Birthdays are like feedlots… and not because they stink

Emilyn’s 4th birthday is coming up next week, and it is a Big.  Deal.  Around here.  We’ve been immersed in party plans since approximately December 23rd, when the anticipation of Christmas wore off and we (?)… well, she… started to think about Life Beyond Christmas.  Despite my protests that we ought to just enjoy what’s immediately before us and think about the good things we already have instead of what we might get for our birthday, Emi’s little 4-year-old mind has been in a birthday party holding pattern for some time now.

She wants a Barbie camper (even though we have no Barbies at our house and have no plans to let them live here).  She wants Fallon Taylor and Babyflo figurines (even though her daddy is pretty much ready to outlaw Any more.  Toys.  At our house).  She wants a Doc McStuffins-themed party.  Or maybe a princess-themed party.  Or maybe a Secret Life of Pets-themed party.

She wants a piñata to break open at the party, where we will enjoy either confetti cake with turquoise frosting or chocolate cake with green ice cream (maybe we should just have two parties?).  She is certain that we should have cheeseburgers before the cake.  The guest list is hazy, as you’ll see below, and pretty much includes anybody we run into.  Anywhere.

So how do two well-meaning parents present a birthday that lives up to the hopes and dreams of a little girl who has single-handedly constructed a giant bash in her mind?

In case you didn’t know it, I’ll fill you in:  kid birthdays are hard for parents.  How do you not do too much?  How much is enough?  The giant kid-filled shindig with invitations and party hats and balloons?  Yeah, those get-togethers are majorly stressful for parents.  The liability of it all!  The work to organize it!  The mess to clean up afterward!  Truth be told, last time I threw such a bash, we ended up with two little guests in tears because for some inexplicable reason I didn’t make enough party favor baggies for every guest, and then (groan… what was I thinking?) I organized some games in which the winners, instead of every single kid, won prizes.

The biggest question of all for me right now, with January 23rd looming ever closer, is how to involve everyone who is important in Emi’s little 4-year-old mind.  For instance, Great Grandma probably doesn’t want to be part of the party wherein all the neighborhood children will rip the cushions off the couch to create a jungle gym and throw cake at each other.  But we want Great Grandma!  And we want the kids!  And we want Daddy’s coworkers!  And we want our cousins from Miles City, even though they have full big-kid-school schedules and live far enough away that they can’t just buzz over on a weekday.

Beau and I learned a couple years ago that you can’t just plan one big birthday party and expect all the important players to make an effort to get there.  That was the year that nobody showed up for Emilyn’s birthday party, and it was a sad time on Porcupine Creek.  The remoteness of our locale, the busy-ness of the modern lifestyle and the resulting impossibility of getting everybody you care about in one place at one time, and the reality that your kids’ birthday is not as important to anybody else as it is to your kid and to you all at once came crashing down on us.  It was weighty stuff for a 2-year-old to deal with.

Since then, I’ve done a lot of thinking about kid birthdays.  I’m not saying I’ve figured it all out for eternity, but I think I have a couple answers for myself:

  1. Don’t expect the party to come to you!  Instead, take your kid to the party!
  2. Don’t celebrate a birth day.  Celebrate a birth week!  Or maybe two weeks!

See, maybe a birthday should truly be about the birthday girl, about making her feel like a treasured member of your family, instead of about the potential party-attendees and the inadequate party favors.  At this point I’d do about anything to avoid that ultimately-unfulfilling giant bash.  So, instead, we’ve decided to make an effort to make Miss Emilyn the member-of-honor in our family for a week or two.  To pay special attention to the things she always wants to do that we never take the time to do.  To string together a series of get-togethers, each with its own people and, yes, if necessary, each with its own cake.  (I mean, we all like to eat cake, and I like to bake, so… all health risks aside… why not?)

I like to think of Emi’s birthday as a feedlot.  (Maybe feedlots are on my mind because I live in the middle of one; who knows?)  Over on the west end, in the Tanya Pen, you’ve got Rylee and Colt, little friends of ours who get to spend time at a babysitter’s house… which is something Emi is very sure she would really like to try.  Here at the House Pen you’ve got the crew — Ben, Tawny, Bill, Joe, Kate, and any of the cow camp guys who happen to be around; all of them are special grown-ups in Emi’s life who (of course) would be devastated (!) if they did not get a chance to cut cake with Emi.  Up at the Ingomar Pen you’ve got Aubry and her family; Aubry is a little girl Emi met once (!) and Emi is certain that Aubry will want to come to Emi’s birthday party.  Over east, at the Bowling Alley Pen, the Reeder kids.  In the Movie Theater Pen, the Icopini kids.  At the end of the alley, there, is the Miles City Pen, where Emi’s (very cool) big cousins Nate and Taylor hang out.  In the Sunday School Pen, Mikey and Danny and Grammy and Grampy.  In the Custer Pen, Great Grandma and the second cousins.  And in the Library/Swimming Pen, the birthday girl’s siblings.

I tell the truth:  these are all the people, and all the venues, of Emi’s birthday party dreams.  So how in the world are we, as loving parents, supposed to make Emi’s grand birthday dreams come true?  Or how, at least, are we going to save her from complete disappointment?

I am the feed truck driver at this feedlot.  My job is to get cheeseburgers and confetti cake to all the pens.  Do you think we should throw all the critters together in one pen for a huge party?  I think not.  If you know anything about feedlots, you know that would be a big mess.  Think cross-contamination, busted chains, and lots of sorting to get it all straightened out.

My only hope, as far as I can tell, is to stock up on burger buns, ketchup, cake mix, eggs, oil, and powdered sugar; to fuel up the truck; to strap my cell phone to my belt; and to make plans to keep both the road and the oven hot over the next couple weeks.

© Tami Blake

P.S.:  Can’t believe she’s almost 4.  Oh my heart.


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