A Truly Happy Birthday

We celebrated Honeybee’s 13th birthday on Sunday with the best birthday celebration she has ever had.  Yesterday’s post, Sabotaging Holidays and Other Fun, is the perfect prelude to my thoughts on why it went so well.  I had my ideas, but even better, I interviewed Honeybee this morning and this is what we concluded.

1. She knew exactly what her birthday gift was, and even picked it out herself.  When our daughters turn 13, Russ takes them out to lunch and then shopping for a birthstone ring.  She had been looking forward to this since Ladybug got her ring last year, and two weeks ago they found a ring she loved which we put away until her birthday.

Honeybee told me that she always worries about being disappointed with her gifts and this year she didn’t worry about it at all. She also knew she was getting only one gift from us which eliminated any unknowns.

2. This was her fifth birthday since joining our family so she knew exactly what to expect.  We had her birthday dinner, followed by gifts, followed by cake.  We sang the same two songs we sing for every birthday and took the traditional cake pictures.

3.  She planned the menu: Thai Chicken, Asian Noodle Salad, broccoli, Kettle Chips, and  soda.

4.  She set the table and made a centerpiece with some ceramic birds and special candles.  She used a special tablecloth and pretty glasses and even determined where our guests would sit.

5.  She made her own cake.  Somewhere along the way Honeybee discovered that she likes Angel Food cake and that it can be made easily with a mix.  It has become her new specialty and she is pleased that she can accomplish it herself.  I led her astray and told her she could bake it in a bundt pan, which caused a huge mess as it spilled over in the oven.  Later I read the directions on the box that expressly say not to use a bundt pan because it will overflow – good to know.

6.  She knew who was coming to celebrate with us – her friend, Eleanor, her grandparents, and Mimi and Andrew.

As we talked this morning Honeybee told me that she hates surprises; they make her feel all angry and bad inside.  This was her favorite birthday because she got to pick out her present, which she loves, and she had nothing to worry about.  It’s taken us a little while to figure this out, but I think we did it just right this time.

To sum it up – a happy birthday for Honeybee requires predictable traditions, no big surprises, confidence that she will love her gifts, planning the menu and participating in the cooking, and the ability to manage (and enjoy) the small things, such as setting the table in a way that brings her happiness.

I expect she’ll be picking out her Christmas gifts this year, and that is just fine with me.

Lisa

 

 

This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

19 Comments

  1. laurenjess
    September 12, 2012

    I am a lot like Honeybee in that I do not like surprises–not even "good ones" like a bigger gift. I remember one Christmas when I got a much needed new bike, and it was even the right colors, and I was completely bummed out.

    Reply
  2. Becky
    September 12, 2012

    Wow- This helps me understand my son's experience with birthdays so much better. I will definitely be using those strategies next year!

    Reply
  3. Mary (Owlhaven)
    September 12, 2012

    Being totally honest here- I would have a hard time giving away the pleasure of surprising my kids at Christmas. Often the big kids suspect/ hope their main gift might be a specific thing. But one of the pleasures of my Christmas is surprising people with a thing or two they didn't expect. (I think one of my love languages is gifts…so it feels like an unhappy thing to consider giving up all surprises to keep a holiday predictable.)

    Isn't it OK for a mom to do something she enjoys too, even if it tugs a child a bit out of their comfort zone? Or do you think moms really have to give up things they majorly enjoy to successfully parent a child who is wounded?

    Honestly part of me applauds you for being so selfless and gracious, and part of me is really rebelling against this advice, feeling like I just won't give up that too. After all, life is FULL of surprises– aren't we equipping kids by talking them thru possibilities and giving them experience in handling unknowns?

    Another thing rambling around here: your challenges with your particular kid are different than mine with my kids. Also, you may lay less importance in gift-giving. So the sacrifice may feel reasonable to you, whereas I hate the thought of giving up surprises just to ease a holiday. Parenting challenging kids already takes so darned much, and sometimes when I read this or that or the other solution, I just think, I cannot, will not, give this up too. Sigh. Real Christ-like, I know….

