If you’ve followed me for more than two minutes, you’ll know that Christmas is a very Big Thing for me. As soon as November hits, I start thinking about, and shopping for, Christmas. For the sake of my husband, I don’t start decorating until December 1st, but believe me, my brain is already all Christmas, all the time (which makes it very difficult to concentrate on anything).
This year my brain has got a bit of a reindeer theme going on. I’ve ordered some matching reindeer PJs for the kids and myself:
And I’m planning to transform our car into a reindeer for our local Christmas parade:
So it made sense, at least to me, that I should include this whole reindeer motif in the kids’ advent calendar this Christmas too.
Last year my three biggest kids (i.e. the children who might actually remember the effort their mother put into making their December totally awesome) each had their own advent calendars, DIY’d by yours truly.
This is what I made my son. So much time, so much effort, so much money.
This year I thought, Nah f**k that, and promptly decided I’d do one shared calendar. I considered doing the Socks on a Line thing I put together in 2015:
This idea is so simple and cost effective that I’d actually recommend it to others.
But then someone shared with me their idea of wrapping books – some old, some new – and letting their children unwrap one each day from December 1st until Christmas. Genius, right?!
As my kids already own a whole bunch of Christmassy books and DVDs (yeah, I’ve decided to throw some screen time in for good measure), and because the Lucky Book Club catalogue is full of cheapo holiday stories right now, this has turned out to be a fairly inexpensive way to celebrate the countdown to Christmas. And, because we actually have fresh ink in our printer for a change, I figured I’d just search out some free reindeer-themed (gotta be reindeer themed) advent numbers. Well.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any reindeer advent calendar number printables.
Fortunately, I have the ability to make things myself.
Now this is something for which I can actually take the credit. Well done, me!
Truth be told, it took bloody forever to make these labels, and by the time I’d reached Day Eight I was ready to call it quits. But, as I’d already invested so much time, I persevered. And because I persevered, I decided I may as well take the extra time to add 24 Santa hats to 24 tiny reindeer faces just because finally reaching Day 24 is pretty much the best feeling in the world. Did you even notice I did that? Did ya?
Because I don’t want anyone else out there to waste as much time as I did making ridiculous Christmas labels, I figured I’d share the love by sharing the PDF. Yep. For nothing, nothing at all, you can get your mitts on my hard work, and pass it off as your own. Go on! It’s free! You can download it right here.
I feel like a real blogger would’ve already put together their advent calendar, perfectly photographing every step they took so they could inspire others with their brilliance. But I think we all know I’m not a real blogger. I designed the printables, and I printed the printables, but the actual advent calendar is not likely to exist for quite a few days yet. Most likely I’ll forget to even update my blog to show you how it turns out. Your best bet, if you’re interested, is just to ahead and subscribe to my YouTube channel. Vlogging seems to take less effort than blogging, and less effort makes me happy.
I thought it was our ninth, but no. It’s only been eight years. Only. It feels strange that I’ve chosen to use that word, because to me eight years is forever. I’ve never stuck at anything for this long.
Our anniversary was yesterday. It was up to me to organise something, but I couldn’t really be bothered organising something. Last year the husband spent a lot of time and energy searching for the perfect restaurant, and then when we got there the restaureteur accused me of being pregnant. Which I wasn’t. So that kind of sucked. Remembering that I thought, Screw it, we can just go out for burgers and bowling.
Burgers and bowling is us, really. The husband got to wear shorts and jandals; I got to wear overalls. We didn’t have to pretend we were anything or anyone we’re not. Frans and Fern, we’re not exactly high class.
In the end the bowling didn’t happen, because the place with the burgers (terrible burgers, what even) was hosting a quiz night. I very kindly let the husband answer pretty much all the questions; he very kindly let me drink over-priced beer. I did answer the question about The Bachelor though, because I’m actually a little bit obsessed with that show right now. God knows why.
Marriage is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I rushed into it, you see, young and full of some guy I hardly knew’s baby. The night I realised I had a baby on board I told him he was going to have to marry me. I didn’t mean it, but I meant it.
He proposed officially when I was big and fat and round. A jewellery box on my pillow. A hand written note. I was wearing pajama pants, but I guess he didn’t mind. I said yes. We planned a wedding. We said I do in front of many, many people. That’s just what you do. Or what we do. Did.
When times are tough between us I remember what I said, full of hormones and fear. You’ll have to marry me now.
And I wonder if I pushed him into this. I wonder why he stayed. I wonder if our life full of children is what either of us would have actually chosen, had we taken just a moment to stop and think before we jumped into our life together.
