My former boss Paul was a big fan of the phrase, “Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.” There are many things in my life that I feel were brought to me by luck, but for the purpose of this post I will focus on two: 1 – having boy/girl twins that 2 – decided to turn up mid-summer on July 11th. To me, this is the birthday celebration jackpot and I have treated it as such since the kids turned one.
For 12 years we have gathered in our backyard to celebrate the kids marking another year on the calendar. When they were super little we decided to keep it super simple. Their friends, our friends, and a cake for each child to recognize their individual identities. These three things have never wavered.
From year one we decided the party would always include adults and kids. Birthdays are to recognize the birth of the child, of course, but why not take the opportunity to celebrate the fact that on this day there was a dramatic shift in your family that begs celebration? This is why we always grab our whole group and turn it into our big party of the summer, being mindful to make the party as fun for the adults as it is for the kids.
When the kids turned five we began to pick themes. The parties then became more and more elaborate as concomitant with the twin’s increasing years. A popular question from friends over the course of the year was, “What’s this year’s birthday theme??” Given the boy/girl situation, we had to pick themes that were gender neutral. I also felt strongly that we had to pick themes that made it easy to accessorize the guests upon arrival, making the “welcome to the party” that much more festive and making each guest an integral element of the party decorations.
We kicked off the thematic birthday parties with a Butterfly birthday. Butterfly cakes, decorative butterfly wings hanging from the trees and butterfly wings, antennas, and necklaces for all of the guests. I still smile thinking about the kids running around the yard with their wings pretending to be butterflies. The grand finale was a release of real monarch butterflies into the yard. We set the bar pretty high that year.
The next year was a nature party, which was pretty much a riff on the butterfly party, but this time the kids (and adults) got bumble bee wings and we had creepy crawlies around the yard. We organized a scavenger hunt which had the kids sprinting with their parents to locate nature items that could be found on the property. I love it when the parents get as into the game as the kids. They all chased their small bumble bees around the yard trying to be the first to complete the scavenger hunt challenge.
Year 7 is still one of my favorites: the luau and all that is attendant with that. The guests received lei’s and grass skirts on arrival (green for the boys and all sorts of colors for the girls). We found Tahitian dancers who came to our yard and put on a show that was highly interactive, with fully belly laugh audience participation. The tiki hut motif came into play and our friends all got into the Hawaiian spirit as we dined on jerk chicken and fried rice.
Year 8 was a fiesta! Pretty flower crowns for the girls, sombreros for the boy’s heads and maracas for everyone.
Year 9 was a Hoe Down with square dancing and a yard festooned with bales of hay. Our guests were decorated with bandannas and cowboy hats. We made WANTED posters of each and every guest and posted them on the downstairs porch. The guests took their posters with them at the end of the evening (thank goodness social media made this possible).
Year 10 was a bit of a stumper, but we finally landed on a Hang 10 surf party. We transformed the yard into a beach setting with bright beach umbrellas and towel stations. We collected as many surf boards as we could find and put them around the yard, we used a paddle board as our bar motif and had beach games peppered about. Sunglasses and glow sticks were handed to our guests when they arrived. It was the perfect way to welcome our two to the double digit years.
And for their 11th birthday on July 11th, they had their golden birthday. For this we went Mardi Gras (with all the fun bits and none of the shady bits). It was at this party that I sadly noticed a shift. The kids were not readily donning our arrival accessories. What!? They politely declined the beads, the masks, and the glow rings, though they happily ate the King Cake at the end of the party.
Oh no! It was with a heavy heart that I realized we had reached the end of that oh so endearing stage of childhood: the uninhibited stage. For all of those years I don’t think I appreciated just how special it was that the kids were so into every aspect of the presented themes. I took their enthusiastic participation for granted and did not see this “too cool for school” attitude on the horizon. My two were also caught off guard by this behavior shift, but as it is with peer groups, they quietly removed their masks and their beads. I left my mask on (probably to hide tear or two), sighed a bit and said a silent goodbye to that stage of their childhood. Then I promptly made a mental note for next year. The celebration would continue, but I’d have to rejigger it to account for this new stage in life: the awkward, what will people think?, stage.
For the 12th birthday we went themeless. Just a simple backyard BBQ with no accessories for the guests. The party included really good food, homemade lemonade in keepsake, mason jar glasses that we sent home with each guest. We had a comfortable, relaxed, no expectation, environment capped off with an ice cream cake for each birthday child. It was a big success.
This weekend we will be celebrating the kids journey into the teenagers years: 13! We have a theme that is a nod to this rite of passage. Watch for my post about the party…