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I’ve got birthdays on the brain. Mostly because some of my heart’s dearest people have birthdays peeking just around the corner at me and I want to celebrate them right so early preparation is a must.

In my head, I see visions of grandeur: elegant decorations designed to themed perfection…a party to end all parties:

Yet, too often, life happens and the perfect party does not. My desire to create birthday-love is born out of memories of my own childhood parties, hosted always in the backyard and focused around a theme of my choice. I believed this to be a common childhood memory: something to grin about and look back at hilarious pictures of red Kool-Aid smiles, ridiculous prizes, and happy, exhausted children. Yet, a few weeks ago I overheard a small-talk-office-conversation about birthdays becoming “so expensive to do right” that it seemed simpler just to skip right over a child’s first few birthdays (“since they won’t remember all that money I spent on them anyway”-said a mother) in order to “go all out” for them later. I know what they were referring to- they were talking about the birthdays I’m sure everyone has attended-complete with hired catering, expensive gifts, entertainment for children and parents alike, perhaps hosted at the increasingly popular children’s birthday playland-extravaganza where suddenly the planets are realigned to center around the grumpy little one who, they were right, doesn’t realize the over-the-top birthday bonanza created in their reluctant honor.

“I don’t really like this” 

 It was as if I had stepped into a scene from the movie “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” when Sarah Jessica Parker’s character is caught in the identity crisis of wanting to be a successful career woman while simultaneously also wanting to create the memories for her children that the other stay-at-home-perfect-moms seemed to be able to create.

While they brought homemade, culinary perfection to a school bake sale, Kate (Sarah Jessica Parker) remembers the sale too late after a business meeting to bake anything herself and instead squishes a store-bought pie into an oversized pie pan, covering her hideous good intentions with powdered sugar in a pathetic attempt to “do it all…well.”

In the movie, as in the conversation I overheard, showing love had become a competition. If you couldn’t be at home to create magic, buy it (for whatever the cost), and if you can’t buy it, skip it.

Yet, if you had listened to the women I overheard, there was something in their tone that made me incredibly sad: there was an absence of love. In all of their attempts to do everything they seemed to have forgotten why they were even trying so hard-because they loved someone. It’s easy to do. Sometimes, emotion is the easiest thing to throw out the window when stress, deadlines, needs, and personal ambitions all seem to compete for the number one spot on your priority list. So, how do you do it? If you want to do it all, and do it all well, how do you not end up first giving up on love?

A lesson from Mrs. Gigglebelly

Mrs. Gigglebelly Is Coming For Tea has always been one of my favorite books. Written by Donna Guthrie, it is, quite possibly, the cutest yet simplest story of a mother’s love for her daughter. In the book, “Elizabeth Ann” announces to her frazzled mom that “Mrs. Gigglebelly is coming for tea.”

Subtly alluded to throughout the story, it can be assumed of course, that Mrs. Gigglebelly is none other than Elizabeth’s mom in disguise. And today, Elizabeth’s mom obviously does NOT have time for that. Vainly, the mom tries to persuade her daughter that Mrs Gigglebelly is too busy, but Elizabeth doesn’t seem to get the hint and, confident in Mrs. Gigglebelly’s love for her, assumes she will somehow make it happen:

Despite all of Elizabeth’s mom’s obstacles, Elizabeth has an answer for everything. If she can’t have tea in the parlor, they will “have our tea outside in the rose arbor”:

And if her mother “can’t make tea or bake a cake,” then Elizabeth will “serve lemonade and crackers with grape jelly.” While Elizabeth innocently waits for her beloved Mrs. Gigglebelly, her mom continues about her busy day:

Finally, her mother stops, and, putting aside her to-do’s, she shows in the simplest way how much she loves Elizabeth.

Putting on a lampshade as a hat, a tablecloth and table-runner as a skirt and blouse, and a curtain tie as a scarf, her mom, disguised as the magical Mrs. Gigglebelly, arrives to share a moment with the enraptured Elizabeth Ann. When Elizabeth cries in delight, “I knew you’d come!” She simply replies, “of course, I always have time for tea with you.”

At the conclusion of the story, the book shows Elizabeth’s mom back at work, now with her costume pieces strewn back in their places, as the blissful Elizabeth walks through.

When her mother asks if Mrs. Gigglebelly stopped by, Elizabeth says happily, “of course, Mrs. Gigglebelly always has time for tea with me.”

Silly? Perhaps. Adorable? I think so. Elizabeth’s mom made her daughter’s imaginative play come to life and showed Elizabeth she could rely on the people who loved her. She didn’t spend hundreds of dollars creating a fancy party-she put a lampshade on her head. She didn’t throw a huge bash where family and friends could rate her love based upon the bill she paid-Elizabeth herself didn’t even know her magical friend was her own mother. All she did was spend a few moments loving and her daughter’s world was filled with joy.

In the film “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” Sarah Jessica Parker’s character comes to a similar conclusion: that, if she wanted to do it all, the only thing she should really want to do well is love her family and just spend a moment showing them how much-not with money, not with grand parties, not with hours and hours spent creating a pie, maybe just with your hair in a bun and the kitchen a mess.

Those parties I remember and love the most? They were simple, but made so magical by my parents putting their love into a backyard party.

I’m hoping to offer some ideas for some homemade birthday magic this week. They’re easy, inexpensive, and will make you be someone’s Mrs. Gigglebelly, promise.

-<3 A.