As of the stroke of midnight, we are two months away from Lily’s 4th birthday. She is chomping at the bit, I am excited about planning and Doug is looking forward to a cute little party while praying we don’t get too carried away. I come from a family of birthday people, where we make a big deal every year and sit around and comment on each gift as we open them all one by one. Birthdays are a big deal whether you are eight or 88, but there is a special kind of excitement in those single digit years.
The first year, of course, she had no opinion. She was just pleasantly surprised when she had new toys wrapped up in paper and completely ecstatic when we plopped a giant hunk of cake in front of her face.
The second year she had preferences, but at almost two her concept of time was not unlike that of an armadillo. I wanted to celebrate her love for Minnie Mouse and make it fun for me, too. She showed up for the party and, for the most part, she liked it. Always a bit eccentric, she hated opening gifts, but was totally on board for the cake.
The third birthday brought a little more of her involvement, but I was still making the big decisions. I knew I wanted a circus theme, so I spent lots of time playing up the circus we attended and crafting a party around the thing she had been trained to love. I spent the months leading up to these birthdays making one-of-a-kind invitations and decorations, having more fun planning the parties than an adult really deserves.
Four is different. Four is really different. I spent the latter part of the summer up to my old tricks, working on convincing my very strong-willed child that her favorite things just happened to match the things I had pinned on my Pinterest board. Some may call it manipulation and I am really okay with that. I had a great idea for a train birthday party after she fell in love with the trackless train ride at her end of school party. I had grand dreams of train whistle favors tied with pretty ribbon, a little bit tomboy with a touch of femininity, little sandwiches shaped like trains and birthday pictures on an old caboose. I even spent time in the hot Texas summer riding around with her on local trains and she loved them, but not enough to trump her idea of a dream birthday party.
My daughter, you see, has fallen madly in love with “Tangled”, the Disney movie telling the story of a very tough Rapunzel who knocks people out with a frying pan and swings through the air using her hair. What little girl wouldn’t love that? She wants a princess castle moonwalk, a tower cake and lots of friends there to help her celebrate. She also wants to release floating lanterns into the sky and, although I am reasonably sure my explanation of drought conditions and the danger of setting the town on fire are above her head, she seems to understand that the lantern release is not part of the plan. I think it’s going to be a great party and I guess it’s now time that I get on board with what Lily wants; it is her birthday, after all. I mean, I did the hard part of actually giving birth, but I have no 19-hour labor story to use for leverage. Easy C-sections don’t count.
Letting go of party planning is not easy for a control freak like me. Thinking about the control I will be relinquishing over the rest of her childhood and adolescence is even more overwhelming. I love being a mom and I love having things just so, but I have to remind myself that the object of this whole raising kids thing is to have a mature child who can leave the nest as a confident, independent adult. It’s a daunting task, but I will just keep relinquishing a little control at a time and setting the boundaries where they matter.
I can let her have a Tangled birthday party while drawing the line at releasing lanterns containing actual fire into the skies of drought-stricken Central Texas.
I can let her choose her clothing while teaching her it is entirely inappropriate to wear pajamas and cleats to church or school. Note: I do reserve the right to drop certain pieces of clothing off at Goodwill at 3 am if the teaching becomes too challenging.
I can let her choose her favorite flavors of juice at the store while teaching her that the artificially fruit-flavored drinks are a waste of calories.
I look back at the best memories of my childhood, and many of them involved my parents setting boundaries while allowing me to make decisions and feel independent and strong. Quite honestly, it was a lot like the invisible fence where the dog wears the special collar and won’t go past the invisible boundary while not fully understanding why. Then one day I did not need my special collar anymore. I knew the boundaries and I appreciated them. Sure, I forgot my training a few times and nearly was hit by a car or two, but the training was always there. I hope I can do the same for Lily.
And only after midnight can we jump from birthdays to control issues to the numerous ways humans are like dogs. You’re welcome.