Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The "Why" Behind Almengor Birthday Parties

As is indicative of Lawrence and my personality and not some moral mandate, nearly everything we do has been thought out, analyzed and has some more significant purpose than just "that's what we wanted to do." Birthday parties for our kids are no exception. This way of living life is not something I necessarily prescribe; it can be quite exhausting. Nevertheless, it's our way of life here in the Almengor home. So, I thought I would give a bit of explanation behind the seemingly "over the top" birthday party for my daughter recently.

When our 3.5 yr. old twin boys were about to turn one, the discussion of what to do about birthdays in our family arose. We had a tumultuous first year with our babies with many and varied health issues between my sons and myself. We relied on the support of many, many people to get through that first year with our boys. When their first birthday was approaching, it was a "no brainer" to me that we were going to have a big bash and invite many who significantly helped us through that first year. For me especially, it was no doubt a celebration not only of their lives, but also and primarily a celebration of God's amazing and sustaining grace to our family. In my mind, it was nothing short of a miracle that we all survived that first year. So, we celebrated in what I thought was a big way for 1 year olds.

Well, then the boys 2nd birthday was upon us and we needed to decide what our "M.O." was going to be in regards to how we did kids' birthdays in our family. I grew up only celebrating with immediate, sometimes extended family members for birthdays unless it was a 'special' birthday, like 10, 13 or 16. Those special birthdays we could invite friends as well. This is very much what I had in mind for our own kids. I was also influenced by a dear, older and wiser friend of mine, Sandy Browne, who had 6 children and a very specific plan for how to celebrate their birthdays. She expressly didn't want to have big birthday parties for a practical reason; she didn't want inundated with gifts. With 6 kids growing up at the time in a townhome, this was a very practical move on her part.

As one who avoids clutter to an extreme at times, I certainly appreciated Sandy's thinking and wanted to do likewise. However, my husband had something else in mind (as is so typical of our relationship). And, since he's the head of our home, he won! :) He wanted a birthday party every year for our kids with all their friends and family surrounding them, celebrating with them. The compromise was that I would expressly ask people not to bring gifts.

What might seem "over the top" to some regarding our kids' parties really has purpose behind it. One reason is that for whatever reason, parties is probably the one area of life where my creativity shines. I don't generally consider myself creative in the broad sense, but for whatever reason, my creativity emerges for party planning. I always pray about a theme, and once God gives me a theme, He often supplies a plethora of ideas to go with it. (The internet and the input of other creative friends helps significantly, too...I certainly am not going to take all the credit or even most!)

Another reason our parties might appear "over the top" is because Lawrence and I really want to bless our friends who have blessed us beyond measure or the ability to ever repay. Going to some length to make it enjoyable and a memory for their entire family is a part of our way to say, "thanks and we love you for loving us like you do". Here again, we have been influenced by some dear friends who we see go to great lengths when they extend hospitality, the Neumanns and Placks to be specific. There are others, but these two couples especially make people feel loved and cared for and special by the way they lavishly extend hospitality. We may not be able to do quite what they do with some of our financial limitations, but we do what we can and always with the aim of communicating to our friends, "you're worth the trouble".

Finally, we want our kids to know how much we love them and how much trouble we're willing to go to in order to create fun, memorable birthdays for them. We certainly cannot go to such trouble everyday, but we feel their birthdays are a great occasion to show them how much they're valued in very tangible ways.

Again, we certainly don't view the way we do our kids' birthdays as the only way to do them. Every year, I wrestle with whether or not I should go to such length. I am no different from most and struggle with mixed motives to impress rather than simply bless our friends. I struggle to show love and care to my kids in the days/weeks leading up the party as I seek to prepare for it. And, every year I evaluate with my husband whether I've grown in handling the stress of it all, and whether we should continue to do things the way "we've always done them". After this first birthday party for Bella, I think we're in agreement that we will not do this next year for her. Instead, we are going to celebrate all the kids' birthdays in the summer when my husband's work schedule is a bit more flexible and the weather allows for outside parties. :)

We are not trying to "keep up with the Jones's" (pardon the pun, Danielle...I could never keep up with you anyway!). We are simply seeking to express our love and care for our kids and our friends and demonstrate how grand our appreciation is to God who ultimately gave us the gift of children and sustains them from year to year. We see that alone as something worth celebrating!


