It happens ever year, once every spring for the last 11 years. My oldest boy gets just a little bit older. It has been great watching him grow up; watching his first steps turn into running and jumps, then into inline skating and bike rides. Every year I dream about what the next year will bring, and with each year I treasure more and more the years gone by.
Of course, this is immediately followed up with the birthday of our second son. Just over 2-years and a month apart. He brings his own personality into the mix, and while we tried a combined birthday between them a few years back, it was clear that while they are best friends they need their own parties.
I really enjoyed hosting the parties for the boys, the little kid in me had a chance to escape for a while. Yet, I was never the planner of the party. I would help setup, help facilitate, even planned some of the activities a couple years – but I was not the one who put on the show. That had always been my wife, and she did a fantastic job of it. Often going far above what was needed to make the day special not only for the kids but all the visiting parents as well.
When we separated the birthday parties was one of the scarier things I felt I was facing. What would happen with their parties? I wasn’t the planner, am I going to be left out of these big events in their lives? Granted, I knew that was the emotions talking. Practically speaking I could organize a birthday party, I had the skills, but I also knew it wasn’t something I excelled at.
I was also trying to look beyond my own personal fears and to what would be best for the boys. Not a child of divorce, nor did I grow up with a lot friend who were children of divorce (especially, joint custody), it was not something I could envision. My understanding came from TV and there the two parents were always trying to one-up the other parent. It became a competition of who was the better parent … and that was not what I wanted for my kids. So, in the spirit of co-parenting, with maybe a little bit of fear mixed in, I was in full support of us doing a joint-family birthday celebration for each of the boys. Two parents coming together to make a single special day for the boys. Had to be easy right, we’d been doing it for years now.
Well, that first year didn’t start out well. We talked about it and coordinated splitting the tasks of the party. While I was to book something and coordinate the theme events, she would take care of the food. With an army theme requested I was calling laser tag and paint ball places in the area which proved to be harder than originally thought. Especially with my full-time job occupying more and more of my time. Ages limits and availability also proved to be a problem, so I was looking into plan B options and looking at the calendar … things just were not going to happen in time, we were going to have to push things back a week or so. Well, that was the last straw I guess as unknown to me she sent out invites for a party at her place – I was no longer invited, nor told.
My fears were becoming reality and I had to throw together a quick “birthday dinner” with friends last minute. I must say, the boys have a lot of good friends who showed a lot of love and compassion and showed for both parties … so thank you!. It was a nice dinner, but it was the first birthday party I missed of my son’s and that was not ok.
Our youngest saw the chaos that surrounded his brother’s party and took it upon himself to plan his. He, at 8 yrs old, came to us with the date, the place, the theme, and all the people he wanted to come. HE was going to have ONE PARTY, we would ALL be there … and we better GET IT DONE. So with the who, what, and where covered … we had a whole lot less to discuss. This time I took the decorations and the cake, she would bring the food. And not to toot my own horn too much but I rocked it! I had some DIY decorations, I brought games, grabbed balloons, and we picked out the fantastic cake … it was a party just the way he wanted.
As for the party itself, well it went off kind of awkward to tell the truth. There was constant tension between her[mom] and I (at least that is how I felt). I felt under a spotlight with her just waiting for me to screw something up. I found there was still a ton of negative emotions streaming through me, and it was all I could do to not just keep quiet. I think our friends also felt it awkward, as conversations and stories could not happen as they once did. As much as I had hoped this would be a birthday like any other … it wasn’t. On the plus side, and the most important side, our son had a good time. I am sure he felt the vibes, but he never let it bother him. He included both of us in different activities and enjoy his time with friends.
And now we are back at that time of the year once again, choices need to be made. This year we, as parents, are not talking as much as we should be. In fact, we are talking less that last year. I am surprised that emotions have not settled down, but they haven’t. In fact, in some ways they have gotten worse. Resentment and mistrust still looms over almost every interaction we have, and I think I hate that as much as all the stuff that has caused it.
I work hard to keep our parental strife away from the kids, yet they have to see it. They must feel the energy. This year both kids came to me and requested separate birthday parties, with themes for both.
I think the only reason not to is a selfish desire to not lose that family unit, to have something that we work on together. And possibly a little bit of the “how the heck to I throw this together on my own?”! Yet, the boys have different friends groups at her place and at my place now. So with the family formally now split, does it make sense to host two birthday parties?
Tonight I am leaning to yes, as much as it pains me I am starting to think that it is probably best for the boys as well as for the emotional strain between the parents. This was I can allow myself to focus on the boys, and not on emotions that have no business at a birthday party. Maybe the best co-parenting choice is not co-hosting the party.
So, with that … anyone know of some fun pre-teen activities and decorations for a fighter-plane themed birthday?