parents

My cake is from Woolies. Yours is home-made. I'm OK with that. Really.

I used to judge women who went to a lot of trouble for their kids’ birthday parties.

You know the ones. Handmade invitations with calligraphy, often in 3D. A theme. Elaborate home-made birthday cake involving complex scaffolding with toothpicks and teeny tiny people of both genders made from musk sticks arranged artfully on edible grass jauntily created out of shredded coconut and green food colouring. Craft meets food. Craft meets decorations. Craft.

Note my sarcastic use of jaunty? I think you get where I’m coming from; a place where woeful inadequacy meets deep insecurity.

Those parties, whether I attended them or saw photos of them in magazines, have always brought out my McJudgiest. SO MUCH TIME ON THEIR HANDS! I thought derisively. WHAT A WASTE OF ENERGY! I chortled dismissively. NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY DIFFERENCE TO A TWO-YEAR-OLD! I reassured myself desperately.

I’ve heard a lot of this kind of sentiment expressed both online and IRL about the party Terry Biviano threw for her toddler daughter on the weekend. The photos are going around. Gloriously over-the-top. Themed to within an inch of its life.

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Just a few months ago I would have chimed in with the negativity (see above reference to the point where inadequacy meets insecurity).

But earlier this year I attended the 7th birthday party of one of my son’s friends. She is famous among all the mothers in the class for throwing very carefully planned and meticulously executed kids’ parties. There is always a theme. She makes costumes not just for her child but for all the guests, in keeping with the theme. One year it was pirates. Another year it was ninja. The cakes she makes are masterpieces. The Women’s Weekly should photograph them for their next cookbook. The decorations, games, food and party favours are next level. Basically, this woman is your most intimidating nightmare if you’re what’s known as a hot-mess mother (wave your hands in the air with me).

Because I know this mum quite well, instead of just giving her compliments infused with bitterness, I asked about all the trouble she’d gone to. “Oh, I just love it,” she confessed. “It’s my favourite thing to do. I quite wish I could be a kids’ party planner and make it my job.” She already has a full time job though. So she doesn’t have a lot of time on her hands.

I probed her more and discovered that making her son’s party amazing is a satisfying outlet for her creativity. A form of self-expression. For her, it’s FUN. And rewarding. It’s not about trying to intimidate other mothers. She looked puzzled when I mentioned that I found all of it hugely intimidating, as if that had never occurred to her. “Do you judge me for getting takeaway pizza and taking the kids to the movies and calling it a party?” I asked. “Oh God no!” she laughed. “Why would I? This is my thing. It’s not everyone’s thing.”

It’s not my thing. My thing is looking at the time during my child’s party (or any child’s party) and wondering how I’ve slipped into some parallel universe where five minutes takes an hour to pass AND HOW CAN I GET OUT? I know there are other mothers like me. One of them sighed happily as I brought out my Woolies birthday cake at my son’s recent party and said, “I love how you keep the bar so low for the rest of us”. She said it with the utmost love and sincerity and I took it as a genuine compliment.

Some of us are just not gifted in the cake/craft department:

Just like there are those like Terry Biviano and the mum in my son’s class who take enormous delight in planning parties for their kids, even if the kids are too young or too wired on jelly snakes to really appreciate any of it.

So why judge? Why can’t I just accept this difference?

So much of our judgement as mothers is projecting our insecurities onto others who do things differently*

Different doesn’t have to mean better or worse. It can just mean different. And your choices should not make me doubt my own, even though they do. Often. I think because secretly we all feel like we’re failing at motherhood and that’s a heavy burden best lifted with a large helping of defensiveness.

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As I write this, I’m planning a party for one of my kids. My version of “planning” is going “Oh shit, hey it’s your birthday in a couple of weeks! Do you want to have a party this year or shall we skip it again and just go find somewhere that serves chocolate fondue, with just the family?” (this has worked for me many times, you should totally try it if parties aren’t your thing).

When I do throw a birthday party, the cake comes from Woollies and costs $4.99. I buy party bags online. I hire an entertainer or book an activity. I do invitations via paperless post. Obviously, there are no decorations. I stopped blowing up balloons a long time ago. And I’m fine with this, or so I tell myself. But secretly, I’m possibly not.

So what’s wrong with my WOOLIES CAKE DAMMIT, my subconscious screams when I drop my child off at one of those highly styled parties where the hostess has put in major effort.

terry biviano's daughter's party
Long live the Woolies cake.

The answer of course, is nothing. My kids are perfectly happy with their cake, especially when I remove the plastic.

Because I’m awesome, I even put in a few candles! And light them!

The moral of my story is this: if Terry Biviano or any other parent wants to go OTT on their kid’s birthday, go for it. I could be all pious and preach about how that money is better donated to charity but for all I know, they do that too. And who am I to say how other people should spend their money or their time or express their creativity?

Vive la difference. Vive le craft. Vive le Woolies cake.

*not dangerous things like not vaccinating your child or smoking while you’re pregnant, those things are worth judging because they be cray and irresponsible. I mean the way other people parent.

If you like your cakes simple, you can’t get much easier than this. Presenting- The Mug Cake:

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