    Am I a rotten mom dooming my kid to failure if *I* also want things? Because I want things too. There– that's the core problem, I guess: some days (like today!) I just feel all sacrificed out.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      September 12, 2012

      Oh gosh, Mary, we could have a long and good conversation about this! There is no condemnation in knowing what works for one family won't for another – and true confession, gift-giving is not my love language and I find it to be a pressure-filled task. I wish we had time to dig into this more; maybe we can find a way to do that here on my blog. BTW, even Honeybee would like a few small surprises in her stocking and I'm sure we'll still do that. You are a great mom!

      Reply
      1. Mary (Owlhaven)
        September 12, 2012

        Thanks for your reply and for your encouragement, Lisa. I would LOVE to have a good long chat with you someday, honestly. 🙂

        Reply
    2. Ann
      September 12, 2012

      Oh, ladies, how I wish the mom's survival guide to Christmas that I wrote several years ago were still in print. If you ever feel like seeking out a secondhand copy, it deals with this stuff. It's called I Saw Mommy Kicking Santa Claus. One thing I mention in the book is the research by a family-dynamics author about how often someone child in the family (and it's often the same child every year) seems to "ruin Christmas."

      I also talk about the fact that moms, who are generally the chief Christmas magicians, need to make sure they have a nice Christmas too. Not to honk my own horn–which I guess I'm really not doing, since the book disappeared from view pretty much the day it was published–but I can promise you that most parents struggle with these issues. Even those of us who don't have adopted children! Celebrations put a family under an unaccustomed form of stress, and since those days don't come around very often, it's hard to rehearse useful strategies.

      Mary: it's dumb, but one thing that helped me a lot when my kids were little was buying a couple of presents for myself ,wrapping them, attaching a nice gift tag to myself ("To a GREAT MOM" was one I used) and hiding them away with the other presents until they went under the tree. Among other things, it meant I knew for sure I'd be getting something I really wanted! And reading the tag was a pat on the back even though I knew I'd written it.

      Reply
      1. Paula Miles Spears
        September 12, 2012

        I think I might have to start wrapping up some To A Great Mom gifts for myself! That's awesome!

        Reply
      2. Cici
        September 12, 2012

        I started buying myself gifts when my 5 yr old noticed that there was nothing for me under the tree. It was very sweet but she was very bummed out and since I did not want to ruin her Christmas I had an excuse to buy myself a few things I really wanted.

        Reply
  4. Mary (Owlhaven)
    September 12, 2012

    Not trying to attack or discredit your idea– obviously it worked great for you. Just being honest, trying to process my own junk…

    Reply
    1. Lisa H.
      September 12, 2012

      I totally get the "not wanting to give up surprises thing" but to me, a birthday is especially about blessing my child, so I'd want to give a gift a way that my child could receive it. Fortunately for me, surprises aren't an issue with my girls. I agree with Mary's point about not trying to create a world that never rattles a child, but plain old life is going to offer plenty of opportunities for them to have to handle surprises. Just my .02! :o)

      My thing that's hard for me to give up, is the need to plan ahead mor and be more structured….I kind of like to fly by the seat of my pants and feel stress by having a lot of plans laid out, so that's my issue!

      We're all different, but it's always a battle to figure out what's our "stuff" and what we need to give up for our child, and what they need to learn to deal with….

      Lisa H.

      Reply
      1. Mary (Owlhaven)
        September 13, 2012

        SO true!

        Reply
  5. Jillian
    September 12, 2012

    Great observations, thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  6. Laurel
    September 12, 2012

    GREAT insights. So glad that it was a HAPPY day for all of you.

    🙂 🙂 🙂

    Reply
  7. Jennie
    September 12, 2012

    Wonderful, Lisa. I can totally see how all those things made for a smoother and happier birthday! 🙂 We have a girl turning 13 soon. I like that gift idea. Just curious…is there a special gift for a boy turning 13?

    Blessings,
    Jennie

    Reply
  8. Dawn Wright
    September 12, 2012

    GREAT IDEA!!!

    Happy Birthday!!!! Love the gift idea 🙂 Our oldest turns 13 later this year!

    Reply
  9. sleepyknitter
    September 14, 2012

    Our children show some stress over Christmas and birthdays, and I hadn't really considered before the idea that the "surprise" factor might actually be unpleasant for them in view of their backgrounds. Our middle one, especially, has a huge need to control, and I can see why it would stress her out that Christmas feels so out of control. Maybe this next year we will tell her what her one biggest present is and see if that helps her. At any rate, this post helped me think about some upcoming issues with our kids — thank you!

