Extra Pulp: Birthday Wishes

Laura Anders Lee embraces the real meaning of her sons' birthdays.

David Vallejo

I hate kids’ birthday parties. Yes, I know that’s an awful thing to say. It’s like saying I don’t want a puppy. And I don’t. I’m a terrible person.

Kids’ birthday parties are a lot of stress for parents. I am normally a single mom at such events. My husband, Bryan, works long hours, and he’d prefer to spend Saturdays playing golf and watching football. Meanwhile I’m refereeing another kind of game. A bunch of kids are hyped up on sugar with a bunch of kids they don’t know who are also hyped up on sugar. After cake, ice cream, candy and a juice box, anything can happen.

Growing up with a January birthday, I was envious of the kids with summer parties by the pool. But as a mother, I find birthday parties during the dog days of summer to be punishment. And as luck would have it, my sons, Anders and William, both have summer birthdays.

The boys are 8 and almost 6 and require full-time supervision. There is no relaxing on the sidelines. At pool parties, most all the other moms lounge around and chat with their makeup and hair fully intact, while their children play nicely with others. I, on the other hand, must keep a close watch on my two. I’m one of the few moms actually in the pool. With both boys climbing all over me, and mascara smudges under my eyes, I look like a drowned raccoon.

Attending a pool party is only slightly better than going to the other venues that were obviously chosen by a child against their parents’ wishes. The bouncy house place is overcrowded. The go-kart track is painfully hot. The arcade is annoyingly loud. The bowling alley pizza tastes like feet. And don’t get me started on the germs. During one party, Anders refused to share his Capri Sun with his younger brother, saying it was “gross.” Yet in the public bathroom he touched every surface of the stall before chewing his fingernail on the way to the sink. I get the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it.

Hosting a birthday party is no piece of cake either. There was the time our sink stopped up with six inches of water as a dozen kids arrived at our house. There was the time our hired “grown-up” musician stampeded a group of 4-year-olds for piñata candy. When Anders turned 2, Bryan took him along to the wrong Chick-fil-A to pick up the nugget tray, and they showed up an hour late to his own party. There was the party at the fire station when the firefighters answered a real alarm, leaving startled 3-year-olds to cry in an empty garage. And, of course, this one: When William turned 1 at the beach, Anders got severely ill with a vomiting disorder and spent the weekend at the hospital.

Next month, William is turning 6, and he has high expectations for his party. He has specific guests and a certain theme in mind along with a list of toys he’s curated from television commercials and YouTube videos. I was starting to imagine what might go wrong this year, when I stopped myself with a startling realization.

My baby is turning 6? And he’s starting kindergarten this month, too?

My blue-eyed, blond baby is officially a big boy with dark brown hair and his own definite ideas about the world. He can write his name (backward), make his bed, ride a bike, and sing all the lyrics to Michael Jackson’s “Bad.’’

For now, he still snuggles in my lap every chance he gets. But soon he’ll want to spend birthdays with mostly his friends. He’ll be embarrassed when I sing. He’ll be too old even to play with toys, wanting video games or his own iPhone instead.

And to think that all this time, facing the endless birthday parties with dread, I’ve been missing the whole point: It’s not about me. To a child, birthdays are the biggest deal ever. They are something kids talk about all year, the ultimate threat they deliver on the playground: “If you do that again, you will not be invited to my birthday party!”

Most of all, though, they are about celebrating the life of a child, surrounded by the very special people in his life.

So as much as I’d like to celebrate my sixth anniversary of childbirth at a spa, I know exactly where I’ll be—relishing a big blob of buttercream icing with my birthday boy. Because when it comes time for my sons to blow out their candles, I want to be the one who makes all their wishes come true.

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