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People have asked (often) how we celebrate birthdays. I’m not sure exactly what the fascination is, myself. Sometimes I feel a little bit like June Carter Cash apparently did when Johnny Cash told her, “I like to watch you talk,” and she snapped back, somewhat bemused, “I’m talking with my mouth!” We do what we do, just like everyone else. Is it odd? I don’t really think so. I suspect it’s less what we do and more the sheer number of times per year we do it that garners attention.
So what do we do? For Simon’s fifth birthday, the day after Christmas, it looked like this:
We try hard to say yes to whatever requests the child has that day. No, our kids don’t abuse this. If anything, we usually have to cajole them a bit to get them to really tell us the things that they want to include in their special day. For Simon, this started the night before, when he asked if he could sleep in our room and wake up on his birthday morning with Momma and Daddy. And of course, we said yes. We put a sweet, happy four year-old to bed on Christmas Day, and moved him to our room as we ended our own evening so that we could wake up to a glowing five year-old. And yes, he announced, “I’m five! It’s my birthday!” the second he woke up.
The first thing the birthday child can expect in our house is streamers bedecking his or her bedroom door. In this case, they were hanging in the doorway to our room. I even got to run through them a couple of times… accompanying the birthday boy, of course.
Downstairs, a mylar balloon is tied to the birthday child’s chair and the presents arranged at his spot at the table. Every child can count on one gift from Daddy and Momma, one from Mamaw and Papaw, and one from Miss Rebecca (a beloved family friend). There are sibling cards and sometimes gifts; in Simon’s case, there was a set of lovely double-tipped colored pencils from Mary Hannah. (Usually we encourage acts of service or sharing a precious whatnot with the birthday child.) Our gift to our musically inclined Simon this year was a cork handled conductor’s baton, which he has already put to good use, trust me. You’ll notice a pretty simple theme with gifts in our house; if it uses a battery, doesn’t lend itself to imagination, creativity, physical activity, or useful preoccupation, it’s probably not making the list.
The birthday child gets to set the entire menu for the day, so we started our morning with oatmeal. Lunch was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and potato chips. And dinner was homemade pizza, much to everyone’s delight.
After breakfast, there was just play. It was outrageously cold (25 degrees Fahrenheit) so half of the family opted to stay indoors, while the bravest ones bundles in layer after layer to work or explore outdoors. Simon had received a wooden bow and arrow set as his Christmas gift the day before, so there was really no question as to whether or not he was going to be content coloring at the table or finger knitting on the couch.
After lunch, his Daddy filled his second request of the day by taking him and most of his siblings swimming at the Y. When they returned, he helped me make his birthday cake, then there was more running around outside and keeping our farm safe from… things.
We warmed up over pizza, and as we sat and ate, we asked our birthday version of the nightly “What was the best part of your day?” check-in, which was, “What do you like best about Simon?” The answers to this simple question are, I think, the very best parts of the birthday celebrations. You can literally see the child being filled up with love and happiness as one by one, the entire family points out the way they are blessed by that child, or what character traits they especially appreciate, or what their relationship means to them. Afterwards, we lit candles (these Colorflame birthday candles are SO neat, by the way!), we sang, and we had cake. Christopher read from his Twelve Days of Christmas devotional, then a few chapters of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe before we put everyone under 15— including the birthday boy— in bed.
And that was really it. No party, a very small financial investment, and not much in the way of fanfare. It’s make my Momma heart happy to know that our kids look forward to their birthdays, and each others, with anticipation. I think each one of our kids feels very special and loved and celebrated for who they are and what they mean to this family each year on their special day—much more so than wondering what gifts they might be opening that morning. That kind of joy doesn’t cost a dime, and doesn’t require booking a museum or filling goodie bags for twenty friends.
Happy 5th birthday, Simon!
May you always have work for your hands to do.
May your pockets hold always a coin or two.
May the sun shine bright on your windowpane.
May the rainbow be certain to follow each rain.
May the hand of a friend always be near you.
And may God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you. —Irish birthday blessing