For birthday celebrations, starting around first grade, we have offered our kids a choice between having a birthday party or a Heart’s Desire Day for which they design the day and select everything we do. I didn’t coin the phrase Heart’s Desire Day, it’s my neighbor’s term, but we’ve been using it for six years now and it’s become a part of our family vocabulary.
I have my pros and cons for both kinds of birthday celebrations. We’ve thrown some fun, home-grown birthday parties over the years: we had the DeCesare Zoo with a giraffe cake, a foam core cage and animal stand-ups for kids to take pictures as a monkey or zebra. One Mom even RSVPed and said, “I’m sorry, can you tell me where the DeCesare Zoo is? I don’t know that zoo.” Yup, that’s our house.
Rockets, princesses, smiley faces, Ariel, bugs and luaus have all had their run at a birthday party themes at our house but one of my favorites was the one my son invented for his third birthday, the Blue Party. Everything, including the cake inside and out, was blue. Blue pinata with blue candies and my clever husband built wooden cars for all the boys which they decorated with all things blue and raced them down a ramp in our foyer (January birthday) with all the boys dressed in blue.
I love working with a theme and coming up with creative activities that all fit together, but I also love to not plan a shindig, especially as the kids have gotten older and life is exponentially busier.
Over the past years, I’ve done a secret fist pump when they chose a Heart’s Desire Day instead of a more traditional birthday party. Less planning, no invitations that need to go out weeks ahead, no houseful of wild, screeching seven year olds, no cake smeared on the floor. I also delight in the thrill the kids get of planning their own Heart’s Desire Day.
They get so excited as they plot out the day, sometimes even complete with a time schedule and who joins the birthday child for which activities. One year I got to go to the local paint-your-own-pottery studio alone with my daughter, the next year, my husband was invited. The whole family has gone along to the Boston Museum of Science, bowling, rollerskating, movies and this month we’re taking a camping trip to make up for a rained-out May Heart’s Desire Day.
Burritos or burgers, Italian or Japanese, the food choices are all up to the kid-of-the-day from breakfast to dinner, they are very specific and take these decisions seriously. And of course, there’s always a birthday cake.
Lately, my oldest daughter has selected to bake and decorate her own cake with gobs of colors, swirls and sprinkles. My son prefers to put in his order and have me do it. It makes me happy to create a special cake for him. This year, I have a new scar on my inner arm from baking my youngest’s cupcakes, an odd little reminder of her eighth birthday. No matter what celebration the kids choose, if their party or special day doesn’t fall on their actual birthday, we have a family dinner and birthday cake on their real birthday.
After a stretch of well-loved Heart’s Desire Days, as the older two kids are entering the tween/teen years, they’re back to choosing parties – sleep over parties. The shrieking starts when the first girls arrive. Boys don’t make the same shrill sounds, but their physical bounding barrels though the house.
I held off until my oldest turned 12 to have full blown sleep overs at our house, then finally had to concede. For her first party, Ali created a Spa and had stations with colored signs for nails, hair and other girly activities. Much of her enjoyment came as she planned her party herself, down to the little details.
Really, we all know there is so little sleeping going on that the event itself isn’t truly the issue, it’s the next days. The second day after a non-sleepover can be painful for the whole family, one seriously grumpy kid spoils the household.
Whatever they choose, birthday party or Heart’s Desire Day, one of my favorite parts of the kids’ birthdays is our tradition of snuggling up and retelling their birth story. In detail, I tell them all about the day they came into our lives, how they joined our family, and the moments that uniquely define their birth day. We share the memories from the day we celebrate each year. Their stories have become familiar to them and they plead to hear certain parts again and they ask questions about themselves as a baby. Sometimes we look at baby pictures or watch the beloved family videos from their earliest days.
Their birthday marks the gift of another year, so whatever way they want to revel, I’m in, birthday party, Heart’s Desire Day, or even a sleep over.