Thursday, May 1, 2014

it's my party & I'll invite who I want to

Scout turned four this week. A couple years ago, I prepared these phenomenal raspberry-vanilla cupcakes. Check 'em out:

This year I decided to go really epic and buy a box of these:

Yep, that's right, Little Debbie Fancy Cakes. That was her birthday cake this year. Keepin' it real, folks.

My mom's birthday today is the eighth birthday in our family since January, and then we mostly get a break until September. Whoa-dang. That's a lot of birthday, and a lot of cake. I'm not eating any cake, so except for the part when Scout's hair recently caught on fire during the blowing-out of candles, I've had some time to sit back and observe birthday dynamics while other people eat cake and seemingly enjoy it. Also, sometimes cake ends up in our hair.

And I've thought about something significant (I didn't realize it at the time) one of my friends said when I hardly had a toe wading into the tumultuous waters of children's birthdays. Yes, I just used the words "tumultuous" and "birthday parties" in the same sentence. Because, WOW.

"Of all the things people told me to expect in parenthood," my friend said, "Nobody prepared me for birthday parties."

That was more than two years ago, and her words still ring in my ears. It's true. Nobody warned me, either. I could make quick work of this blog post and say, in sum, that when it comes to birthday parties nobody can get it exactly right. But I've never prided myself on being concise.

I have a few stark childhood memories of birthday parties. They're extreme, and I'm sure there's a balance between the two. One childhood friend had a party with more than fifty children present. It was loud. It was overwhelming. It was daunting and kind of terrifying.

I had another childhood friend who enjoyed many of the same extracurricular activities with me. We shared friends, we shared experiences...but when her birthday party rolled around, year after year, I was the only one in our circle not invited.

I didn't understand why. I couldn't understand why. I still remember that hurt.

There's a part of me that appreciates how my mother let me feel disappointed. She didn't try to 'fix' it. Disappointment is necessary. It's part of life. Whether it's a birthday party or watching our friends all share a season of life together that we're missing out on, disappointment happens. And while we're free to disagree on when that lesson is best learned, I think we can all agree it is necessary to teach our children how to handle and cope with disappointment. It's crucial we give them tools to handle disappointment with graciousness and bravery.

But it's also critical that we allow them to cry. Rejection sucks. And whatever the reason, whether it's legitimate or not, The Uninvited is a lonely place to be. Children's hearts are fragile. The message I don't want you here rings loud and clear and the scars can last a lifetime, making it all the more difficult to teach the necessity of disappointment.

photo credit: I have no idea who took this picture. sorry.

On the flip side, there was a great blog that floated around recently about what I want to teach my daughters - kindness. Its message was poignant, but as all good things are, it was a hard message, too. Kindness does not come easily. Kindness frequently comes sacrificially.

Yet another friend of mine had a guest list quandary awhile back when her daughter had a birthday party (or, at least, I thought it was a quandary). She was attempting to keep the guest list somewhat contained. There was one little girl my friend didn't really want to include on the list. There was a significant age difference, and the child's personality was like nails on a chalkboard. I personally thought it would've been simple enough to remove her from the guest list. I thought it was an easy decision. I asked my friend how she felt about my "disappointment is necessary" theory.

"Well - that's true, " my friend said. "But you know what? It's not my job to say Hey kid, today is your day to learn to be disappointed and hope the parent picks up the tab on that one and follows through with groundbreaking teaching. Why should I be the one to decide that? That's like telling God when and how to change somebody. I have no idea what else is going on in that little girl's life. I have no idea if she's already experienced rejection this week and can't handle crying about one more thing. And I'm not going to be the person to reject her today. Someone else can take that job. It's not going to be me. Not today. Inviting her to the party is easy. Rejecting her is not."

That blog post that floated around? About teaching our daughters to be kind? My friend had it pegged. Her daughter's kindness started with her own kindness. Within kindness is a sensitivity to someone else's pain. When you've got that, you've got true friendship.

I don't know where the balance is between inviting everybody we've ever met or inviting all but a few. I get that financial cost is something legitimate to consider in throwing a birthday party. I get that all-boys, all-girls, or gender inclusive is another factor. I get that everyone has siblings, older or younger, and what to do about them, and how much cake to make and party favors to prepare and floors to sweep up afterward?

I don't have an answer for any of that. Like I said, nobody gets it exactly right.
But just as the Team Ball game isn't about the game, the birthday party really isn't about the invitation list. There's a bigger deal going on here.

I'm not raising children. I'm raising grown-ups.

One of these days, my daughters will be adults. I want kindness to be a valuable and critical factor in how they make decisions.
This is a life skill at stake here. While a birthday party with a piƱata will one day be a distant memory, they will still be forming friendships and leading and serving as adults. I want them to have healthy friendships. And I want them to be kind. My friend knew that kindness was more important than what she spent on a birthday party and that pangs of rejection are more costly than an extra goodie bag. That she had an opportunity to build up or cut down. The message of You matter. You are welcome here lasts long after the cake crumbs are swept up and the balloons are all popped...and inviting, welcoming, and loving the outcast makes them beautiful. Love transforms the unlovable

And at the end of the day, if it doesn't expand, bloom, and grow - we're missing what we're teaching our children about friendship. We all know there's plenty of social media to really just put us in our place. If facebook hasn't made you feel like shit at least once because of obvious pictures of some gathering from which you were excluded...well, you're either not on facebook or you might actually be the one doing the excluding. The clique mentality isn't something that just happens, just as kindness isn't something that just happens. These things are caught. They're modeled. I'd thought during this birthday season that children's parties are precursors to adulthood; really, our children are taking cues from our adult friendships on how to treat their friends.

