Chasing the Perfect Birthday

My sweet girl will be seven soon.

I felt myself get choked up over that fact while eating a bowl of oatmeal this morning.

But the reason my throat got caught with tears in the middle of breakfast wasn’t about her getting older.  It wasn’t because I felt overwhelmed with the passage of time or upset that life doesn’t come with a pause button.

It was about me.  My anxiety as a mother:  am I giving enough?  How can I give more?  Am I doing enough to make her childhood amazing?

Normally, I try not to focus on questions like that.  I try to keep it simple: love her, spend time together, enjoy life together, give her lots of stability and attentiveness and figure that even with the mistakes I make along the way, I am doing the best I can, and she will continue blossoming into the incredible person she already is.

But then her birthday rolls around and suddenly I feel the pressure.  It’s like her birthday, this landmark, is my motherhood report card time.  And I show up as my own most judgmental teacher, staring down my nose at myself, clicking my ruler on the desk and glaring.

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I want to make her birthday really special, give her something spectacular, make her party so great that she squeals with glee when it’s over, “That was the BEST birthday ever!”

But goshdarnit, it doesn’t come naturally to me to plan a Pinterest party.  I usually rush to figure out a gift or two in the last couple of days.  Then, for the party, we have a bunch of people over for a potluck and blow up balloons.  I’ll hug her and tell her I love her a million times a day, like I normally do.

It sounds fine, doesn’t it?  It sounds splendid!  So why do I feel like I need to do MORE?  Why do I feel this pressure, this nagging feeling to SPEND more money, make MORE special things happen?

Partly I feel that pressure because I love her so darn much.  Of course.  I want the best for her.  I want to give her everything and then some in order to express just how much she means to me, just how special she is.

But there is another reason, too, a stickier one: I am anxious about it.  I worry that things as they are aren’t good enough and so I want to add onto that, and add on and add on and pile up a big pile of wonderful-ness that will be proof of how great everything is, how great our lives are, what a great mother I am, and somehow guarantee her a wonderful life.

But is that really a gift to her?  If it is coming from anxiety in me, then won’t it ultimately have the opposite effect than I intend?  Won’t it suffocate her rather than let her breathe and blossom?

too much wonderful-ness piling up

too much wonderful-ness piling up

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Okay, so let me look at this.  I don’t want to pass onto her my burdensome feeling of things not being good enough as they are.  My feeling that if only we had more special toys or food or decorations, THEN we would know the good life.

Rather, I want to pass onto her this:  THIS is the good life.  We are living it.

And yes, we can dress it up for fun.  We can celebrate!  Let’s make it special, because it is a special day and she is a special person.

But let’s do it from a place of satisfaction rather than a place of anxiety.

Let’s be relaxed and warm and loving and let all those good feelings overflow into a party and gifts and another special day this year of being together and being grateful.

Maybe sneak in a surprise or two but not stress myself out with it.

Return to that simple place where loving each other and spending time together are the biggest riches in the world.  Those things in and of themselves ARE the celebration.

I want my girl to thrive.  I want her to grow.  I want her to experience special and fantastic things in this life.  Most of all I want her to trust that those things are happening already, they are inherent to her being, without anything extra being added on.

If I build up the birthday, build up the party and the presents, there is so much expectation wrapped up in that.  Expectation for her to love it, expectation for it to be better than last year, expectation for her to get everything she wants.  And what follows expectation?  Disappointment.  That strange feeling when everything is over, there is a sprawl of wrapping paper and ribbons on the floor and you realize your ideals can never be lived up to.

Holidays are a breeding ground for this post-expectation feeling of disappointment.  How many kids end up crying right about the time the cake comes out?  Or after all the presents have been opened?  Or feel slightly deflated and empty the day after Christmas?

I don't know this child personally but I feel his pain

I don’t know this child personally but I feel his pain

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So I don’t want to put the pressure on her or on me.  I am done with ideals and expectations and perfectionism.

I want to keep it light and fresh.  Loving and in-the-moment.  For her and for myself.

And my sweet girl, she gets it, she understands.

I recently got her a couple of things, not related to her birthday, just a couple of things she mentioned she liked.  I gave them to her separately and casually, just to show her that I care.  And to show her that what she thinks of as important is important to me too and I want to help fill her life with things she cares about.  The two gifts came to a combined grand total of $30 or so.