But the truth is I’d be lost without him. I doubt I’d ever have grown up. He is my opposite. My anchor. My conscience. He is the voice of reason when all my reason is gone. Sometimes I complain that he doesn’t talk enough, but the truth is I love being the one saying all the things. My voice can be strong, but it hates to compete.
I love our humble life. I love living within our means. I love the children we have created and the memories we have made, and I love how far we’ve come. I love that I have a husband. I love that my husband has me. And as if all that gushing isn’t enough, I love that we are we.
It should have been a bad day. I woke up with a headache, and a tense neck. The kids were being loud and messy (I’m talking exceptionally loud and messy), and my brain went, Let’s go shopping! But I couldn’t go shopping. All the shops were closed for Good Friday. Boo.
But not really.
For whatever reason I just got on with things. I scrubbed the kids’ bathroom from top to bottom, vacuumed the carpets, and made an enormous stack of banana, chocolate chip pancakes. The husband assembled bunk beds in the biggest kid’s bedroom. The children ran around outside. And all the doing prompted more doing. So in the afternoon I sat down and put together this video:
PLAY NZ is a group I started in the middle of winter last year. I wanted to connect with other Kiwi women who are active on YouTube. Struggling to find them, I figured I’d let them come to me – and that is what I did. Where would we be without Facebook groups?
A friend suggested I call the group Play, which I liked but didn’t love, until I realised I could turn it into the perfect acronym. PLAY. Parenting, Lifestyle and Appearance YouTubers. Oh shit yes.
As with most things in life, I’m kind of all over the place when it comes to PLAY. Some days (or weeks, or months) I’m like, PLAY is the best thing ever and I’m going to pour all my energy into it! That’s when I do things like set up entire websites, write YouTubey blog posts, and organise collaborations. Other times I feel like it’s all a big fat waste of time. Which is dumb, because my heart tells me it’s not. In fact, my heart reckons that PLAY could (and should) really be something.
This Easter I’ve banded 12 women together. We’ve each bought a collection of gifts and sent them off to be opened, on camera, by one of our fellow PLAY members. I have to admit, while it’s not easy pulling off a collaboration like this, I’m really happy that I can facilitate this sort of thing. A coming together of like-minded women, a celebration of life through gift-giving. It’s cool. It’s really cool. I’m proud of myself for making these collaborations happen.
One thing I struggle with is the feeling that I’m not doing enough. I’m constantly looking out for jobs and opportunities I can apply for or to, just so I can prove to everyone that I’m here, and I’m capable, and I’m worthy of recognition. And though I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, the feeling that I’m wasting away at home definitely is. I’m not wasting away. I’m not doing nothing. Sure, I’m not getting paid. But I’m still working. I’m challenging myself and teaching myself and extending myself every day. I am capable of so many things.
I’m looking forward to creating more trailers showcasing the work the women of PLAY and I have done. I’m excited to see where PLAY will take us in the future. And I’m proud to say that PLAY wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for me.
Good Friday: It’s a good day to remind yourself of the good things you do.
– Fern xxx
The PLAY NZ Easter collaboration won’t go live until 8:30pm on Easter Monday.
But I do have another Easter collab. up my sleeve for you:
I got in touch with my American friend Sarah to see if she’d like to share her gifts and plans for Easter this year, and she said yes!
This here’s my video – a link to Sarah’s will pop up at the end, so make sure you check that out too.
You know you’re moving up in the world when you start taking part in blogging collaborations…
This December I’m joining in with The 12 Days of Christmas, a blog collab. by 13 women who fit into the “Kiwi Mummy Bloggers” category (but please don’t call me a Mummy Blogger).
The 12 Days of Christmas: Day Six Santa Claus vs. Sinterklaas (and why my kids are visited by them both)
My kids are Kiwi Kids. There’s no denying it. They run around in barefeet, they eat Weetbix for breakfast, and they end a lot of their sentences with, “Eh, Mum?”
But my kids are also Dutch Kids. It’s not easy to spot, but it’s in them. Their dad was born in The Netherlands, they call their paternal grandparents Oma and Opa, and you can practically see their ears prick up everytime they hear the word, “Holland.”
I don’t feel like I’m doing enough to teach them about their roots, to be honest (not that I feel like it’s really my place to anyway – I’ve never even stepped foot outside of New Zealand). But I do try to talk about their heritage as and when I can. And so, when I learned a few years back about some old guy called Sinterklaas who brings presents to Dutch children in early December, I knew I had to adopt the tradition for my own kids.
Sinterklaas has made annual visits to our house since 2011. But who is he?
