Why November is nuts at our house
November is birthday month in the Flanagan household. No. 2 turns 17, our girl becomes a teenager, and on our 19th wedding anniversary surprise baby turns four.
I know what you’re saying, “He’s not a baby anymore.” But when his big brothers have beards and girlfriends, he’s still a baby to me.
So why do three out of five have birthdays in November? My mother and her three siblings all have birthdays within five days of each other. But that’s because her father worked in Boston and only came home to Western Bay at certain times of the year. I have a birthday in February. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
Anyway three birthdays in one month calls for a bit of planning. So being the well-organized mother that I am, I’ve been asking No. 3 what he’d like for his birthday for a month already.
“I don’t know,” comes the unhelpful response every time.
The surprise baby is easy. He doesn’t even like birthdays. Or so I thought.
Last year, surprise baby wouldn’t even let us sing “Happy Birthday” to him, and when the staff at Montanas tried to put antlers on his head, we had to beat it to the bathroom with an attack of diarrhea. Afterwards, he refused to be in the same room as his piñata and cake lovingly prepared by his Godparents.
So this year, I figured we’d do nothing. That’s when he announced he wants a bowling party with a Spiderman cake. Funny thing — the four-year-old neighbour just had a bowling party with a Spiderman cake last month. Does this mean my youngest is destined to be a follower rather than a leader?
It didn’t stop there; he also announced he wants to take his family and God-family to the hockey restaurant. He tried to worm his way into inviting friends swimming too, but I drew the line. Two parties are definitely enough for one kid in one year. Or possibly for one kid in a lifetime.
We didn’t have birthday parties growing up (I am the eighth child), but I’ve made up for it in parenthood. I have hosted no less than 50 parties for my children. We’ve done the movie party and the pottery-painting party. We’ve done the bouncy castle and the Terry Rielly in the backyard party.
No more sleepover parties. I lose a year off my life for every kid that sleeps over. I don’t know what it is, but sleepovers stress me out. Everything from the freaked-out child who wants to call their parents at 2 a.m. to the foul-mouthed, over-tired lip I get the next day.
By far the most memorable birthday parties are the ones that were far-fetched. Like the red paper clip party our eldest had when he turned 13. Remember the guy in Saskatchewan who traded his way up to a house?
We weren’t even living in Newfoundland at the time, but as we were home for the summer, we decided to host a party in Larch Park. I couldn’t subject my parents’ house to 15 teenagers.
The fact that it poured rain all day until mid-afternoon was a bit off-putting, but we stuck with the plan. The invitations had specified partygoers show up at Larch Park at a certain time wearing a certain colour shirt. When the teens arrived, we divided them into a blue team, a red team and a yellow team and provided them with one paper clip the same colour as their shirts. The deal was for them to venture off into the neighbourhood knocking on doors looking to trade up the paper clip.
The final items for each team were a large-screen TV (large for the time anyway), a DVD/VHS player combo, and a lamp.
The TV team won although one of the other teams had been offered a cat. They wouldn’t take it, but a cat would beat out a TV.
I had three trophies made with those giant brass paper clips. Some loot bags included, well … a giant TV, a VCR, VHS combo and a lamp.
The ice cream cake was more of a puddle by the time we cut it in the post-rain warm spell, but it didn’t matter. The rain had held off and once I filled a garbage bag with our scraps, the cleanup was complete.
The following year the same boy had a scavenger hunt party (note: I’m less frazzled in August than November). Because I was privy to the list of sought-after items, I had to recruit three adult drivers to ferry teams around town.
Teams had a set list of things to find as well as clues to four checkpoints where they could pick up a postcard. They had a two-hour cutoff and points were docked for every minute they were late getting in. They were given a small amount of spending money.
I remember one of the postcard checkpoints was Moo Moo’s, where they had to sing “Happy Birthday” to the owner. At the end they all took home a light-up shot glass from the liquor store. Or was it a Spork that year? Who knows?
We had such fun at those parties, it’s hard to believe that now the boys just pass over $20 to the birthday person and that’s that. When did things change?
I know for a fact that birthday parties can be for big people as well. On Godmother’s 50th birthday, I recruited a friend and some children to help me string 50 bras through her trees and on a clothesline we set up on her lawn. The bras were orange, purple and polka dotted. A lot were 40 DD or bigger. I painted a sign that said, “Happy 50th Heather. We’ll support you in your old age.”
We did this under cover of darkness and when her husband arrived home from the airport at 1 in the morning, the wide-eyed cabbie asked: is this really your house?
One of my brothers totally disagrees with birthday parties for children. He says it’s because of the hurt feelings that always result in not being able to invite everyone. I think it stems from the time his lovely wife invited 10 children to their house for their son’s 10th birthday and then promptly went shopping with her sister a half-hour before the kids were to arrive.
“When the kids were younger I would hang around with the parents that were willing to swill beer and do some running around (clean up, get the pop, put on a movie),” he told me recently. “But on this day I was alone with 10 10-year-old kids. No parents to hang with.
“The early birds (they’re the ones that drop their kids off early and pick them up late) came and I just sent the kids to Luke’s room to play down there until the bulk of the others arrived. Once they got too rambunctious, I decided it was food time. The guys wolfed down a few dozen hotdogs, a few large bags of potato chips and a few litres of Big 8. They then helped me clean up and Luke opened his gifts.
“I thought I was doing a good job until I looked at the clock above the stove — 2 p.m. How was I going to kill two more hours?
“Water soakers were big around that time and I had them go out back after we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ and I cleaned up. The clock on the wall reminded me that I still had two hours to kill. A few dirty towels later they marched through the house to the front lawn. I was running out of options and I remembered a game we used to play as children. Red Rover.
“Two groups of five held hands facing each other. The object of the game was to run through the line and break the chain of hands.
“‘Red Rover, Red Rover, send J.D. over.’ If J.D. broke through he went back to his team and called one of the opposition over. If he couldn’t break through, he joined the opposition.
“It all went great until J.D. broke his arm.”
At least he didn’t get sued.
So think of me this month as I say, “No, you can’t have a puppy.” And “No, you can’t have a sleepover party.”
And I’ll think of you when Christmas rolls around and you’re stressed out — along with the whole Christian world of shoppers gone off their rockers.
I’ll be kicked back relaxing, thinking how happy I am that November is done.
Susan Flanagan is a journalist and mother of five who will be bowling on November 12 with ten children. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell her about your birthday party experiences.