“We’ll have to watch the weather and reschedule.”
My mom hung up the phone. It was a cold February.
“Mooooooom,” I whined. “We’re neeeever gonna have my party.”
My actual birthday had been the month before, but that Southern Idaho winter, the roads were particularly snowy, so a couple of the girls invited had to cancel repeatedly. At most parties, one or two absentees wouldn’t matter much, but this wasn’t most parties. My mom had made up a complex relay “board game” that would stretch through the living and dining rooms, and the teams had to be even.
So it was two months late, but eventually the weather cleared and the party began, with balloons and laughter. I’ve forgotten the details of the game, but I remember the force that made it happen: my mother’s love.
– – –
Money was tight when I was a kid. We didn’t go on exotic vacations, drive fancy vehicles, buy real estate on the moon, or whatever it is rich people do. A party at Chuck E. Cheese’s was too middle class for us, and the Dairy Queen ice cream cakes I always wanted were impractical for our budget. But that’s not to say I was deprived. My mom is frugal, resourceful, and artistic, and her talents never shined more than on my birthday. My parties were awesome.
Each winter, mom brainstormed themes — springtime, cats, dress up, circus, under the sea — and activities with me; looked through craft and recipe books; watched for useful coupons and clearance items; and drew, painted, sewed, and baked goodies. With each snip of thread and turn of the kitchen timer, my excitement grew.
My favorite birthday, she took us to Wonderland. She decorated the house like a great mad tea party, made each of us into paper-costumed characters, laid out snacks labeled “drink me” and “eat me.” We watched the Disney cartoon and did wacky crafts. I was Alice for the day, and she was a good-hearted Red Queen, making impossible things come true for me.
Those fun days with my friends were great, but an accompanying gift was the preparations, the hours spent compiling with my mom. In retrospect, some of the seemingly brilliant ideas I contributed were stupid, but she listened, took the childish bones and fleshed them out. With her direction and ingenuity, we took a stack of construction paper and some sugar and somehow transformed them into an afternoon-long extravaganza of color-coordinated memories.
It’s popular these days to question the ideals Pinterest sets for elaborate kids’ celebrations, as if motherhood needs more rules and expectations. That’s a fair criticism: Not everyone enjoys or has the resources for this kind of creativity, and it’s certainly not anyone’s duty. Just because that mom makes each party guest a personalized take-home bag filled with handmade trinkets doesn’t mean that should be the new standard for all moms everywhere. But my mom was crafty before it was cool, before Pinning artisanal frosting recipes was a thing — and she thrived off it, in turn inspiring me with her enthusiasm, teaching me to relish possibility and practicalize imagination.
Now that she has an empty nest, mom always says she’ll get back to the art career she gave up to educate my brother then me. “I’m finally going to write that children’s book,” she’ll say, or “There’s this new kind of watercolor I want to experiment with,” but, frankly, it’ll probably never happen, because she’s still too busy making stuff for other people. She donates so many days to her church and friends, constructing sets for vacation Bible schools, painting faces at events, inventing games and making little gifts for her Sunday school kids, helping with weddings and home projects. She’s too busy using her hands to give, to adorn, and to love; to offer sweet, small sacrifices of midnight stitches and empty tubes of acrylic.
– – –
It’s not my birthday (though it is one of my unbirthdays, and probably yours too), but I’ve been thinking about those childhood parties a lot lately, and how lucky I was to have them — not to mention the homemade dresses, Halloween costumes, Christmas gifts, college care packages, etc. And how lucky I am to have a mom who cares, and cares inventively, hands passing safety scissors and crumbling cake slices.
Someday, I plan to be that mom who gives her kids crazy, detailed, heart-filled birthday parties, continuing my mother’s legacy of joyful creativity. Cause that mom is a real good mom.