I referred to him in this (old and incredibly embarrassing) YouTube video as “the Dutch Santa”, but apparently that’s not quite right. A Dutch viewer left me the following comment:
It’s funny, Sinterklaas is not the Dutch Santa. Santa is the American Sinterklaas. When New York was still New Amsterdam, the Dutch people that lived there celebrated Sinterklaas in the US. Other people took over that holiday and over the years that turned into Santa Claus with his own story.
So then I felt bad, because it seemed people thought my description meant that Santa existed first and the Dutch people copied them. But then I thought, Actually, I’m going to keep saying that. Because it’s the easiest way to get non-Dutch people to understand what the hell you’re on about when you mention Sinterklaas. I mean, call me lazy, but if there’s an easy way to make people understand me, then I’m taking that path. You know?
Whoever came first (not that I should say whoever, because it was definitely Sinterklaas, I fact-checked), there’s no denying that Sinter and Santa have a lot in common. And feel free to call me crazy, but I just thought it’d be kind of fun to compare them. So here we go.
Santa Claus vs. Sinterklaas
Santa: A random old dude who lives in the North Pole year-round. Sinterklaas: An actual saint who lives in Spain, but travels to the Netherlands by steamboat in mid-November, where he stays until December 6 (his arrival is a big deal; his departure not so much).
Santa: Relies heavily on his special helpers, the elves. Sinterklaas: Relies heavily on his special helper, Zwarte Piet (AKA Black Pete, AKA The Guy I Don’t Mention To My Kids Because Black Face Is Never Okay)
Santa: Leaves gifts in children’s stockings on the eve of the 24th of December. Sinterklaas: May leave small treats in children’s shoes (or clogs) on any night from the time he arrives in the Netherlands, while bigger gifts are delivered on the eve of the 5th of December.
Santa: Rides in a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Sinterklaas: Rides a white horse named Amerigo.
Santa: Has a long white beard, a big, round belly, and wears a thick red suit with matching hat. Sinterklaas: Has a long white beard, an unremarkable belly, and wears a saintly red robe and an equally saintly red hat.
Santa: Does his own dirty work (i.e. he climbs down the chimneys himself). Sinterklaas: Employs others to do his dirty work (i.e. he sends Zwarte Piet down the chimneys – a lot of Dutch people will argue that this is what makes Black Pete black; I stand by my Black Face = Not Okay Ever stance).
Santa: Children leave him cookies and milk, and sometimes something tasty for his reindeer. Sinterklaas: Children leave his horse carrots and hay, and sometimes something tasty for the Saint himself.
Santa: Keeps track of whether children have been naughty or nice by writing their names in lists. Sinterklaas: Keeps track of whether children have been naughty or nice by writing their names in “The Book of Sinterklaas”.
Santa: If children are naughty he will leave a lump of coal in their stockings. Sinterklaas: If children are naughty he will tell Zwarte Piet to put them in a sack and take them back to Spain (OMG, that’s worse than the Black Face thing).
So why do my kids get both?
Like I mentioned at the start of this post, I just want my kids to grow up with at least some idea of what it means to be a Dutch kid. It’s highly likely that I’m getting it all wrong, or that I’m placing emphasis on the things that don’t really matter, but I’m all about making Christmas as fun and magical as possible. And if I can get away with doubling up on Santa just because I happened to marry a Dutchman, then hell yeah I’m gonna double up on Santa. Why wouldn’t you?
I do have to admit, however, that I’ve never made much of an effort to get them to believe in Sinterklaas. I actually reckon they’d all forget about him if I didn’t mention it. But my kids are so willing to believe in things, so ready to accept magic, so eager to receive presents, that I’m going to keep going with it: At the start of December they get a little something from Sinterklaas. At the end of December they get quite a few somethings from Santa Claus. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s an excuse to squeeze as much Christmas out of Christmas as possible.
Every year I wait for my kids to start questioning why they get Sinterklaas and Santa Claus; for them to figure out that there are just too many similarities between the two dudes for any of it to actually be real. But so far my kids haven’t expressed any doubt as to the existence of either of their Santas, and I’m happy to keep it that way. My eldest is eight and a half. There’s a good chance she’ll be a non-believer this time next year. I’m more than willing to allow her to hold onto the magic of Christmas while she can…
Last night, on the 5th of December, my kids made gingerbread for Sinterklaas, and left carrots in their shoes for Amerigo.
This morning, on St. Nicholas’ Day, they woke up to find someone had crept down the chimney to fill their footwear with surprises and treats. And just as they believe in magic, I believe that it’s moments like these that will stick with them forever. If nothing else, they’ll always be able to boast that they were the kids who were visited every year by not one, but two Santas. It doesn’t get much better than that.
– Fern xxx
Want to see all the Dutch Christmas magic unfold?
Tonight’s “Vlogmas” video is dedicated to Sinterklaasavond… It’s worth a watch!
