Picture Perfect Birthdays … Or Fairy Tales?

Once upon a time there was a mom.

A mom who grew up in a world where birthdays were special … the one day a year where all things seemed to revolve around her. This mom loved that world and wanted her own kids to have the same experience.

Now for some moms, this desire translates into expensive presents and elaborate birthday parties with rented inflatable play areas and hired entertainment to delight a roomful of pint-sized party guests.

Not this mom. For this mom, birthdays were made special through the creation of fancy, one-of-a-kind, personalized birthday cakes and picture-perfect gatherings through which to share those cakes, later to be documented through scrapbook pages, of course.

For instance, the one-year-old’s birthday party which included not only a butterfly cake but more than 100 individual cupcakes adorned with flowers and dragonflies.


Followed the next year by a chocolate-covered teddy bear with a pink bow and sprinkles.

And then came birthday number three, which included not only a fancy girly birthday cake, thanks to mom’s discovery of homemade fondant, but a completely choreographed menu of girly events for a roomful of cousins & friends, including nail painting, dress-up and beading just for starters.

Add birthday girl number two with her first fancy cake shaped like a hive inhabited by more than a dozen carefully crafted little honeybees.

Now this mom was a little obsessive about this whole birthday thing and even spent an entire day (and multiple bags of powdered sugar) creating the perfect little princess birthday spread for her youngest niece’s first gig.

And this mom didn’t limit her enthusiasm to the little girls … check out the cool guitar cake for the newest addition to the teen population.

Isn’t this a lovely story? Just like in the picture books, right? Smiling children, picture-perfect cakes, a lovely time had by all.

It’s amazing the stories this mom can tell through those carefully selected photos.

What you don’t glimpse here is the frustration and stress created by the self-imposed pressure to create the “perfect” birthday experience. What you don’t hear is this mom snapping at the non-birthday family members … and sometimes even guests … before, during and after the long-awaited event, thanks to several hours spent crafting the perfect cake … usually at the expense of sleep. What you didn’t catch were the eye rolls and snickers as mom maneuvered, coached & forced the “perfect” photo opportunity. What you may not believe is that more cake was tossed in the garbage days after the event than was ever actually consumed.

What you don’t feel is the tension created by this scenario … or the relief when yet another birthday is finally over.

Know any moms like that?

I do. I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that I am THAT MOM.

As a scrapbooker, I know I am not alone in my desire to portray events like family birthdays as wonderful, positive, perfect occasions. And thanks to digital photography, photo editing software and a selective memory, it’s pretty easy to do just that.

But I am also a mom who wants my scrapbooks and the stories I share to be authentic. And more than that, I want those family birthdays to actually BE wonderful, positive and if not perfect, at least happy occasions.

So I made a decision about a year ago after a particularly stressful birthday celebration … stress I realized was brought about 100% by my own need for control and perfection. I decided to make a real effort to think more about the people and the events we were celebrating … and less about my need to stage a picture-perfect event.

That decision has translated into a series of birthday celebrations with very little planning, even less scheduling, and {gasp} relatively simple whipped topping-covered angel food cakes.

Like our celebration of Skylar’s 4th birthday last month, which included a simple day of play with just the immediate family.


This was followed by my husband’s birthday last week … a day during which he took a spontaneous afternoon fishing trip with the girls and we barely even got around to eating cake at all … and it was another even less fancy (not even photo-worthy) angel food cake.
And then there was today … my baby’s second birthday. Yes, another pretty much unplanned, unscheduled day. And yet another whipped topping-covered, angel food cake. In fact, it was even leftover cake from my husband’s birthday.


How do I feel about this “new” approach to family birthdays? I must admit … I harbor feelings of guilt for not doing “more” to celebrate these special days. And I’m sure my days of fancy birthday cakes are not completely behind me, mostly because there are parts of that creative process that I really do enjoy.

Another confession … after Skylar blew out Danica’s candles FOR her, I lit them again … just to give Dani a chance to try for herself (and get a decent photo).

But I will also admit that my family members seem to enjoy their special days just as much, if not more, as when I spend hours trying to create the birthday event. And despite those twinges of guilt, I do find that I am enjoying these days a bit more … and feeling a bit less in a hurry to get them “over with.”

Not perfect … but much more real. So I guess that’s a step in the right direction.

How about you? Do you see yourself in any part of this story? I’d love to hear about it …

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Comments

  1. Lydia says:

    Awesome post Kristin! I am a big believer in making birthdays and holidays about the people and not the stuff. That’s why we have really pitiful cakes for birthdays but lots of clapping and singing and smiles. It is hard to fight the urge to make things perfect. I definitely understand that.

    • It is soooo hard!! Especially when you’ve always done things a certain way … I tend to feel like the kids will be disappointed if I don’t continue. But I think it’s just me that would be disappointed. LOL Thanks for sharing :)

  2. Lydia says:

    Awesome post Kristin! I am a big believer in making birthdays and holidays about the people and not the stuff. That’s why we have really pitiful cakes for birthdays but lots of clapping and singing and smiles. It is hard to fight the urge to make things perfect. I definitely understand that.

    • It is soooo hard!! Especially when you’ve always done things a certain way … I tend to feel like the kids will be disappointed if I don’t continue. But I think it’s just me that would be disappointed. LOL Thanks for sharing :)

  3. Dawn says:

    Wonderful post Kristin! I have always felt a little guilty that I was not able to give my own daughter birthdays as you describe, but I do believe that now that she is grown, she remembers the people and everyone being together more than anything. and truth be told, I don’t even remember my own parties from when I was a kid. I think you will enjoy these new simpler celebrations just as much!

  4. Dawn says:

    Wonderful post Kristin! I have always felt a little guilty that I was not able to give my own daughter birthdays as you describe, but I do believe that now that she is grown, she remembers the people and everyone being together more than anything. and truth be told, I don’t even remember my own parties from when I was a kid. I think you will enjoy these new simpler celebrations just as much!

  5. Rebecca (Mamabee) says:

    LOL… I’m THAT mom, too!! The women in my family always made the cakes for their children’s birthdays. So, I felt so guilty J’s first birthday that I got a cake from the bakery… now mind you it’s the best bakery in the area who make the best cakes. So for J’s second birthday… I made TWO cakes… one for the party and the second for his real date of the party… so much cake! This year, I made the cake for J’s party… but he did help decorate it, so that was cute and good photos… the cake looked like a three year old decorated it. LOL! And the store bought for the day of his birthday… as for hubby, the last 5 birthdays he got homemade cakes (either me or my mom)… so what did he get this year… store bought. LOL! I may feel really guilty not making the cake… but I think my family just prefers store bought.

  6. Rebecca (Mamabee) says:

    LOL… I’m THAT mom, too!! The women in my family always made the cakes for their children’s birthdays. So, I felt so guilty J’s first birthday that I got a cake from the bakery… now mind you it’s the best bakery in the area who make the best cakes. So for J’s second birthday… I made TWO cakes… one for the party and the second for his real date of the party… so much cake! This year, I made the cake for J’s party… but he did help decorate it, so that was cute and good photos… the cake looked like a three year old decorated it. LOL! And the store bought for the day of his birthday… as for hubby, the last 5 birthdays he got homemade cakes (either me or my mom)… so what did he get this year… store bought. LOL! I may feel really guilty not making the cake… but I think my family just prefers store bought.

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