Yeah. Nobody warned me about all of this. Who knew birthday parties could be so complicated? They're just children, after all.

And that's the crux of it - They're just children, after all.

- not if, because it will happen - my girl is on the outside looking in, I won't want to brush that off. I want to get her a cherry slush at Sonic, let her cry, hug her closely, and make sure she knows she is valued. I want her to learn early to not place such a deep need in other people's acceptance of her that she misplaces what she believes about her true value and worth. But before I can teach that message, I want to soothe her heart - because it'll be then that she listens. I want to equip her with the empathy it will take to reach out when she knows someone else is feeling the same way - a skill which will in turn broaden her own relationships. Empathy does that.

If my girl is doing the inviting, I want those choices to be motivated by kindness. And I want to answer the inevitable: Does it mean we invite everyone? Not necessarily. Does it mean we are best friends with everybody and always have an open invitation for all the annoying people on every get-together we plan? No. But I want true kindness to be at the heart of why we invite - rather than looking for a reason to not-invite. I want her to have an understanding that she is communicating messages about value and worth. I want those messages to be true.

But more specifically, while I'm guiding my child through these choices, I want to pause while I make my own choices and make sure I'm teaching her, with the words that I live, what I really believe about relationships.

Relationships are sticky wickets. They're messy. And they're worth it. If you believe they're worth it, do something about it today. No relationship is perfect, but don't settle to leave a wedge or a splinter where it doesn't need to be. That's fodder for the one who comes to destroy. Find something in some relationship to repair.

Have you hurt someone? Apologize. Ask for forgiveness. And be sensitive to another's pain. Don't assume they're overreacting, but be open to the idea that hurt frequently builds on pre-existing hurt. Pain in the present is almost always about pain in the past.

Have you been left out? Let go of the hurt. Either be willing to go to someone and express that you've been hurt or let it go. Don't let your heart harden over a wounding, whether intentional or not. Understand that - like you - no one else gets it exactly right. Walk in forgiveness.

And if there's a conflict, by all means put your faith into practice and mend some fences. Give each other grace. This takes compassion and humility. It may mean realizing that you might actually be overreacting. It may mean hearing that you've deeply wounded another. Bear with one another. And that verse? The one that says, "Beloved, let us love."  It says it all. You are loved -- so love. That's our instruction. We love because he first loved us.  We do unto others - with the parallel form of this in the Mosaic law stating (paraphrased), Whatever is hurtful to you, do not do to any other person. We've got instructions on what to do as well as not-do. Kindness and consideration can't be understated. It's what we do because it's what we believe. He set the first example of kindness. We can only follow it because what he says about us - and others - and children is true. He wanted them. He invited them. "Let them come." I want to follow that example. I want to follow that kind of invitation. I want that open-ended kindness in my life. Not just in my children's birthday parties, but in all of my relationships.

It's kind of nice to have a birthday break until September. These soapboxes are hard on me. Plus, I don't even like cake anyway. And those candles are risky business where Scout's hair is concerned. 

PS. My friend, Kristin, blogs at 152 Insights to My Soul. She graciously agreed to let me link in this blog post to her recent post, Growing Friends. It spoke to me and I hope it is meaningful to you, too. 


  1. Beautiful and needed. Thanks for writing this, Corrie. Right now, I need to let go of some hurt over birthday parties and I hope if I've hurt anyone they can realize that none of us does get it right. Hopefully, we can all be a little kinder in the future.

    1. Thanks for your words, Tabitha. I think it's easy to get caught up in pointing fingers or justifying our own choices even at the expense of others. And even when a hurt is unintentional, assuming a person's worst motives is also dangerous ground to tread. We have no business entertaining either of those mindsets. Thankful for the Cross and the one who showed us how to lay down our life. Isn't that what it's really about, anyway? Hugs to you.

  2. I learn so much from you.

    1. That's why I'm the favorite. Right? :D

  3. So.Much.Good stuff here. And yes, kids' parties can be tumultuous. A few years ago Wild Man invited several friends to his big party (we only let them have one every few years) and none of them returned invitations. And they are all in his sunday school class (and they all go to the church's private school together) so he knew all about it. It was devastating for all of us. I really love what you say about kindness and reconciliation. Good stuff - thanks for sharing your thoughts. Miss you.

    1. Oooh man. That is hard stuff. Really, truly: watching our children be devastated is more painful, I think, than losing a limb without anesthesia. That's another thing you don't get hugely prepared for in parenthood, birthday parties aside. (Not the limb loss, I mean.)

      I miss you, too. Phone date soon.