We were headed home from our second birthday party of the weekend. My husband drove while I swiveled back and forth in the passenger seat placating the children. Trying to relax and soothe the nausea of turning back and forth so much was futile while speeding along on a winding country road. Both kids were delighted by their goodie bags, yet they were cranky from another exhilarating party and another day of too little down time at home. I’m the sort of introvert who makes people conflate the term with hermit, so I rarely get enough quiet time at home, but this weekend’s festivities pushed my whole family to the brink of celebration fatigue.
The kids want to binge on fun and the parents want to binge on memory.It’s funny how little kids’ birthday parties often seem to turn out that way—where it almost seems a rite of passage for the celebrated child to cry or get injured or suffer in some way at the fête. We’ve never even been to a particularly fancy party for a small child; most of the invitations that circulate in our families and among our friends consist of cupcakes in the park or the home. I’m lucky in that both my children were born in seasons where outdoor parties are easy, so I’ve never had to consider stuffing a lot of people into my small house or renting out an alternative space. Just some balloons and boxed cupcake mix at the playground and I’ve got myself a party. Seriously, I actually hate balloons, but my children love them. I can make an ordinary afternoon at home seem like a major event with some balloons from the dollar store.
I know, what kind of person hates balloons? It’s something about the texture, and their intrusive presence in my space long after the guests leave. And that’s really the metaphor for parties for me. I issued a “no more questions for mommy” rule on the ride home last night, because I couldn’t handle any more stimulation and I’d already answered all their questions a dozen times. No talking to daddy either. I tried to explain to my older daughter that parties are really fun and can be really exhausting at the same time. Fun is hard work, right? And we’re not even the ones responsible for cleaning up. She disagreed with me, but most of it was complaining, and I’m not sure how well we could hear each other over her little sister’s low grade whine.
I’m obviously taking a melodramatic approach here (just my style, ask my husband), and the truth is that we’re really thankful for our friends and their children and all the lovely parties we get to attend. I love celebrating other people’s birthdays and I appreciate the privilege of watching these kids grow and change from year to year. Yet there really is some tinge of sadness and weariness as an undertone to all of these parties and the events they represent. And maybe that’s the issue, that as parents we’re constructing meaningful rituals, trying to encompass in an afternoon the tremendous alterations we’ve seen over the course of a year. The guest list changes as friends change; the theme changes as kids’ interests change; the birthday child changes and moves a little further from us with each passing party.
The kids want to binge on fun and the parents want to binge on memory. They want another slice of birthday cake and we want that perfect picture, but then they’re on sugar highs and we can never quite manage a shot where one of the kids isn’t crying or picking her nose or wandering off. It’s almost like that emotional roller coaster—the excitement and exhaustion of the birthday party—serves as a microcosm for the drama of the entire year. We cram it all in and we look over the images later to see the perfect blend of beauty and imperfection. Because where God sees the book of days, each page of our lives and each page of our children’s lives, we live in the trenches, day to day. He sees the big picture while we piece together a snapshot of birthday parties and milestones we’re desperate to make meaningful. He sees beyond the sticky fingers and burst balloons and sugar-induced meltdowns to the spirit of the growing child. We long to preserve each fleeting moment, but He longs to call us all out of the moment’s exhaustion and into the beauty of eternity.