I am a recovering birthday-party overachiever. From the time my oldest son turned 1, I have created enchanted spectacles on my children's birthdays.
I blush at the thought of my former self renting swimming pools, hiring entertainers, baking elaborate cakes, making invitations, and coordinating costly goody bags with the parties' themes - not to mention pressuring my husband to dress as a Power Ranger.
I hit rock-bottom this year when I hired a limousine to take a dozen 7- and 8-year-olds to the Science Center for a "mad scientist" party. What could I have been thinking of?
After this intergalactic scientific extravaganza, my younger son innocently asked if he could have a pirate party for his fifth birthday, which fell two weeks later.
How could I deny him a pirate
party after the event I had created for his older brother?
"OK," I weakly mumbled.
Reluctantly, I called five little boys (no more) and invited them (no mailed invitations) to a pirate party. I remembered I had an ice-cream cake in the fridge and decided that would do. (No baking!) I knew it was neither rational nor fair, but, for this party, I had nothing left to give.
When it became clear the night before the
party that I had no tricks up my sleeve, my sons asked if they could decorate. Feeling like the ultimate failure, I bluntly told them that I had bought no decorations, no balloons, no pirate hats, no streamers.
Undeterred, they set to work.
About an hour later, to my utter amazement, my sons had created a pirate ship out of the wagon, a few pieces of wood, a sled, paper, and tape. At its bow flew a stunning skull- and-crossbones flag. For treasure, they wrapped pennies in foil and hid them behind the garage.
I stood, gaping, at the fruits of my sons' labors.
Suddenly, I realized I had been missing the whole point of birthday parties. In my attempt to create splendor, I had missed the real magic - the magic that comes from the heart of a child.
There it was, staring me in the face, in the shape of two breathless, smiling boys, a rickety pirate ship, and scattered treasure.
I honestly believe that when my sons look back on their childhood birthdays, the live Power Rangers and limousine rides will pale in comparison to the night they transformed the driveway into the high seas - all by themselves.
How did the pirate party go, you ask? It was low-key and enjoyed by all - especially me. I'm happy to report that I have no plans for next year's birthdays, but the boys are brimming with ideas.
Jayne Eiben lives with her husband and sons in Shaker Heights, Ohio.
Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting experiences, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org