My birthday is December 29. It’s smack in the middle of Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Making matters worse, I was the youngest of five kids. So every milestone was “been there, done that” in my family long before I came around. (My parents didn’t even help me decorate my first college dorm room. Which I only realized was weird when I saw every other parent tearfully doing it.)

I guess what I’m saying is: My birthday was pretty much always a disappointment. Even later as an adult, if people tried to make an effort for me, no one would show up to parties. I remember sobbing uncontrollably nine years ago on my birthday because friends and family mostly bailed on a dinner Geoff had thoughtfully planned. (Turned out, there was another reason for the extreme emotional reaction. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was pregnant with Eli.) 

When it comes to my kids, I always want their birthdays to feel like a big deal. 

But Eli’s birthday is September 7 and roughly half of his class also has a September birthday. Every fall, the parents groan about the stacked weekends of birthday parties, and every fall, at least one makes the case for doing a joint birthday. I have always resisted, because of my baggage. 

But as I wrote earlier this year, my baggage doesn’t have to be my kids’ baggage. So this year I gave Eli the choice. Eli is the Virgoiest Virgo who ever Virgo’d. He loves control and perfection and doesn’t tend to compromise his vision well. So I was stunned when he opted into the joint birthday party, even though the venue wouldn’t have been his first choice. (It helped that he was awarded decorating honors. We had four themes.) 

I guess you could say this birthday party was a growth moment for me and for Eli. 

And I have to tell you: It was amazing. I was all wrong about joint birthday parties! 

We held it at a bowling alley, and it was basically perfect. Because the parents and kids hadn’t been dragged to a thousand birthday parties all month, everyone came out and everyone was pumped. We’d been at the school late the night before for a wine-soaked annual parents’ event so the Bloody Marys and junk food were in FULL FORCE. 

We had so many families chipping in that we reserved an embarrassment of lanes—plenty of space for the kids and plenty of space for the adults. And because technically nine parents were hosting (my kids have a dad and an Apple Paul) there was no single parent running around, harried, doing everything and missing all the fun. It was so much fun for the adults that it could have been one of our birthday parties. And for the kids it must have felt opulent. They got to eat four cakes, have four goody bags, and have nine parents supplying quarters for the arcade afterwards. And the presents were in full abundance. It was so much fun that one parent joked (maybe?) that we should just hold a monthly birthday party for the kids in the class from now on. Rather than four birthday parties diminishing each kid’s day, it elevated all of them into an event. 

I’ve long said what I love about my kids’ school is how uncompetitive, un-judgy, un-mommy-war the parent community is. And this birthday party was a great example of that. People showed up slobby and recovering from the night before in some cases. There was no posturing, there were no homemade cakes, there was no showing off. What there was was genuine enthusiasm and excitement to spend the day bowling and eating nachos with our kids and our friends and our kids’ friends.

I feared Eli would feel less special if he had a joint birthday party. Instead I think we all felt a part of something greater.

Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:

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