Duncan: I don’t miss the cartoon themed birthday parties, but I’m sad for what I missed

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Connor swimming underwater at his sixth birthday party. | Megan Duncan

I was standing about three people back from the line at Walmart when a quick tug on my shirt caught my attention.

She was excited to tell me her name is Hannah, and it’s almost her birthday. She is having a pink cake for her birthday, which seemed to be a trend with the curly-haired blond who was sporting a ruffled pink and white jumper and rainbow flip flops.

In the few minutes it took to move to the front of the line, Hannah spilled over with descriptions of her life. Her cat’s name is Russel and her dog’s name is Teeny. She preferred the cat because she is a cat person (she didn’t say that, I just assumed it). She wants to be a cheerleader when she grows up. Her favorite food is the sparkles on her birthday cupcakes. Her mom held a Duncan-Hines box in the background and shrugged. 

What a vigor for life. Then I looked at her mom, who was perusing her shopping list with a pen. I remembered what little birthdays were like.

Her mom was probably making furious lists of everything needed for Hannah’s mermaid-themed birthday party and comparing it to the birthday budget. She was then trying to figure out how to get everything done in between workdays and sports obligations with her three other kids.

She was likely stressed over the invitation list. Should she have invited Aunt Edna’s second cousin’s daughter they met at the park that one time? What if so-and-so posts party pictures on Facebook and then so-and-so sees they weren’t invited? Did she invite too many people? How will everyone fit into the living room to open gifts?

Honestly, I don’t know Hannah’s mom. She might be the extrovert of the year who loves entertaining. I am pretty sure I’m attributing to her my own anxieties from birthdays past. 

I remember Connor’s Spongebob Squarepants birthday where I stayed up until wee hours of the morning to finish a basic paint-by-number (only with icing) sheet cake. My patience for anything like that is extremely low, but I couldn’t wait to see the delight on his face the next day.

The newly turned 3-year-old was nonplussed by his cake, which to be honestly tasted more like a sponge than Spongebob anyway. 

My kids don’t ask for cartoon-themed parties anymore, just a few friends come hang out. I rarely see them, other than a high wind that blows through after I announce there is pizza, leaving trails of empty chip bags and snack cake wrappers leading to the Playstation.

I don’t miss those young parties. In fact, when my oldest turned 17 a few weeks ago, I sat on my porch with my coffee and a book, relieved not to be twirling a blindfolded kid in front of a pinata. 

But I can’t help but think I was focusing on all the wrong things at those birthdays-gone-by. 

Instead of looking at those little boys who delighted in their big day just as much as Hannah was, I tried to make the circumstances perfect. I worried if the house was clean enough or if everyone would get along.

I wish I would have embraced what mattered and let go of what didn’t. Not just with parties but life in general. I often worried more about what random people — or even strangers — thought of me and took for granted people I knew would always be there. 

When memories pop up on my phone screen of a dripping kid in Buzz Lightyear swimming trunks blowing out candles next to the pool at our old house, I just look at his baby face, now manly. His soft soprano voice is now baritone. What a gift that God allows me to be his mom. 

I don’t miss the parties. I hate what I missed at the parties. 

It’s another life lesson I learned late, but it doesn’t discount all of everything I got right. Not to brag or anything, but there are quite a few of those too.

Plus, there is so much more to come and so many things to be present for in their lives. I am just so grateful for that.

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