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Birthday Planning Without Tears

Making a fun but straightforward birthday party.

I have many wonderful memories of birthday parties my parents made for me in my childhood. I remember party hats folded by my father out of computer paper, which my friends and I then decorated with crayons and markers. I remember cakes baked and decorated by my mother based on designs that I requested. It is very possible that my mother had never considered making some of these designs, such as a drum or a cat, before I requested them.

During the week or so before every birthday party, my mother, my sister, and I would sit around the dining room table coming up with lists of games we should play. My favorite as an older kid was a story game. Whoever went first — usually me, as the birthday girl – would write a sentence on a piece of paper. The paper would then be passed to the next person, who would write a sentence to follow the first and then fold down the first sentence. This would continue around the table for as long as the people around the table felt like playing, but everyone would write at least one sentence. At the end, we'd unfold the piece of paper and read the resulting story. Hilarity would ensue as the story took odd turns according to the whims of the people playing.

Muffin and Squeaker will be two on July 19th. This is a hard concept for me to wrap my mind around — wasn't it just yesterday that they were tiny bundles that we brought home from the hospital? And yet, their second birthday is just around the corner. And with birthdays comes parties, and with parties comes planning. But planning a second birthday party for Muffin and Squeaker came with a few hurdles. These hurdles can be summed up with the classic questions a news article should answer: who, what, where, when, and why.

The first hurdle we tackled was “when.” Our girls have a summer birthday, and in traditional Jewish circles, summers are difficult for planning celebrations. June is usually fine. But by the time you start looking at July, religious restrictions set in. There are two significant fast days in the summer, the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av . Between these two days is a period known as the Three Weeks, during which we schedule no celebrations. This year, the girls' birthday falls on the Seventeenth of Tammuz (and a Tuesday!), so we had to get creative when it came to choosing a date. At first, it would seem logical to hold their party on July 17, the Sunday just before their birthday. But since Michael's younger brother and his family are coming in from Oregon before the girls' birthday, we decided it was a good idea to schedule the party for this weekend, when their cousins could come. It’s over a week in advance, but it’s not like Muffin and Squeaker will notice. 

The second hurdle was “who” — the guest list. Last year for the girls' birthday we had an open house for people who know us and love Muffin and Squeaker. This consisted mostly of adults, because the girls had not made many same-age friends. The girls have since made some friends in their own age range, and they were invited to the party, but again our invitation list consists mostly of adults who love the girls.

So with who and when cleared up, and the where (our home) and the why (to celebrate Muffin and Squeaker) obvious, the remaining hurdle was "what." And the "what" of a birthday for two-year-olds can be complex or it can be easy. With me starting a new job the day before the girls' actual birthday, I knew that the amount of brain space I would have available for the party would be limited. So simplicity is key. To that end, the theme of the birthday party is...Muffin and Squeaker’s birthday, as simple as we can be. To accommodate both my family tradition and Michael's family tradition, we will have one chocolate cake (baked by my mother) and one ice cream cake (thank you, Carvel). We will have snacks and soft drinks and an environment in which the girls can enjoy meeting their cousins and playing with the other loved ones who will be joining us.

People have already started to ask us what the girls would like for their birthday. I always tell people that gifts are unnecessary. In truth, the girls' perfect gift would be a dog riding a bicycle and pushing a baby stroller, based on what excites them when we go out on walks. Seeing as that is unlikely, I send people to  and the for board books or to and for toys. (As Michael , the girls love, love, love books.)

On the day of the party, we'll take a lot of pictures, and we'll write descriptions of the party in Muffin and Squeaker's birthday books so that they'll have memories of their day. We'll celebrate them and the joy they bring to us and our friends and family, and we will do it all without overextending our budget or our sanity.

Muffin and Squeaker will celebrate their second birthday this upcoming Sunday, July 10, in Brookline. If you’re local and wish to stop by for some cake, get in touch for the where and when.

This week’s column is written by Nomi S. Burstein.

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