Tomorrow’s 12 Days of Christmas blog post will go live at 12pm over at dorothynada.com
If you like the sound of Christmas in a Jar then make sure you head over to Dorothy Nada so you can read all about it.
I’ll also be sharing the link to that on my Facebook page, so why not go and give that a Like now?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a seamstress I am not. But, it’s Christmastime. And Christmastime makes me want to make things.Like advent calendars. Remember? I made three of them this year. Three. And because they actually turned out kinda, sorta okayish, I felt inspired to make more Christmassy things. And so: Stockings.
Usually we do santa sacks, but we’re having my brother-in-law and his family over for Christmas this year (I AM SO EXCITED), and their kids do stockings. It’s a good thing too, because to be honest we really don’t need Santa bringing sack loads of gifts for the kids. I have just dedicated 100 days of my life to decluttering and clearing sh*t out after all…
Because we don’t own enough stockings to go around (welcome to life with four kids), and because I already had Christmas fabric in my possession, and because I now feel like I shouldn’t buy things unnecessarily, I decided I’d try and sew my own stockings. We’re big on elves around here, so I went with an elfy sort of theme. I mean, who would want a boot shaped stocking when you could have an elf shoe shaped stocking, right?
If you watch the video you’ll see what I came up with, and how you can have a go at making something similar yourself. If you’d rather just get the gist of what I’m going on about, then there’s no need to watch. Just look at that thumbnail. That’s all you need to see.
What Santa traditions do you have in your house? Do you hang stockings, or put out sacks? Do you leave the old man snacks? I wanna hear about it in the comments section, okay? Because Christmas is more than just one day…
I like to pretend that I am really good at arts and crafts, but the truth is I’m really not. I’m not particularly patient, and I very rarely manage to get anything I make to end up looking like the creation I had envisioned. But, because I love Christmas so much, I usually end up giving crafty things a go at this time of year. It doesn’t always end well, but when it comes to advent calendars, it does. It really, really does.
Last year I left the whole advent calendar thing until kind of the last minute. That meant I needed to come up with an idea that was super quick, super easy, and super shareable, because who wants to make three different advent calendars only a couple of days out from December 1st?
In the end I decided I’d give the old Socks on a String idea a go. I’m pretty sure I spotted it on Pinterest originally. But I made it my own…
The video quality isn’t the best, after all I’d only just started YouTubing and I was filming everything on my very crappy iPhone. But hey, the content is still acceptable. I think…
The kids loved it. I loved it. Everyone was happy. And we probably would have been happy with the exact same sort of advent calendar again this year. But…
I had this amazing idea after spotting a Christmas wreath inspired advent calendar on Pinterest. What if, I thought, I make a train-themed Christmas wreath inspired advent calendar, using Mr. Three’s Thomas tracks joined together in a circle?
For some reason I am the sort of person who can’t think about anything else after she gets an idea like that. The next thing I knew I was obsessing over Thomas the Tank Engine wrapping paper, and phoning pretty much every shop in town to ask whether or not they stocked it. They all said no, but (to cut a long story short) Kmart was lying. So I bought Thomas the Tank Engine wrapping paper (from Kmart). And then, after a bit of trial and error, I put together a truly impressive advent calendar, using old cardboard rolls, paper, string, and a couple of corkboards. Genius!
It’s not the shortest tutorial video ever, but it’s easy to follow and you’re encouraged to do things your way. It’s kind of fun, I reckon.
So then I had an enormous DIY advent calendar for one of my four children, and nothing for the other three. Hmm. Well, the baby isn’t even quite one and a half yet, so I’ll just cross him off the advent list for this year. But the older two? Miss Eight and Miss Six? Yeah there’s no way in hell I could get away with not making them an advent calendar each. So I went back to Pinterest, and I pinned a few bits and pieces, and then I came up with a plan.
For Miss Eight I created a Shopkins advent Christmas tree. It was so easy! I bought a tree for $5 (guess where I got it from), and then, after hiding a wee Shopkins surprise inside each one, I wrapped 24 cardboard rolls in pink paper with white spots, carefully taping a loop of string to the roll first. After whacking a number on the front of each parcel, I hung them on the tree. And then, because I am clever, I wrapped an extra roll in the same paper, and taped a Shopkins sign to it. Ta da! Done!
So that left one child needing an advent calendar. I just had to come up with one more idea…
Turns out I had an old, square frame just hanging out in the garage. I’d been planning on donating it, but the glass broke under the weight of all the other donations so I’d been forced to bring it back home from the charity shop with me. At the time I was annoyed, but suddenly the smashed glass was practically the best thing that had ever happened to me.
