Photo: Monique Banks via Instagram

The pandemic has been hard, if not impossible, for everyone around the world.  I have friends that lost young spouses, a grandparent whose health is just not the same after being in isolation and kids that are relearning how to make it through a day of in-person school. 

I know that my family is lucky. But I had this nagging desire to do more for my kids that just wouldn’t go away. Throughout the day, I swing from wanting to give and do everything they ask in an effort to make up for lost time, to knowing that these acts of overindulgence will create a new set of problems. Saying yes non-stop is bad for the rules my husband and I tried so hard to put in place and we are getting on a path where the kids feel like it’s never enough.  Truthfully, they seemed more content when we were more judicial with our yesses. You know when your kid is eating ice cream for breakfast and can’t sit still for five seconds that you’ve crossed the line when it comes to good parenting skills. It’s not that terrible, but it’s a slippery slope.

It then dawned on me that the perfect opportunity to indulge my feelings of wanting to show that we understood all that the kids have gone through the past year and mark a new beginning (albeit with guidelines from the CDC) would be at their birthday. This is a time when we make a big deal about being older, it’s a natural time to evaluate the new responsibilities they can take on and it is the perfect day to overindulge them. The more I thought about it, the more I decided that this year’s birthday would be a celebration like no other. Not in terms of the number of people invited or money spent, but the way that we celebrate.

The M&M & Pizza Methodology
Of course, the first place I went to for inspiration was Instagram. For me personally, it was a bust. I felt intimidated by the perfection of it all and started adding up the costs which gave me anxiety. Plus, the setup and clean-up sounded like a drag.

Then I remembered a story from Morgan Oliveira who told me that her mom, Denise Oliveira who is a High School English teacher, would order pizza for Morgan’s birthday parties when she was a kid. Before the pizza was served at the table, Denise would sneak into the pizza boxes and sprinkle M&M’s onto the pies. My first response was M&Ms and pizza? It didn’t sound so tasty, but apparently, it is extremely exciting for everyone. As kids, Morgan thought that it was the “birthday special” pizza pie made just for her. As an adult, it is one of her fondest memories from her childhood.

Focus on Your Child’s Personality & Likes
I loved this idea because it’s about making your kid feel special by understanding who they are and what they love. It wasn’t about big balloon displays or hiring a magician. So, I reached out to my friend Monique Banks who has been a party planner for decades. Currently, she and her daughter, Ariel Banks Baker, have a successful event planning company. Years ago, Monique had a children’s party studio, and the mother-daughter team just launched a new company called Blueprint. With over 3,000 kids’ parties under their belts, Monique and Ariel offer DIY downloadable plans with 27 themes that are fully customizable.  hey confirmed my hunch about what kids really want, which is a day that makes them feel like they are the focus of the day.

It’s not about how big or fancy the party is, but rather if you are thinking about your child in a way that makes them feel special. What type of candy do they like to eat, what type of games do they like to play, do they have a favorite color? These are the things that make kids feel that they are having a magical experience. Monique and Ariel also let me in on a very important secret: The best parties have constant high-energy games where there a no winners and no losers.

Adults Need to Have Fun Too
The best part is that the adults get to have a good time too. Fewer worries about setting up and cleaning up mean that kids get more attention from their parents which is exactly what they are looking for on their birthdays. Kids know when parents are stressed and tired and it’s not the vibe that you want on a day that is supposed to be about them. Organizing games where kids are having the time of their lives is a gift for parents too. Seeing the little person that you love so much laughing and having a good time is the best present of all.

Lessons Beyond the Birthday
By creating a special day that includes everything my child loves most, makes them feel important. That came with a positive lesson for all of us. When you know how happy someone is because you are thoughtful and that effort makes them feel great, it is an important life lesson. I’m hoping that the kids will want to do things for their friends and family, not because they have to or because it is expected, but because they know that it will make the person feel terrific. 

Even though we were stuck inside together for so many months, I had to make a special point of making fun family time and it never felt like it was enough.  Being at home for more hours and days meant more laundry, more dirt, more dishes to wash, more schoolwork and homework, cooking more meals, and also juggling my own work.  As so many of us know, it was a stressful time. This birthday, I hope, will mark a new beginning. I’m ready to celebrate! Responsibly, of course.