FishMama said...

I hope that my earlier comment didn't make you self-conscious. I was just teasing you. I hope you knew that. I think it's great how you celebrate! I was very impressed by the creative theme ideas as well as the non-messy treats. Very wise, mama.

Believe me when I say "I love themed birthday parties!" My husband will testify that I have been known to really go at it.

nursemummy said...

What a wonderful way to show your love to your children, family, and friends. I figure enjoy partying with your children while they still think we are cool :)

Briana Almengor said...

Fishmama, No..I was not self-conscious about your comment at all. I know ya love me. :)
It wasn't really a defense for why I do what I do, just an explanation. Sometimes, it's good for me to write it out for myself to clarify things for my own sake. Then, I think sometimes I'm interested in why others do what they do. So, I thought maybe I'll give the few folks who read my blog a glimpse into the way we think over here at the Almengor's..that's all. Perhaps it'll inspire someone else or help another to think through why they do what they do.

Nursemummy: wise advice that is well noted. :)

dancebythelight said...

I was hoping you didn't feel the need to explain from my comment too. Glad to see you didn't. Anyway, I think your birthday party planning was awesome, and from the pictures could tell you put your heart into it.

I think it's great advice to evaluate how you do things, including birthdays. I know I evaluate such things more after reading Noel Piper's book on "Treasuring God in Our Traditions." But I haven't thought about birthdays to any extent, yet. Mainly, I face the boys birthday with extreme sadness and stress, unfortunately. I think, how are we to do one celebration to include all of our family for the first time since various parental separations? I stress out just thinking about it. Everything is so much more complicated now, even simple things like birthdays.

Anonymous said...

does this mean we can celebrate by the pool with your family this summer?

zo said...

Like you, I grew up having only family for most b'days except the big ones (10, 13, 16) and so those stand out to me. When my kids were young, all their freinds had parties every year and I think we did small ones for those more into parties(Ben always had a sports theme; go figure). I am feeling guilty that I didn't do more for Joel (he had one close friend over to play on the day, and grandparents and aunt a few days later) but not from your post. Just don't know how to say "don't bring gifts" and yet still have this young boy feel the joy of opening presents because he loves to do that (who doesn't?) I find it awkward not to take something to a b'day party but also know the "whoa!" on clutter (his toys, my clutter). THanks for posting this . I will reread it to help me evaluate how to honor all the family in my life.

Briana Almengor said...

I understand the dilemna w/ the gift thing...and truthfully, most don't listen to my "Please no gifts" on the invitation. Then, I face the dilemna of whether or not to have a gift opening portion to the party. If I do, the few who didn't bring a gift...will they be offended or feel badly that they didn't bring a gift? If I don't have a gift opening time, will the people who did bring a gift feel offended that we didn't take time during the party to acknowledge their gift? And, I've made a different decision each time it seems.

For the boys party last August, I did not have them open their gifts at the party. Instead, I took pictures of them opening and using people's gifts and then sent those pics. to them in a thank you note later. For Bella's recent party, we did have a gift opening time.

Our kids are young enough right now that they really don't anticipate the gifts yet...the boys are perhaps just getting to that stage. That may be more of an issue as they get older.

Sometimes, friends or family will ask if there's anything they are particularly wanting or we are wanting for them. I usually take that opportunity to re-iterate that I really mean it when I say no gifts are expected, but then knowing that it blesses others to give gifts, I also try to come up with a few things that they might get if they want to.

It's hard for me b/c I'm not a gift person, per's not that I don't like receiving them. I just probably don't get the same buzz out of it or have the same level or expectation to receive gifts/cards as others...and, that's probably more b/c I'm so neglectful in giving cards/gifts and want people to extend me grace. :) So, I NEVER expect it from others.'s an evolution. We have only made it to the 3rd year birthday party...I'm sure our philosophy and practice is likely to change as the years go on.

Jennifer Altrogge said...

Your post was helpful to me! As Charis has not yet hit the one-year mark, it is good for me to be thinking about these things. I hadn't thought it through, but what a good opportunity a birthday is to celebrate God's gift of life and show appreciation for those who serve along the way.