I took the frame and filled it with a piece of thick, gift wrapped cardboard. Then I took 24 more cardboard rolls (smaller ones this time), wrapped them in the paper too, and hot-glued them to the board. After tucking more Shopkins surprises inside, I glued square sheets of wrapping paper to the top of the rolls, and popped a loom band over each one to hold the paper down, like a cute little jar of jam. Once they were all numbered, and I’d added some themesy fun to the frame, my masterpiece was complete.
Miss Six reckons it looks like an advent calendar you could buy at a shop. High praise, indeed!
So the moral of this story is that even if you are handicraftily challenged, you too can make your own advent calendar that actually looks kinda, sorta coolish. You too can post photos of your creations on Instagram and have your friends leave you comments that include the hashtag winningatparenting. You too can live The Fern Life.
It’s really fun, I promise*.
– Fern xxx
*I can’t actually promise that, because to be honest I didn’t have that much fun making these advent calendars. But it was fun enough. And also it gave me an excuse to think about Christmas even more than I already have been. So you know, we all win in the end.
Let me know if you want more detailed instructions for how to make either (or both) of the Shopkins themed advent calendars!
Before I started this blog, I entertained the idea of dishing out advice in every post. I figured that I’ve learned quite a bit over the years, and that my experiences (raising both girls and boys, going through planned and unplanned pregnancies, giving birth at home and in hospital, and testing out a number of both old school text book and attachment parenting practices) qualified me to tell other people what to do. Thankfully, I quickly realised that I have no desire to preach to anyone, that I’d rather share my own authentic experiences and let people judge me accordingly. And so this blog was created: a collection of posts in which I have openly admitted that I’m a pretty sucky mother at times, and that some days I’d rather not get out of bed. The truth will set you free, right?
Today’s post, however, is going to be slightly different, because I’m pretty confident I am a genius. Okay, maybe not a full blown genius, but definitely a mum genius. You see, despite my Debbie Downer, party-pooper tendencies, I threw my kid a party on Friday. You might be thinking I’m crazy (I did only just blog about my decision to not throw parties for my kids anymore), but it was all very spontaneous, very cheap, and very, very easy. So I basically feel like I owe it to the world to share how I managed to pull it off. You can thank me in the comments section…
How I threw a stress-free birthday party for less than $20:
* I literally decided to go ahead with the party a couple of days before it took place. This meant I didn’t have weeks (or months) to think about it and get myself all worked up. I kept my cool. I did not emotionally invest in the event, and I did not bother hyping the kids up about it. This worked in my favour, as low expectations meant the kids had more fun than they’d anticipated.
* I invited only two guests. If you have multiple children, you definitely don’t need to invite a whole gang of friends to make a party. Adding two extras to the mix took our kiddie count up to six, which felt busy and exciting, but was super easy to manage.
* I threw an after-school party. This meant that instead of feeding the guests an entire meal (have you noticed that kids eat bugger all at parties anyway?), I only had to provide a few snacks. It also meant I didn’t have to deal with parents coming in and out, dropping kids off and wanting to hang around, because I picked all the kids up from school myself. Easy peasy.
* I did not set a theme. You know what sucks up a lot of time and money? Themes. I mean, aren’t birthday parties automatically themed anyway? Is “Birthday” not a theme? You don’t see people throwing Super Hero Christmas parties, right? Birthday parties needn’t be any different.
* I did not make the cake. Why spend hours baking and decorating when you can get cheapo cupcakes from the supermarket bakery. I got a six pack of red velvet cupcakes for $3 and shoved a Birthday Girl candle in one of them. Voila! Birthday cake!
* I used what I had on hand. The tablecloth was an old sheet. The balloons and banners and plates were leftover birthday junk I found tucked away in a cupboard. Had I not had them, I would’ve just used regular dinner plates, and I may have created a handmade birthday sign. Though I probably wouldn’t have. We’ve got a lightbox, after all.
* I kept it all very 1990s. The kids came in from school, sat at the table, ate some food, sang Happy Birthday, and then moved onto the games. They played pass the parcel (there was one prize only, and I did not rig it so the birthday girl won – welcome to the real world, kids), pin the tail on the donkey (I had a felt version of the game that I found at Kmart two years ago for less than $4), and musical cushions. The prizes for the latter games were sheets of stickers and mini chocolates that I already had lying around. No money spent. Yes!
