Growing up, my sister and I had great big, blowout birthday parties full of friends, family, music, food, and big, poofy dresses…always big, poofy – slightly uncomfortable elastic band sleeves – dresses that my abuelita bought for us every year from El Bambi on Bergenline in West New York. You could tell whose birthday it was by the size of the dress.
I remember our themed birthdays clearly: Rainbow Brite, Annie, Popeye, Raggedy Ann, Mickey Mouse. My parents would transform our garage into magical birthday zones with every detail of the themed decor hung up, laid out, and placed upon: balloons, streamers, table cloths of our favorite character, piñatas… ooooh the piñatas. Our friends waiting anxiously in the garage with hands full of confetti as we made our entrance – yes, we made an entrance – in our big, poofy, slightly uncomfortable, elastic band sleeved dress. When we would enter, my father would play our “Happy Birthday” record followed by the record’s side B of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” and our friends would drown us in confetti while yelling Happy Birthday as only excited 6-year olds can. These weren’t surprise parties; we knew what we were walking into. My parents just had a flair for the dramatic when it came to birthday parties… and I was a dramatic so I loved it.
Since becoming a mother to our sparkling, little Rafaella, I’ve realized so many things about myself, but the biggest thing I’ve learned is that you could love something so much and have no idea how to do it well. I had a hard time with Rafa’s first few months. I wanted to be the mother I had imagined and was having a hard time being the mother I actually was. I was not cut out for staying at home all day. Breastfeeding didn’t come easy, if at all. Being a mom to a newborn wasn’t one of my strong suits.
As she started getting older, I understood that not all phases of motherhood suit everyone of us mothers. I tried my hardest to succeed as a small baby mama and I had done well. I also tried my hardest in Logic 101 in college and still pulled only a D (and I have a slight feeling Professor Logic only passed me because he pitied my incredible attempts at getting help only to dramatically fail every test).
But when her 1st Birthday was rolling around, I lost all insecurities. This I knew how to do. I knew how to throw a birthday party.
I decided that her theme would selfishly make me happy too: autumn. You never think that you’ll miss the cool weather but after having lived in the Caribbean for over a year, sunny days begin to wear you down just the same as your tenth snow day. Our party space, thanks to my friend, Mariella, was already beautiful so no decorations were even needed but I began shopping in late August for anything fallish looking. Invitations were made in small paper goody bags that had a picture of the birthday girl, lollipops, the information for the party, and sunflowers; all tied with ribbon. It’s these moments that Husband wishes I were a bit more simple, “Hey Jen. Maybe next year we could hire a skywriter to write out her invitation… ooooor just send out an email.” (Update: her 2nd birthday party was no less grand. Sorry Husband.)
We made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cut them into maple leaf and acorn shapes and ordered pumpkin cookies, and teeny tiny pumpkin and apple spiced flavored cupcakes. Her cake was a delicious carrot cake with the most delicious buttercream icing complete with too many calories but who’s counting? Our apple dipping station was a success with the kiddies and the chicken, cheese, and spinach pastelitos were amaze! To bring even a little more taste of home, the goody bags were little wicker baskets with apples and homemade (by yours truly) candied almonds with a little note that read “A Taste of the Big Apple.” (Many of the yummies provided for by my fave coffee shop in the capital, Guli’s Goodies )
I thought that she might be a bit young this year for a face full of confetti and because it was a pool party I wasn’t sure if the big, poofy, slightly uncomfortable dress with the elastic band sleeves was appropriate but Tia Yaya (Aunt Shayna) pulled through with the next best thing. A big, poofy, purple polka-dotted dress with NO sleeves.
I wasn’t trying to make up for my flaws with this party, I just knew it was something, a part of parenting that I could do well. Obviously, I love her and feed her and change her and would give my life for her but sometimes the selfless day to day mother thing is a major fail. But a party.. that I can do.
When one of our straight-shooting friends who typically doesn’t notice kid birthday parties said to me, “You really f*cked yourself now… how are you going to top this next year?” I gave myself the mom seal of approval that I had been denying myself for the last year.
Maybe I can make this mom thing work…
And now for next year’s birthday party. Don’t worry Husband, I won’t make you manually hole punch confetti to match the invitation color scheme…
And for mom… here are the pictures of Rafa’s 1st birthday. Late but better than never.