Free Party Favors or “Here, take my advice. I’m not using it.”

Sometimes it's more fun to be the piñata than it is to be the birthday party-planner.

Sometimes it’s more fun to be the piñata than it is to be the birthday party-planner.

I bake from scratch. If you don’t, you might be impressed by that statement. Don’t be. When you buy cake mix, you are really just buying the dry ingredients, pre-sifted and pre-measured. I feel pretty confident that anyone can measure and sift flour, sugar, and baking soda.

Because I bake from scratch, however, it is a little surprising that on Saturday night at 10 pm, I was at the Giant buying cake mix. What’s not surprising? That I was feeling tired, frustrated, and angry as I shopped for cake mix. Perhaps you saw me–blonde woman with a red face and bags under her eyes stomping around Giant while muttering to herself about how this was the last party her kid was ever going to get? Yep. That was me.

You see, earlier in the week, my daughter and I discussed her Sunday birthday party, and she said she wanted apple cupcakes. I found a recipe in a cookbook written by a very reputable caterer, and even though I knew something was very wrong—the flour-to-sugar ratio was one-to-one and it contained eight cups of chopped apples—I ignored that inner-voice that said, “You aren’t making cupcakes. You are making a sticky, gooey mess. Something is very wrong with this recipe. Misprint? Typo? Find another recipe.” No, I countered that piece of common sense intuition with, “But this is what the book says! It was written by someone who knows waaaaay more about baking than I ever will.”

So, I wasn’t that surprised when I pulled the first batch from the oven and discovered that the tops were rock-hard and having risen a little too much and spilled onto the pan, each cupcake was cemented into place. I destroyed most of them as I chiseled them free. And the taste? Ew. So sweet I had to spit it out.

I trashed the inedible, ugly cupcakes and headed to the store for cake mix.

Looking back, however, it wasn’t the cupcakes that put me over the edge that night. That was just the latest in a series of events that are really so typical of my sandwichy life. I had had days in which my husband was either at work or at his mother’s house preparing it was the new renters—and believe me, that house is worth a blog entry unto itself. So, I was the only adult around for days and planning this party was something I did when I wasn’t cleaning up messes, wiping butts, listening to people whine about what they don’t want for supper…if you are a parent, you get this. You’ve been there. Now, imagine one of these grouchy, little mess-makers isn’t your child, but your mother-in-law. Elder-care, in my experience, is all of the work and headache of parenthood, minus the joy.

I needed sleep. No, I needed a vacation—a month alone on a desert island?

I did not need the late night trip to the grocery store and the defeating knowledge that I would be up past mid-night or waking at 5 am to bake.

The Reader’s Digest version of this story is that I made cupcakes from a mix. They were delicious. Everyone loved them, but most importantly, everyone enjoyed the party and my daughter felt very special on her big day. No one even sensed the stress leading up to the party. The end. All is well that ends well, right?

But really, for me, all of this eventually resulted in a timely reminder—something that is good to figure out now and not in late December–or at the very end of one’s life.

As I was stuffing the piñata, gathering the party supplies, chopping eight cups of apples, and stomping around the grocery store, I was thinking, “I can’t wait for this party to be over!” and “If I can just make it through Sunday!” and “Let me just get this party behind me!” My only goal was to wake up on Monday morning knowing that I didn’t have to plan and execute another birthday party for my daughter until next October. Hooray.

But is that any way to go through life? Wanting to rush time? Get things over and done with so you don’t have to deal with them again? If so, you are treating a birthday party like a root canal. It’s certainly not what I want for myself or for anyone else, and yet, we are at that time of year in which people are so busy and time moves so quickly. It can feel like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all get rolled into one stress-filled week. You hear people say things like, “I’ll be glad when the holidays are over!”

But here’s the thing: Life was meant to be savored, enjoyed—not merely survived. While we are busy suffering, getting through, dealing with whatever life hands us, some pretty good things are happening. Remember why you are making costumes, roasting a turkey, and decorating a tree. The reason is always more important than the actual task.

We get to decide how much or how little we do when we celebrate a holiday or a birthday– and so often the details we dwell on aren’t the things that make the memories. I received a lot of compliments on those cake-mix cupcakes, but do you really think anyone is thinking about them today? God, I hope not.  Even as the stressed-out party-planner-mom, I get to choose what I remember—is it going to be scraping the stone-like sugar mess off my cupcake pan or how my daughter hugged her little friends as they arrived for the party? My husband not being around to help with the party prep or the sight of him giving each child a chance to take a swing at the piñata?

The other take-away—and this is a lesson I seem to need often—is to trust my instincts! I read that recipe a dozen times, and each time, I told myself that the flour to sugar ratio was off, and yet, I trusted what I saw in print more than I trusted me, my knowledge, my intuition. If I had just had a little faith in my own gut reaction, I could have saved myself a whole lot of time and grief.

My cake-wreck reminds me of a car-wreck. When I first moved into the city—literally, my first night in my new apartment—I found this great parking space right in front of the building. I heard a sharp warning in my head, “Do not park there. It isn’t safe. Park in the lot even if it does mean you will have to walk a greater distance.” I parked in that space anyway. All through the night, I kept thinking, “Maybe I should move my car. Maybe it would be safer in the lot,” but of course, I didn’t do it. And in the morning, I found my car had been side-swiped.

I told a friend what has happened, how I knew not to park there, but did it anyway. She said, “I hope you learned your lesson.”

“I did!” I said. “From now on, I will park in the lot and not on the street.”

“I meant about listening to that little voice that told you to move your car. It probably tells you other things.”

“Oh.” See? I told you this life-lesson gets repeated to me often.

So, there you go! Three lessons, three free take-aways—consider them to be your party-favor or goody-bag: 1) Enjoy life—don’t just get through it. 2) You choose your own memories, so focus on the good stuff. 3) Trust your gut.

Of course, if you stopped reading this post half way through, all’s well that ends well is a great lesson, too.




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