* When the games were over I left the kids to it. Half of them wanted to keep dancing to the soundtrack I’d put together for them (which took all of two minutes to compile – thanks YouTube for your “create playlist” feature), the other half wanted to go and play. So they did that and I cleaned up the kitchen – not that there was much of a mess because all the food came straight out of a packet…
All up I spent a total of maybe $19. I bought the $3 cupcakes, and spent $3 on the pass the parcel prize. The rest of the afternoon tea cost me around $12, and that included fruit juice, a bag of potato chips, a family-size bag of lollies, a packet of chocolate biscuits, and a snack pack of plain cookies (which I gave to the kids to enjoy later on, rather than sending them home with goodie bags packed full of crappy, plastic toys). I actually could’ve fed at least two extra kids too – there was still heaps of food leftover.
I’m not here to tell you how to live your life, but I am here to assure you that parties don’t have to cost hundreds of dollars. They don’t have to be themed. They do not require bouncy castles, professional face painters, and a stash of gifts to hand out to every child who showed up. The year is 2016, and I successfully pulled off a birthday party for less than $20. I’m more than a little proud of myself for that. Let me know if you’re going to do the same!
– Fern xxx
Oh and in case you’re interested, I shared the story of how my daughter came into the world over on my YouTube channel. It’s full of drama (the exact opposite of what birth should be), but light on graphic detail, so unless you find birth stories triggering, you should be fine to watch it…
I have this friend who likes to remind me that when we first met I was talking about my plans for my daughter’s first birthday party. Not really something worth remembering right? Well, here’s a little context for you: At the time my baby was eight months old. She’d only just learned to crawl. And there I was, four months before her birthday, preparing to throw her the biggest party possible, complete with rainbow theme and out-of-town guests (because obviously nothing could be more important than the anniversary of my child’s birth). Wow. Was that really me? I mean, yeah, I do enjoy event planning, and I was a first-time mother, but all that time and expense on a day that my kid doesn’t even remember? All that stress, and mess, and time spent in the kitchen when I could have been paying attention to my baby? Hindsight tells me it really wasn’t worth it.
I suppose you could call me a bit of a party pooper these days. I can’t help but groan when my kids come home from school with yet another invitation to yet another party (and don’t get me started on the parents who fail to respond when you text them to RSVP). I’ve become so sick of the neverending birthday celebrations that I’ve even lost interest when it comes to throwing parties for my own children. The mother I was eight years ago would be shocked to hear that I haven’t made any plans at all to mark my fourth and final baby’s fast approaching first birthday. Sure, there are a couple of presents tucked away in my secret gift cupboard, but that’s only because I stock up on books and toys whenever I see a really good sale. Right now I’m not even sure I can be bothered making him a cake. Is that wrong?
My lack of enthusiasm when it comes to birthday celebrations has a lot to do with the fact that I’m low on time and energy now that I’ve got children coming out my ears. But for the most part I just feel like kids’ birthday celebrations are getting out of hand. Surely the 200-odd dollars (and trust me, that’s an extremely modest estimate) it costs to put together a party would be better spent elsewhere? Do kids really care about matching napkins, paper plates, and party hats? Are the goodie bags stuffed to the brim with plastic toys and whistles really necessary? I don’t know about you, but I’d be thrilled if my children returned from a party empty handed for once. Parents of birthday kids, please stop punishing me by handing out hooters to my kids. Please.
Before I made my transition from Party Mum to Debbie Downer, I did allow my children to have small, “affordable” parties. When my eldest daughter turned six (yes, the first-born has had the most parties by far, deal with it, subsequent children) she invited three friends over for cake and a couple of games. Only two kids showed up, which suited me, but for the amount of effort it took to get everything organised I may as well have invited her entire class. I baked and decorated a butterfly cake, inflated balloons, organised games (which included wrapping a small gift in approximately 500 layers of newspaper, and hiding around a million lollipops in the front yard), and shopped for and prepared party food (most of which the kids refused to eat because apparently fairy bread and sausage rolls are yucky). Clearly, when it comes to parties, you either need to go big or go home, and I’m quite comfortable here with my slippers and steaming cup of instant coffee, thank you very much.
I know it’s incredibly annoying when old people start wagging their fingers and talking about the way things used to be, but back when I was a kid the parties I attended were simple, understated, and awesome. There were no piñatas, no themes, and games were played for the fun of it, not for prizes. Goodie bags were a rare occurrence, but that didn’t matter because coming home with a giant piece of cake wrapped in a paper napkin was the best thing ever. Decorations were minimal, a few balloons were all it took to set the mood, and plates of party food were plonked on the table haphazardly, without a thought for whether or not the styling was on trend. Not once did I come home from a party feeling like it hadn’t been enough. It always was. Kids plus cake plus running around like wild things equalled ridiculous amounts of fun. Have kids evolved so much that a typical early-90s party is now lame? Or is it just that we, as parents, have taken things a bit too far? The fact that my children often come home from school reciting the same rhymes and jokes I enjoyed as a kid suggests the latter is probably more accurate. Pinterest has a lot to answer for.