    Reply
  10. zacks mom
    September 14, 2012

    I know I'm chiming in a day late, but these are almost identical to the strategies we now use with our 16 yr old fasd and trauma fellow. Trial and error, and many, many upsets helped us all figure it out. I am the mom who loves gift giving and surprises, but I do not like a month of anger, anxiety, obsessive chatter, sleeplessness, guilt and remorse that go with these things and our son. I do have 2 girls and a husband who indulge me on their birthdays, and I remind myself that his birthday, that may be fraught with triggers of which I am unaware, is indeed HIS birthday, and not really about me at all. I do think if this caused just some minor discomfort for him, we would work to stretch open his window of tolerance, but it actually seems more to be all out sheer panic. It would be so unfair to consistently expose him (and us!) to this every gift giving occasion. Thanks for the opportunity to share!

    Reply
  11. Melissa
    September 14, 2012

    I am really glad that you posted this. It is helping me see that we need to look at the way we do birthdays for our daughter. MacKenzie seems disappointed on her birthdays. Last year, the week after her birthday another mom asked her if she got what she wanted for her birthday. MacKenzie thought for a minute and bluntly said no. I have to admit I think there was steam coming from my ears. I mentioned to her the several gifts she received that she asked for, the dinner out at her favorite place with Daddy and having a friend go on a family celebration outing. I know there were several things that she didn't get, however she asked for a lot. (I did warn her that she wouldn't get everything.) Her birthday was just on this past Monday and she didn't complain, but she seemed disappointed. I want to work this out for both of us. Gift giving is not my love language, but I want to give to her. So when she looks disappointed after I have put in a lot of effort to make it special, I am upset with her. And that I do not want. So thank you for bringing this up and sharing. I am seeing we need to explore this so that it can be a happy day.

    Reply
  12. Jess Guest
    November 28, 2012

    Oh my goodness, I can so relate to your girl's feelings! I HATE getting presents. It, indeed, makes me feel "all angry and bad inside". I never know quite how to act or react, especially if it is something that I do not want. I feel like I have failed or let down the gift giver by not reacting properly, then I feel angry that I am obliged to pretend to be happy about getting things that I do not want or need. Even when it is something that I like and want, the anxiety leading up to the gift opening leaves me utterly exhausted and it is an effort to show how pleased I really am! Seriously, usually I sneak around to find out what my husband bought me so I can process my reaction before "the day". This year, he brought my Christmas present home already wrapped and I already feel the anxiety rising. Yes, even after 13 years of marriage he does not really understand it, and his love language is gift giving so I just try and let it go – but honestly, it does my head in! Lucky this is his one and only failing 😉 I have no serious trauma from childhood and I would consider myself reasonably together and functional, but this is one thing that is really hard for me. I have told my husband that Adultery and surprise parties are grounds for divorce (jokingly, but often enough and with a strange enough glint in my eye that he gets it). On my birthday I often don't tell my kids it is my birthday until some point during the day (I have six aged 8 and under) and usually arrange to have a mutual celebration with my husband (whose birthday is two days later) so I can shift the limelight onto him and focus on making sure he has a good time (and be in control). As my kids get older they want to surprise me and spoil me and get me presents. I insist on only hand made things, chocolate and obedience – they aren't thrilled about the third LOL, Most of my family and friends honour my request that they make donations to charities rather than give me stuff however there are one or two who don't get it, have gift giving as their love language and insist on loving me this way no matter how horrible it makes me feel 😛 To a degree, I have to put on my big girl panties and realise it is not all about me. I am a grown up and can recognise that these wonderful people in my life need to do this for their own reasons and no matter how many ways I try and explain it to them, they will never understand this part of me. I have always been like this (even as a child I got very anxious about it all and when we were newlyweds I would spend all our money so my husband couldn't buy me anything – I have grown up a bit since then). I would love it if on my birthday – the day that is supposed to celebrate me as I am – I could have things tailored to fit my own little quirks. That would make me happy. My husband does a pretty good job, but every year I realise that being a grown up means letting it go and reading intentions over actions, I would have loved a birthday like this when I turned 13 though

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

I accept the Privacy Policy