We celebrate a lot of birthdays at my house. From March 5 though June 21, we experience all six birthdays in the immediate family, and another four among close family members. Easter, Mother’s Day, our wedding anniversary and our other wedding anniversary are in there too. The past two years we have had the added joy of a preschool graduation, and the same will be true next spring. It is a festive, celebratory, Pinterest-scouring-on-a-daily-basis sort of time. As a parent, it it also pretty exhausting.
Which is why I wanted my stepdaughter London to have a great birthday. Her birthday on
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June 21 represents the last event in the crazy string of celebrations and I really did not want it to feel like an afterthought in our family. By virtue of her place in the birth order of our combined family, she often gets the short end of the stick.
When she enters preschool, it will be the third year a Parsons kid has been part of that particular program. She is the second girl from our family, and the second kid with trademark curly hair. Our oldest Ferris was a star in the program, winning the “Rockin’ Reader” award upon graduation. Emilia was awarded the “Sweetheart” award for her good nature and behavior. If I had to guess what London’s award will be next spring, I’d say it will be “Class Jock” because of the passionate way she kicks the snot out of soccer balls or maybe “Best Storyteller” because of all the practice she has had listening to the older kids recount (and make up) Star Wars tales. I remember thinking that Emilia had some big shoes to fill when she went to the same preschool Ferris had attended. For London, the same is true — times two.
So when it came time to plan her birthday, I knew it needed something uniquely London. She would have been happy doing exactly the same thing we had done for the other kids (if I could even remember what that was at this point) — but I wanted it to be different. When I asked her what she wanted me to make for dinner, she said “spaghetti.” The other kids tried to talk her into pizza instead, but I said it was too late. If the birthday girl wanted spaghetti, that was what I was going to make.
When the older two were busy with a swim lesson, and the baby was home with dad, I took London to the grocery store to pick out the type of cake and frosting she wanted me to make for her. She was so excited to mull over all the options. She went with a box of Funfetti cake mix and pink (PINK!) frosting. I had been making secret plans to add a Perry the Platypus topper on the cake, but after the choice of pink frosting, and a surprising limited availability of circus peanuts, I ditched that plan. The end result was a lackluster cake, in Pinterest terms, that she absolutely loved.
We invited a few neighborhood friends over to share it with us, and everyone seemed to enjoy the cake and assorted flavors of ice cream that I pulled out of the freezer. London, who is normally painfully shy, was smiling. At one point she asked the oldest kid at the get-together (he’s 8!) to pick her up and carry her around the room. I’m not sure why she wanted that, but he didn’t seem bothered by the request. He lifted her like he was performing the Heimlich maneuver and took a few spins around the room, her legs dangling as she giggled.
Since she likes to play with all the toys her older sibling like, and wear her brother’s old clothing, my husband and I were at a loss to come up with a good gift. I planned to stop in a store after I finished an appointment for work and pick up something, but I got delayed. At the time of the cake get together, we didn’t have anything for her to unwrap from us. But gifts from friends, grandparents and aunts/uncles kept her happy and distracted. She wasn’t especially thrilled with a gift of a Barbie doll from a very well-meaning friend, and the mom quickly handed me the receipt and assured me she was not offended if I took her pick out something else. When we went to return the Barbie, she picked out a few other items that ended up being the gift from her dad and I. She was THRILLED holding the items in the car on the drive home.
For one final piece of birthday fun, I decided to take the three older kids to see the movie Monsters University. London and Ferris had to leave shortly after to go celebrate the big day with their mom, so I was looking forward to one last birthday event before I had to watch them back out of my driveway for the weekend. I planned the movie outing for London, but I think I planned it for myself too. It was one more way to have her near me on her birthday — her 4th birthday — and I wanted to take advantage of it.
Ferris decided he really didn’t want to go to the movie, so I took London and Emilia. I’m normally pretty cheap, errr… frugal? when it comes to movie theater snacks, but I let them both get a special Monsters University snack pack. Sitting in between them as they watched the movie, munched on popcorn and laughed at the loveable characters on the screen, I felt content. I let my mind wander to future birthdays, perhaps ones when the girls on either side of me were in braces, or glasses, or (gulp) makeup. How much longer would they let me make their birthday cakes, instead of asking for the fancy store-bought kind? When would they stop wanting to go with me to the movies? How many more years did I have?
The movie ended. We had a few moments at home before she needed to leave. London recounted the movie excursion to her brother. My husband packed up the car, and snapped Ferris and London (with all her gifts) in their car seats. Looking at her face, I knew she had a great birthday. I knew that everyone had come together to make her feel very, very special on her big day. There would be even more fun waiting at her mom’s house — more people who loved her and wanted this birthday to be memorable.
I’ve talked before on this blog about the moment when I realized that Ferris had stopped being my stepson and had become my own. That moment happened again this past week, but with London. My desire for her to have a special day transcended what a rookie stepmom does to win over her new part-time roommates (and if I was still trying to do that, I would have put up the $20 to get her a decent cake for goodness sake). I wanted her to come away from the day feeling just as important to me as my two biological kids and her brother — and not like an afterthought.
I know that she gets overlooked sometimes. I know she has a lifetime of “aren’t you Ferris’ sister?” and “Oh, your sister Emilia was in this class last year” ahead of her. My college pal Lori texted me once and said “You don’t talk much about London. What is she like?” and I was convicted. I know my sweet friend was asking because she was genuinely interested but I felt bad that London was neither bad nor good enough to mention in our daily texts. In the midst of up-all-nights with the baby, and Kindergarten/preschool activities, London’s day to day actions weren’t worth mentioning. But there is so much about her that deserves a mention.
She calls her baby sister her “little sweetie.”
She hates princess clothing and prefers to be in basketball shorts at all times.
She makes one exception for pink clothing — a pair of pajamas with a bunny on it.
She can kick and throw a ball better than her brother and sister.
She tells me regularly that she loves me.
She’s pretty much over the fact that everyone, everywhere loves her hair and comments on it.
She is always Luke Skywalker when the kids play Star Wars. Always.
She is daddy’s little girl.
London’s sweet spirit makes everything in our family better. As she spends some time away from her parents for the first time this fall, I know that I am personally going to miss her declaring she is starving every 10 minutes. And the way she dances by simply bending and straightening one knee. I will miss hugging her once an hour when she inevitably gets another bruise or scrape. Her turning 4 changes a lot in her own life, and in ours too. I look forward to the young woman she will be on her next birthday, and in the ones beyond, and count her as one of my many blessings in life.
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Tags: 4th birthday