A big part of being a parent is feeling like you want to give your kids more than what you had. I’m always thinking back to my own childhood and telling myself, Oh, I would’ve loved that, I’m going to make sure my kids get it.
I can’t help but wonder if that’s why parties are becoming bigger and bigger as time goes on. Even though I enjoyed the parties I had as a kid, I do find myself looking at the decorations and party loot available these days and wondering what eight-year-old-me would’ve thought of it all. Would I have pined after it? Yes. Does that make me feel compelled to splash out on it for my kids? Yes. Does that mean I have to? Well, no actually. It does not.
No matter how old we are, or where we’re at in life, I feel like everyone is always wanting more. And when it comes down to it, that’s just a part of life. We can’t have everything we want. We probably wouldn’t be any happier if we got everything we wanted. And I really don’t think my kids are going to be less happy because I’m not inviting 30 of their closest friends to a Disney Princess sleepover extravaganza (though now I’ve invented it I totally think that sounds like an amazing party). Knowing my children would love something doesn’t mean I have to make sure it happens for them. How many parents can actually give their kids everything their hearts desire anyway?
What I’m getting at here is that no parent should feel like they have to throw their kids a big party every year. If you’re reading this post and thinking, But I love planning birthday parties for my children, then that’s great. If you enjoy the process and are happy to spend the time, effort and money a themed birthday celebration requires, then I salute you. You are awesome. Your kids are going to be the coolest and most popular people at school, while children like mine will wish their mother was a bit lot more like you.
If, however, you’re like me and you’d rather just do away with parties altogether, then that’s fine too. Your children do not need a lavish party to have a happy birthday. Throwing them a big birthday bash will not make them feel any more loved. Spending hundreds of dollars on entertaining a house-full of kids is not mandatory. Wrap up a gift, chuck some candles on a cake, and tell your kid you love them. That’s party enough, in my books.
– Fern xxx
I’m not a total grinch when it comes to birthdays. These videos prove it!
How do you celebrate birthdays in your house? Are you a Party Planner or a Party Pooper? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments section below.
I went away over the weekend. To mark my best friend’s 30th birthday, I packed myself up and headed out of town. Alone. It was the first time I’d ever left the baby for more than just a few hours, and I was nervous. I’d expressed four full bottles of milk for him, but still found myself reminding the husband (more than once) to just give him as much food as he possibly could. I couldn’t bear the thought of my baby boy going hungry.
Because I was worried my youngest son would miss me too much, I opted not to stay overnight. Instead, I’d planned to cram over six hours of driving into a single day. I’d have to leave first thing in the morning, and I wouldn’t be home again until late that night, but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make for the good of my youngest child.
The morning passed quickly, with barely a moment to think about whether or not the baby was okay. I was in a hurry to reach my destination, and by the time I finally arrived I got all caught up in birthday wishes, introductions, and gift opening. The next thing I knew we were rushing off to the first event of the day. It all felt so busy that I almost forgot I was missing something someone.
We spent a good chunk of our day at The Chateau in Tongariro, where 10 wonderful women gathered for high tea. Everyone was interested to hear about my recent switch to the sugar-free life (have I even blogged about that yet?), and the attention and praise I received for eating only the sandwiches, along with good conversation and great company, were the perfect distraction. I barely noticed my empty arms and full breasts (probably because my cheeks were sore from smiling too much).
It wasn’t until the afternoon that I started to feel strange. We’d returned to the Birthday Girl’s house to have our nails painted, and suddenly I was almost the only woman who didn’t have her children with her. There were four other babies in the room, crawling and cooing and crying, all of whom were sweet, but none of whom were mine. When I looked over and saw one of the mothers nursing her son, my breasts leapt into action, leaking milk into the thick lining of my bra. I kind of want to come home now, I text my husband. You can, he replied.
But I couldn’t. My nails were bare. And we hadn’t cut the cake. And I still had a three hour drive ahead of me anyway.
Thankfully, the desperation to get back to my baby as soon as humanly possible faded away as the afternoon unfolded. I had a glass of bubbles (high in sugar, no doubt, but come on!) and selected a mint green colour for my mani/pedi. One of the women, Tineke, modeled a bunch of gorgeous clothing for us (she recently launched Tin Kup, a Facebook-based business), so naturally I got caught up in that, and ended up purchasing a beautiful white shirt with a black bird print. Turns out a bit of pampering, a touch of retail therapy, and a smidge of alcohol is all I need to forget my problems. Ha!
It had been a wonderful day, but by five o’clock I was done. If I leave now, I thought, the baby will still be up when I get back and I’ll be able to feed him to sleep. Perfect.
