Happy Happy Joy Joy…Tears


Me, roughly 11 months pregnant with Babygirl, entertaining LittleMan at his 3rd birthday party.  Note how much fun we appear to be having (I think my husband was still looking for a parking place).  Also: that playground looks like a prison.  Also: San Francisco in August.

The last week of August is a doozy in our house.  One wedding anniversary (my husband’s and mine), one Babygirl birthday, and one LittleMan birthday: all rolled up in a ten-day extravaganza of cake, wine, presents, presents, a few more presents, perhaps a brownie or two, anticipatory sleeplessness, and joy.  And a martini.  And tears.

Ah, parenthood.

This week is one chunk of the year where my husband and I have been careful not to build too much tradition.  To be clear, I am a huge sucker for tradition, but this particular stretch of days has proven to be SO EXCITING to our children, and also SO CONFUSING, because Wait, WHO are we celebrating today? and Why don’t I get a present today?  and When is it MY party? and Is an anniversary like a birthday for grown-ups? and How can it be that I am older but her birthday comes first I don’t GET it????  

For example: Babygirl, who, to be fair, still mixes up the concepts of “tomorrow” and “yesterday”, can’t grasp how her birthday party is on Saturday but her actual birthday is on Sunday, so she’ll see her friends on Saturday and have family celebration on Sunday (except we’re also going to someone else’s pool party on Sunday…I know, don’t get me started, it’s too much).  The situation has gotten so out of hand that my mom called me this morning after watching the kids after school: “You know, Babygirl seems to think she’s having at least four parties.  Maybe more.  I just wanted to warn you.”

To warn me?  That there would be tears surrounding the birthday?  That no matter how carefully I plan and craft the message, I will inevitably confuse and disappoint (and possibly anger) the tiny humans we are celebrating?

Yes.  Yes, I’m familiar with the whole I’m So Happy I’m Either Going to Throw Up or Throw a Giant Tantrum phenomenon that is the birthday week.

In sum, our kids are young, and time is still a pretty murky concept for at least one of them, so every year we just kind of take stock of where they are and what they need and we build out the celebrations from there.  Sometimes we go all bouncy-house on them.  Sometimes we our parents over for some Betty Crocker cupcakes.  Sometimes we don’t even tell them it’s their birthdays and instead spirit them off to LegoLand as a surprise.  The point is, they know we’ll do something, but we’ve successfully managed to avoid setting too many expectations.

This year, I phoned it in.

Like, literally.  I picked up the phone and said, Create for me a birthday party!  And someone in the warehouse-like birthday party facility in China Basin did just that.

While all the other respectable bloggers in the land are doing days of research on Pinterest and lining up photographers to capture their handmade mermaid cakes, all while humblebrag-sighing that the store-bought cupcakes were of course the bigger hit (of course), I gave a teenager my credit card number, sent an Evite, and then went to Whole Foods after drop-off this morning and bought one vanilla cake with sprinkles on top and one cookies and cream cake with Oreos on top and called it a day.

Guess who is feeling great right now?  ME, that’s who!  Because I’m not staring down a Saturday which involves loading up my car with nine-hundred juice boxes and praying that the pizza guy can find our picnic table at exactly 11am.  I’m not having to deal with calling the police to remove the drug addicts we find sleeping at our picnic table at 10:30am, and ear-muffing the kids while said drug addicts hurl misogynistic epithets in our direction when they leave (true story).  I’m not cursing the wind for destroying the paper picnic-tablescape I so carefully sourced from Amazon.com by 11:15am.  My husband won’t be racing to Walgreens to source duct tape and I won’t be negotiating with LittleMan when he gets kind of freaky-wild-eyed about opening all-his-gifts-right-now-on-the-spot-or-I-might-explode and needs a time-out in the car.

Nope.  This year, I’m leaving it to the professionals.  People who wrap the gifts in a giant bag and load it into your car before the kids get a whiff of tissue paper.  People who have a relationship with the pizza company and the balloon company and the paper-plate company.  People who literally choreograph the entire 120-minute experience into three, 40-minute blocks of time. And then clean up afterwards.

My kids are going to have a blast (duh, because it’s a birthday party) and I might actually enjoy myself, is what I’m saying, and that prospect has me absolutely giddy.


When my husband and I were planning to get married 14 years ago, my dad would sit quietly through the various late-night wedding negotiations, sipping a scotch and taking it all in, and eventually he’d say, You know, kids, it’s not really about the wedding.  It’s about the marriage.

This became a kind of an inside joke — all the way down to his wedding speech — but I think about it a lot, not only around my anniversary (now) but also in terms of LIFE.

The thing about the birthdays is, they are so much more than a Pinterest cake.  Babygirl and LittleMan: they are becoming such interesting little people.  They are working so hard, every day, to make sense of the world around them, to engage in the great Human Contract where we take care of one another and try to be our best selves, even when we can’t see how that’s in our best interest.  This is some serious stuff to be learning and growing into, and I’m so astonished and proud that somehow they are pulling it off, and even more astonished and proud that somehow, despite having no idea what we’re doing, my husband and I are shepherding them through it.

It’s not about the birthday party.  It’s about the birthday.  It’s about one more year that we get to be alive and care for each other and watch each other thrive.  Do we celebrate?  Yes!  Do we obsess over the details of the celebration?  Well…sometimes.

But not this year.  I’m phoning it in this year.  And tonight, I’m going to snuggle my growing kids and stress about exactly nothing.  And I couldn’t be happier.


Editors’ Note: I’d like to add that while I am more of an outsourcing kind of a gal, some of my favorite blogger friends are, quite literally, birthday party MASTERS and I bow to them.  For inspiration see: Nest Studio, Style Smaller, Alice & Lois.  Pin on, warriors.


  1. Sounds amazing. Leaving the big things to the professionals seems to have allowed you the little things….which are really the actual ones that matter!!! Have a happy celebration!!!

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