To begin this, I have to explain that Penny’s birthday is a bit muddled for me. My father died less than 24 hours before she was born, and every time I think I’ve fully reckoned with this happenstance, I’m surprised by how these two events continue to permeate my consciousness as mid-December rolls around each year.
My dad was young and healthy, until he was not, and his death came much too suddenly.
My daughter was a double rainbow baby, arriving after years of fear that my intent to start a family would not be fulfilled without an alternate, not yet fleshed out plan. She arrived two days late according to doctor’s estimates, but I had been anxiously waiting for so much longer.
Each year, I try to give myself time and space to be sad as the anniversary of my father’s death rolls around. Its proximity to Christmas makes things a bit heavier, as he loved the holiday and his revelry can never be fully replaced. The whole month could easily be a bit somber, if not for the fact that I have Penny to cherish and celebrate.
So we’ve always done a party, and this year, the most logical date seemed to be Saturday, December 14th. The day before her actual birthday. The day we lost my dad.
As a party planner, now that’s she’s older I’ve made a hard shift away from Pinterest/my design desires and towards simply listening to my kid and including her in all the planning and preparation. This part was super fun and did not disappoint. What happens when you let an almost 4 year old call the shots? You get walls that look like this. Yes, that is about six inches of crepe paper hung with some washi tape 😂
Penny’s desires this year were:
- An art party
- Inside our house
- School friends & Condo friends
- A chocolate cake with fruit on top (She’d eat the fruit, as she doesn’t even like cake)
- Lots of balloons in ALL the colors
- Gummies and M&Ms and Skittles
Everything sounded easy enough to accomplish. For the art activities, I reached out to the atelierista at Penny’s school and she introduced me to the goddess known as Meri Cherry. Penny’s school does awesome process-based art on the regular, so I knew I had to bring something special to engage kids that were used to art as experience rather than art aimed towards an end product. We settled on three art activities, all of which utilized recycled materials. Penny and I tested them all out before the big day.
1. Spin Art Rocks (Salad spinner + paint + rocks found around Singapore)
2. Rainsticks (Cardboard tubes + crepe paper + washi tape + dried oats)
3. Salt painting (Salt + glue + liquid watercolors)
We got helium balloons delivered in every color, and I trusted a friend to recommend a cake shop. It’s definitely not the same as a cake made by Grandma but it was delicious and checked all the boxes. Our guest list was a bit lean because of the school holidays. The last day of school was Thursday and by her Saturday fete, two thirds of the class was already on their way home for the holidays.
We expected eight classmates and a few dear condo friends, which felt plenty festive enough. But then one friend cancelled during the week. And another two the day before. Two more on the morning of the party. And one that afternoon. The reasons all made sense, the kind of urgent unavoidable detritus of life with young kids. Some bug was clearly going around the class. But by the fifth cancellation, something inside me severed.
All the emotions I had been trying not to feel about missing my dad and the cyclical dawning of the realization that we had uprooted Penny from all her family and friends and some repressed memories of feeling utterly lonely on my birthday shortly after the one time my family moved growing up brewed into this deep sadness marred with mom guilt. Thank goodness for the sanctuary of the shower. I texted all my biggest fears to a dear friend. I’m afraid nobody is going to show up and it will be like one of those clickbait sad posts on social media. Why did I take my kid away from everything and everyone she knew and loved?
Then I hopped in. I let myself bawl, watching the grief and fear and rawness circle down the drain. By the time I toweled off, I was seeing things more clearly.
As parents, we are often in danger of projecting our emotions onto our kids. Yes, I was sad – about my dad, about celebrating without those who had always been there every other year, about the guests I promised my daughter that I could no longer deliver. But, Penny’s four. Everything she needed to have a memorable day continued to be in play. She had zero use for my sadness – in fact it would be tough for her to understand it. My day might be hard, but her day wasn’t ruined at all.
The guests that did attend our party, which thankfully included two last minute yeses, got my effusive gratitude. When I expressed how much it meant that they were there with us during a hectic time of year, how their participation was what let me silence the voices that spoke up with each cancellation, insisting that we were crazy to move across the world and expect to instantly recreate a sense of community, they all got it. They’d done the same thing to their family at some point in time. We were all in this madness together.
Overall, it was a reminder that quality trumps quantity. The pint size of the party made the art projects easy to manage. It meant every kid got a few stabs at the pull apart piñata. It allowed me to talk with all adult guests. It encouraged the kids to stick around post cake, to spill into the rooms with toys and to just play with one another. Our home felt truly full for the first time since we relocated and my heart pulsed through its shattered places. While the people here in Singapore weren’t there in December of 2015 when my heart broke and then burst in the span of twenty four hours, they were still able to help me honor my amazing daughter and simply get through this tough day all the same.