photo: Unsplash/Roseanna Smith

The easiest birthday we ever had was at a bowling alley. All of the entertainment and food were provided and, aside from sitting in a heaping bowl of mac and cheese and almost losing my right pinky to an 8-pounder (don’t ask me how these things happen), we had a ball.

We also had some change to spare and can you really put a price on your kid’s happiness? Apparently, you can, to the grand tune of … we could have bought the place and still turned a profit.

I enjoy birthdays, really I do, like I enjoy scooping the litter box after it’s been sitting for a few days, or patrolling the house late at night, shutting all the lights and windows, turning off the stove so our brick pile doesn’t burn to the ground while we’re sleeping, because apparently I have a uterus and henceforth, these will forever be known as my jobs, along with planning our daughter’s 17th birthday for just 30-40 of our closest friends and relatives. Insert heavy drinking here.

“I’m assuming we’ll have a theme,” L said one night at dinner, aka that delightful time between 6 and 7 p.m., which everyone typically approaches whatever dietary fare I’ve prepared with a general sense of malaise and grumbles so much, we actually set up an alternate “bistro” table in an adjoining room because we couldn’t stand to listen to them complain for one more second.

“Theme?” I asked, trying to sound bright, cheery and not half in the bag. Everyone eyed me expectantly. I took a moment to consult my uterus and the industrial size bottle of Pinot in front of me.

“Theme,” I repeated.

“Yeah, like a beachy theme,” my younger daughter chimed in. “Or like a glow night … oh, or ‘Stranger Things.’ That’s big right now.” Kids disappearing? Supernatural events? Pedestrians being chased by demons? Sounds like my idea of a good time.

Here’s a theme for you … how about sleep-deprived, stressed-out mother makes personal crisis journey to the Dollar General store, walks around with a cart for the better part of an hour, buys no decorations, does buy a lipstick (upon application) far better suited to a birthday clown and some Mambas (remember those?), eats the entire package while driving home in a state of disbelief … why can’t there just be plates that match the napkins? How many garden gnomes does one store need? Does anyone really buy underwear in Dollar General? Seriously, I was debating it. They had some nice elastic Granny numbers. Sexy, I know.

The Four Seasons’ “Big Girls Don’t Cry” comes on the radio and it’s like the summer of 1963, (which obviously I didn’t live through but one can imagine — thank you, Dirty Dancing, may we never recover) and suddenly I’m undulating, channeling my inner Jennifer Gray, pre-nose job, at the stoplight blissfully unaware of the person on my left who undoubtedly thinks I’m having some sort of Swayze-induced seizure.

But I kinda want to cry because in less than a week I have to pull off not only a party but a theme — a theme, complete with matching plates and utensils and possibly garden gnomes (I couldn’t resist) and those oversized balloon numbers 1 and 7 that people always seem to have but I never can seem to find and a cake that doesn’t read “Happy 70th, Glinda.”

It’s the day of the party. I’m trying desperately to correct the writing on the cake, but finally, I just scrape it off and smooth out the frosting, hoping my guests have had enough alcohol not to notice.

I pull out the feather boa and birthday crown and plop the Red Vines on the table. I was going for a “Gilmore Girls” theme but it sort of turned Las Vegas-stripper-meets-Hillbilly-Elegy in the end, complete with a roaring fire in our old washing machine basin and some broken chairs to sit on.

I invited Milo but he never responded. This long-distance thing, I decide, is getting harder and harder to maintain, especially since he seems glaringly oblivious to my existence. Celebrities these days.

But aside from the lack of matching flatware and the garden gnomes, whose eyes truly seem to be following us, and the feather boa that took the last plane to Vegas, all in all, I’d say it was a close second to almost breaking my pinkie and sitting in cheesy pasta.

“This was great, Mom,” my younger daughter tells me later. “If you can do all this for L’s birthday, I can’t wait to see what you’ll do for mine! I’m thinking maybe a luau or a — no, no, it’s coming to me, wait, wait … a carnival with rides, games, maybe a ferris wheel or two and those spinning teacup things … they rent those, right?”

“Sure,” I say. Clearly, money’s no object. I take a bite of Glinda’s 70th. “You know what I always like?”

She shakes her head, fishing a stick into the washing machine basin, coming up with a charred boa.


Columnist Lesley Kirschner grew up quiet, in the woods, and devoid of siblings so her hobbies quickly became reading, writing, and talking to inanimate objects. She also spent a considerable amount of time doing voice-overs for her dolls and watching too much daytime television–channel 3, sometimes channel 8, if the weather was good and the antenna wasn’t acting up. She was in attendance at school, graduated from a very much not notable college not worth mentioning, and was transplanted to Wilton with her husband, Ambler Farm‘s Farmer Jonathan and their (baby makes) three children almost a decade ago. Although she never quite found her calling in life, other than perhaps the doll voice-overs, which in hindsight were eerily convincing, she’s happy to try her hand at writing and is thankful for the support and community she found on Facebook’s Buy Nothing Wilton. Lesley realizes while this is all very exciting, she’s not winning a Pulitzer so she’ll wrap it up and be quiet. She’s had a lot of practice.