And she says to me this afternoon, “Those two things are my only birthday presents mama, and THAT’S FINAL!”

She said it so definitively and simply.  She felt satisfied.  She feels full.

And her confidence in that helped me.  I instantly relaxed.  And gave her a hug.  And returned to that place of simple satisfaction.  Of she and I, together.  Letting go of the pressure, the report card, the self-judgement and aniexty.  Into the quiet space of being her mother, being present, shining love.

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What about you?  How do you go about planning parties or special occasions for your loved ones?  How do you make it special without stressing yourself and everyone else out?  Or do you stress yourself out but it all feels worth it?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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A path to Domestic Bliss

I have something to tell you: I am not a domestic perfectionist.

If you know me, if you’ve dropped my house unexpectedly, you know.  There are books and toys and DVDs strewn about, as well as dress-up clothes and yoga mats, the remnants of the fort we built yesterday and some paint splattered on the floor from an impromptu finger-painting session last night.  There are definitely dirty dishes in the sink.

Some might call it lived in.  Others might call it lazy.  I like to think of it as creative swirl.  And its a good thing.  It means that we are busy living our lives, busy making them feel right, instead of making them look right.

Don’t get me wrong, I think neat and tidy has its place.  I enjoy relaxing in a clean, crisp environment as much as the next person.  But as a mother, that is not my top priority.

If you have young kids you know what I mean: the process of cleaning up can seem never-ending.  It can become a battle ground, especially if you have a domestic perfectionist living inside of you.

But around here, we find perfection within the imperfection.

Around here, it is messy.  It is a creative swirl.

It is also fun and active.  We have important things to do.  Like wrestling and dance parties.  Bubble baths and homemade spa days.  Things like watching movies in a cuddle pile on the couch.  Or drinking tea, discussing the day’s unravelings— not letting “dealing with the mess” get top priority.

It was not always like this.  I’ve had to work, really work, at letting the house be messy and still being able to relax in it.

I’ve had to work at not letting my happiness depend on whether or not the laundry is folded and put away.

Before that, I was letting the state of the house determine my mood: if it was messy, I was unhappy.  I’d carry a dark grey cloud above my head, huffing around the house putting things away, blaming someone else for the mess, feeling resentful that I HAD to deal with it in order for my day to feel good again.  Sometimes I got really ugly and looked something like this:

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Then I realized something:  I didn’t HAVE to.  The mess didn’t have to come before my happiness.  My happiness could come first.  I could choose it.  I could look at that bad mood brewing in me because the house was untidy and I could not let it take over.  I could sit down in the middle of the house and not do anything at all to change it.  I could accept things as they were, crumbs and all.

Maybe I’d even shrug at the mess and laugh a little, wiggle my shoulders and jostle my head.  I’d decide to hug my kids and read to them in a cluttered house.  I’d decide to joyfully make pancakes for breakfast even if last night’s dishes were still in the sink.  I’d let the mess be, especially if letting it be meant I was a happier and more present person, a more loving mom, a more relaxed wife.

Now when I clean, I do it because I want to, because I enjoy it.  I don’t clean in order to maintain cleanliness, I clean because I want to create a fresh page, an empty canvas–so the creative swirl can be begin again in whatever way it needs to.

I won’t sacrifice a happy environment for a clean one anymore.  It’s just not worth it.  It took a lot of practice, but I no longer have a domestic perfectionist in me trying to control things and resist mess.  Instead, I have something else.  I like to think of it as a domestic goddess.  Yes, that’s right.

A domestic goddess has a home that feels full and fun and loving.  She has kids that know they can be messy without being scolded.  Kids that play without feeling stifled by a mom who needs everything to be cleaned up on the spot.  Kids who don’t stop being creative because they fear how tense mom gets when things get out-of-order.  She tidies up without anger or blame.  She spends time with her partner at the end of the day, making catching up more important than cleaning up.

A domestic goddess has a wide and long view, one that extends beyond this mess, this day, this week.    She sees down the road—way, way down when the kids are grown and everything is different—and seeing that place way down there, she turns and looks back.

With that perspective, she sees this moment, this splatter or spill or stain.  She laughs at it and wipes it up.  Or she steps right over it, that bit of creative swirl, and kisses or tickles or hugs whoever it was that made it.  And in that moment, she finds a snippet of domestic bliss.  It’s a wonderful place to be.