet’s second birthday – she was (is) a total introvert and was absolutely miserable, so after that we kept it super low key, to my great relief, and hers. So far my son, turning 4 in Nov, has yet to have anything but immediate family celebrations.

    I think it’s wonderful that you are giving Lilah the party she wants and staying true to the wonderful mom you are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Dana ❤ The birthday party thing is a mixed bag for so many of us for so many reasons. I so appreciate the smaller celebration like you describe but also feel that pull to go over the top to show her how much she's loved and that I can pull "it" off, whatever "it" is…motherhood? A Pinterest worthy cake? Both? Probably 🙂 xo


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