It can be hard to celebrate your kid's birthday when you're out of town.
I know this because the twins just turned 8 while we were in Washington D.C.
Being so far from home all of our traditional birthday rituals went right out the window. This is particularly unfortunate because over the course of the past 11 years I've made such a big deal about making special birthday rituals for my kids (can you spell "compensating"?) but I had never put any thought into the importance of making those rituals portable.
I should have.
For each of my children's birthdays, I sneak out the night before to procure a large colorful mylar balloon. I then secure the floating celebratory wishes to a gift that's been purchased and hidden for more than a week. I then attach a card I've thoughtfully picked out and endorsed with an equally thoughtfully composed personal message.
The whole "thing" is then placed in front of said birthday child's bedroom door so that they wake up - WHAM! They're smacked in the face with birthday salutations and love. Nice, right? Yeah. I can be a good mom. Here is a picture from Isabel's 11th birthday - see how festive it looks?
Turns out this is really hard to do 2000 miles away from home.
First of all, there's the 75 lb suitcase to contend with. (My kids play a little game every time we travel. It's called "Guess how much Mommy's bag weighs." The winner gets the window seat). Of course, it's jam packed with the essentials. Everything I might need for an impromptu book signing: a professional grade hair dryer, 3 brushes, 20 outfits, 7 pairs of shoes, 5 pairs of pajamas, workout clothes (I would never use...but JUST in case), 3 pairs of boots, 5 purses/clutches, my entire collection of make-up and a huge bag of expensive shampoos, conditioners and hair products (...which would later be confiscated at the airport gate because my bag was too heavy and I had to quickly choose stuff to move into my carry-on bag because they wouldn't take my over-sized bag and I momentarily forgot the threat to national security posed by luxury hair products.
Obviously, I had no space for the twins' presents.
So the day of their birthday, while we were at lunch at Union Station in D.C., Izzy and I pretended to eat slowly so that my mom (who is with us on the trip) could take the twins on a walk through the station. Izzy and I slipped away to try to find cards and presents. We found a card store! GOLD! After finding a couple of cards we were lucky enough to find an ugly doll for Ben at a souvenier shop (insert whatever political joke you'd like...I'm too tired)" and a small sock monkey and fruity smelling nail polish for Livi at Claire's. I hid the stuff in my tote (yes, AFTER paying for it...).
So the night before their birthday we're in the hotel room when I realize I have no gift wrap and I still need balloons. I call the concierge. He tells me there is a place across town I could take a cab to to POSSIBLY buy balloons but it's late at night (my kids are on California time so they went to bed at 11pm) and they might not be open. Great. Sounds promising. Not.
So I call some other guy at the front desk and spelled out my plight. "Surely you have balloons SOMEWHERE, don't you?? You're a huge hotel (we stayed at the Hyatt Regency on Capital Hill)!" They sounded sympathetic. I was cheered. He promised to look around and call me back. He didn't.
So by 11:45pm I'm contemplating making origami balloons (I can do this, you know...) I run to the lobby and find some colorful reusable sacks in the gift shop (which was about to close) and some M&M encrusted chocolate pretzels that looked suspiciously mature.
So I unload my giftshop haul on the floor next to the bed. Livi was sharing a bed with me and was fast asleep. So in the dark - by the light of the bathroom (I cracked the door with the light on) - I wrapped the gifts, wrote the cards, assembled little birthday packages and hung them on the doorknobs of our rooms.
When the twins woke up they didn't even look around. They were just happy it was their birthday. We had to point out the birthday bundles hanging on the door "Livi! Ben! Look! There's something for you!" They were happy - but I was underwhelmed.
Instead of big balloons and the perfect gift. It was reusable sacks, gift shop souveniers and old pretzels.
We spent their birthday walking around a drizzly D.C.
We saw the White House...
We saw Kermit and Dorothy's Ruby Slippers at the Smithsonian:
and we stood in line in the rain for over an hour at Georgetown cupcakes (The place from the TLC show "DC Cupcakes" - totally worth it by the way...the lava fudge cupcake was INSANE!)
It wasn't the "perfect" birthday I imagined or had hoped for for them. Certainly not "perfect" the way I thought it ought to be, but it was, if nothing else, really memorable and very special.
Scott had balloons waiting for them when we got home to LA but they barely noticed. Their birthday was already a fond memory.
So I'm thinking...maybe, like Christmas, birthdays can come and go with or without all the bells and whistles. You don't need fancy parties, expensive gifts and the perfect store-bought cards.
You just need the people you love and something special to share.
And that, for sure, will fit in my suitcase.