Extending the Celebration (for Birthdays, Holidays) Beyond a Day or Two

I used to think that it was really important to get special days *right*.  I wanted Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to be perfect.  And birthdays, especially birthdays, needed to be *just so*.

What I’ve found is that you are likely to set yourself up for disappointment if you load up everything into one day.  Something is bound to go wrong, or at least go differently than planned.  Packages are late.  People must cancel plans.  Stuff happens.

Now we extend celebrating out over several days.  We have “birthday week” instead of celebrating on one day.  If a package is late, it doesn’t matter, because we are still celebrating when it arrives (usually).  Christmas is a two-week-long holiday.

We even ended up extending out Easter this year by two weeks.  We had rain on Easter, and then it rained for several days after.  This really put a damper on our Easter egg hunt, which we usually set up in the yard.  Then we were busy the following weekend, and before we knew it two weeks had passed and we still had eggs full of candy to hide.

Manly Guy put together a note from the Easter Bunny, explaining the tardiness of the egg hunt.  It was really cute!  Needless to say, the kids didn’t mind at all.  They happily looked for eggs on a sunny Monday afternoon, and it had been long enough since they had binged on candy that they were excited to do it again.

I’ll never claim to be mellow (it just isn’t in my nature), but I must admit that celebrations are more enjoyable now that there is less pressure to have the “perfect day”.


Manly Guy’s note to the kids (as the Easter Bunny)


Differences in Risk Tolerance Means Our Kids Don’t Play with the Neighbor Kids Very Much

Last week I had a really awkward interaction with a couple of the neighbor kids.  My youngest called to them, so they came into our back yard– and after the kids said “hello” I ended up telling the two boys that our kids couldn’t play outside anymore and bringing the girls inside.

Many of the kids in our neighborhood have parents who have a much higher risk tolerance than we do.  They are from a different culture (the parents are from Mexico), and clearly they are okay with letting their kids play in the street unsupervised.  The children, ranging in age from under 2 to maybe 7, are outside on their own nearly every day when the weather is good.  I rarely see the parents come outside.  I’ve seen a little girl, less than two, play on our street with only her five-year-old brother to accompany her.

I could never let my small children do that.  Let’s face it– I’m one of those paranoid parents who wants to mitigate as much risk as is reasonably possible without keeping my kids strapped in chairs.  I encourage lots of activities, but our kids are supervised all the time.  Yes, it was different when I was a kid (when packs of kids roamed neighborhoods on their own until dinner), but that really isn’t considered acceptable parenting these days.  At least not for most families that we know. As parents, we pick up the kids from school, fill in afternoons with a variety of after-school activities and we keep the kids very busy.  It is a lot of work to keep it all going.

Like so many of my generation, my parents were divorced, and my brother and I were latchkey kids.  We walked home from school, let ourselves in the house, and entertained ourselves until our mother got home from work.  We fought, we got into scrapes, we made messes that got us into trouble, but we also became pretty self-sufficient early on.  I do understand that it wasn’t all bad.

When we lived in India, it was common to see families at construction sites.  It was very normal to see a child (aged 5 or 6) carrying an infant or toddler sibling, caring for the younger sibling while both parents worked.  These construction sites had plenty of opportunity for injury (or worse), yet somehow most of those kids seemed to do okay in what I would consider unacceptable conditions for keeping children safe.  I can acknowledge that in many societies, children are given a lot more freedom than I am willing to give my kids.

And here is where the awkwardness comes in: I’m not willing to babysit the other kids on the street.  If I let them come into our back yard to play, they will do it everyday.  Our play structure and swings are a big draw.  Then I would be responsible for these kids every afternoon, and I’d feel compelled to bring out snacks, and we’d become the place where all the kids on our street hang out.  There could be liability issues if someone got hurt on the play structure.   But the biggest issue is my not wanting to take care of anyone else.  I have four kids, which feels like a lot, and I have no interest in being the caregiver for the neighborhood.

I know it sounds selfish.  I’m not proud to admit it.  But I have enough on my plate.  So I end up limiting our kids’ playtime with the neighbor kids to when my husband is in the front yard, working in the garden.  When he can supervise them, I’m happy to have our kids in the street, playing with the neighbor kids.  I’m happy to bring out snacks for everyone.  I’m just not willing to do it all the time.

Connecting with Other Families Can Be Tricky

In my early twenties, making friends was easy– I was very social and I collected friends willy nilly. If I ended up with a friend who was annoying or had a weird quirk, I laughed about it and it wasn’t a big deal.

In my thirties I chose new friends more carefully. While I maintained friendships with a wide range of characters,  I wanted people around me who shared my interests.

After marriage I was not only concerned with my own wants/needs, but I had to consider how new friends might interact with Manly Guy.  But it didn’t really get complicated until we had kids.

When your kids hit a certain age (5?), they seem to bond better with some kids than others, and they start having opinions about who they spend time with.  So now you have to take into account their preferences.  When you (and your family) meet a new family, a whole host of requirements must be met if you are going to really connect with them and spend time together on a regular basis.  Both you and your husband should like both parents.  You need to like their kids.  You want to like their parenting style.  Your family schedules need to mesh up easily. Kids’ ages, parents’ politics, school and work schedules, after-school activities, entertainment choices– all these (and more) effect how one family connects with another family.

And this week I add a new one to the mix: Do you have “trade”?  If one family asks the other family a favor (“Hey, can you pick up my kid and drop them off at X with your kid later?”), is there opportunity for a reciprocal favor later?  If several favors are asked of one family, and there is no “trade”, then it is a lopsided relationship that ultimately doesn’t work.

Since we changed schools in September, we have had many attempts to more-closely-connect with other families, and I’m amazed/amused at how difficult the process can be.  So many factors go into whether or not the relationship will work on a more-than-occasional contact level.  Turns out that it is a rare thing when two families can spend lots of time together easily!  That doesn’t mean that we aren’t friends with many of the families that we’ve met (I’d like to think that we are), it just means that it seems to be more difficult than ever to find close friends. As life gets more complicated, fitting new people in gets trickier than before.

Of course, this makes me appreciate old friends all the more . . .  friends that I share years of history with and who can laugh at how much we’ve changed.  It’s funny that you don’t need as much in common currently with an old friend, since you can draw on shared past experiences. But friends whom Manly Guy and I have known since before we were married, who have also gotten married and have had kids . . . that is a special category.  People who made the same leap of faith that marriage entails, who risked their sanity by breeding, these old friends have a special place in my heart.