I said my goodbyes, accidentally neglecting more than a couple of people I really should have spoken to before rushing off, and got into my car. I was determined to make it a quick trip home. I would concentrate as hard as I could so that I could stick to the speed limit and make really good time. I wouldn’t take a single rest stop. Even if I needed to pee. Even if I really, really needed to pee. I just had to get back to my baby.
My plan worked. Two hours and 10 minutes later I was pulling into the driveway. My driveway. I raced up the steps to the house, listening out for a crying baby. The lights were on, but I couldn’t hear a sound. Strange. I pushed the door open, waited for the loud shuffling of my son’s hands and knees scooting across the carpet, but again I was met with silence. What? I found my husband on the couch. Lying on the couch, to be exact, with a book in his hands.
“In bed. Asleep. I put him down at seven.”
As it turns out, the baby didn’t need me at all. There had been absolutely no reason to rush home. There were still two bottles of my milk in the freezer, and he’d fallen into such a deep sleep when he was put to bed – an entire hour earlier than usual, might I add – that I ended up waking him at four in the morning, just so I could relieve myself. My boobs were killing me! My son, 10 months old, hadn’t even slightly missed me. If anything, he’d been better off without me. He’d played. He’d napped. He’d taken his bottles without a fuss. And, according to my husband, he’d barely cried all day. Why isn’t it like that when I’m the one at home with him? What am I doing wrong?
It sounds ridiculous, but at first I was upset that the family had done so well in my absence. If I’m not needed, then why am I here? Sacrificing myself day after day for the good of the kids, staying home instead of getting started on my career or building new friendships… Is anyone even benefitting from my efforts? But, as I gave it more consideration, I decided that my son’s confidence and general contentment, even when I’m not around, is a sign that I am doing the right thing. He feels happy and secure because I have been with him. My presence has taught him that there will always be someone there for him, to keep him safe and happy, warm and fed. And while for the most part that someone has been – and will be – me, he obviously understands that there are other people out there who are willing to be there for him too. Even better, now I know he knows that, and that means that next time, I won’t be in such a rush to get back. As I just saw posted on Tumblr, worrying will never change the outcome anyway.
– Fern xxx
If you want to get an even better idea of how I spent my Saturday, you can watch it all unfold in this vlog…
It’s Saturday. The Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday to be exact. Being a special occasion, I thought I’d better put my Pinterest Mum hat on and organise some sort of holiday-themed activity for the kids…
I settled on egg painting. There were eight free-rangers sitting in the fridge just waiting to be used, and the gel food colouring was still close at hand thanks to the Big Boy’s birthday. I know, I thought. I can blog about this. I’ll take photos and write a post explaining how we did it and how much fun we all had. Genius!
However, because I set out to blog about my life as a mum authentically, I will not be giving out step-by-step instructions. Nor will I be raving about what a wonderful experience it was, and how my kids had the time of their lives. I’m not one of those Pinterest-esque bloggers. I’m here to tell it like it is.
The problem with craft activities for children is that prep takes at least 15 minutes, and the clean up takes even longer. This would be fine if the activity lasted more than five minutes, but how often does that happen? I spent a good half-hour boiling and then cooling eggs, sourcing paint brushes, and organising edible paints this morning. Compared to the ten seconds it took my kids to smear paint all over the tabletheir clothestheir hands their eggs and announce that their work was done, that’s practically a lifetime. And don’t even ask how long it took me to clear everything away again!
It wasn’t just the duration of the activity that got to me either. I hate to admit it, but I found the whole thing incredibly stressful. I wanted the painted eggs to look good. I didn’t want anyone to make a mess. And I definitely didn’t want my expensive food colouring to be ruined. So when all three children failed to rinse their brushes properly between colours, I kinda, sorta lost my cool. Shame on me. The poor kids had no chance of actually enjoying themselves with Grumpy Mum standing over them.
If I were to attempt egg painting with my kids again (and let’s face it, I’m dumb enough to have another go next Easter), I’d take a slightly different approach. For starters, I’d set everything up outside. The children would be dressed in already-stained clothes, and we’d have a ratio of one paintbrush to one colour pot. I’d stock up beforehand so there were enough eggs for everyone to decorate four or five each (two per person just wasn’t enough). And, most importantly, I’d go into the activity without any expectations. The kids want to mix all the colours and end up with a boiled egg that resembles a turd? Fine. They want to dab on a couple of colours and then go and find something else to do? No worries at all. They have so much fun painting their eggs that they want to paint themselves too? Perfect. Just remind me a year from now that kids’ crafts are about the process, not the end result, and we’ll be set.