Several months ago, long before I was thinking about birthdays, M informed me that it wouldn't be fair if his brothers got a birthday party and he didn't, since they had one last year. I informed him that they could have one big party and invite as many kids as they wanted, as long as I could write "no gifts" on the invitation. Both his and C's jaws dropped...no gifts? Unheard of. (Despite the fact that C complains far more about the excess of toys than I do).
But I held firm, and eventually M came around to my way of thinking. He and I made up invitations, to which I added the line, "No gifts, please. We want to spend a fun day with you, but we have enough," and sent them around to somewhere between 20 and 30 kids. I felt nervous after I put it out there. Was I being weird? Pretentious? Mommy-Dearest-ish (remember that scene where she makes her daughter give all of her gifts to charity after her big birthday party). One of E and Z's friend's mom said, "You know everyone is going to bring gifts anyway," and I began to feel anxious that some people would bring gifts, some wouldn't, and it would all end up being awkward and weird. Or that in the middle of the party, my kids would go, "where are our presents???"
But, in the end, it worked out absolutely splendidly. First of all, about 26 kids (this number included a handful of younger siblings of the invitees) showed up, so gift opening (20-odd times three!) would have just added to the chaos. Several brought home-made cards. One friend made a mix-CD, another brought a McDonald's toy, with three guys in it, and another friend brought a bucket with some pots and seeds. Otherwise, people just came and had a great time.
It was a dreary, rainy day, not conducive to outdoor activities (although the 10-year-old crowd ran in and out, not minding getting soaked), so we brought down the boys' giant drawer of Lego's
In the sunroom, we had a scarf-painting activity, using Kool-Aid on silk scarves. For a while this ended up being the room where the girls retreated from all the noise and chaos of the boys, but eventually one or two boys joined in.
Two batches of cupcakes and a double-batch rhubarb cake, plus chips, pretzels and snack mix, and two cartons of ice cream was not nearly enough food for this crowd. They even ate snow peas and carrot sticks and resorted to sucking on frozen orange slices from the bottom of the punch bowl.
I estimated we had 43 people in our home, all-told (including babies and parents). We never have had a party that big (or that wild) before, even before kids. After everyone left, with a couple of friends staying behind, I mixed up margaritas, drinking down three myself in short order.
Too exhausted to cook, we ordered gas station pizza from down the road for dinner.
After dinner, the boys planted the seeds in the little pots that one friend had given. They truly enjoyed and appreciated this simple gift, and I thought to myself, "This is what abundance means." I have seen these same boys, after opening piles and piles of Christmas presents, toss something to the side and say, "I don't like that." They get so full of too much, they want more and more and better and better. I'm sure if they had opened a pile of gifts at the party, that seeds and pots and soil blocks would have lost out. I struggle to find that middle place between too much of everything, which ends up feeling like too much of nothing, and total deprivation--I certainly don't want my kids to be malnourished or even have to make their own toys out of garbage (of course, thankfully, we are a long, long way from deprivation). I think, for a moment, we found that place, and it is called abundance.