Shared parties are a blessing and a curse.
Written and illustrated by Vivian Hansen de los Ríos
My sister and I are two years and eleven months apart, meaning our birthdays are less than a month away from each other. To our childish dismay, this frequently resulted in combined birthday parties (I can see the parent logic there: Why suffer the logistical nightmare twice in a matter of weeks?). As we bemoaned having to "share" this party (and cake and attention), the results were so spectacular that some old friends still reminisce about them over twenty years later.
I'm definitely not talking about picture-perfect, adorably-decorated, coherently-themed extravaganzas that social media is trying to convince me is the norm these days. The theme was always "It's Their Birthdays So Let's Have Everyone Over and Make a Big Mess Doing Something Creative."
"Do you remember that year we made our own beanie babies?" a friend recently asked me. Hell yeah I do, we were Build-A-Bear before they existed! We picked out scrap fabrics donated by our seamstress neighbor, cutting out the simple shapes from templates; my mom stitched it together on her machine, and we stuffed them. My brother still has his after all these years: a green lizard with a red plaid underbelly, tongue sticking out, googly eyes that swirl around madly.
Our super-crafty mom didn't stop there. Another year, she sewed some simple white doll dresses, supplying us with ample glitter glue, rhinestones, markers, and lace scraps to design our own masterpieces. She let a few of the older kids learn to use the machine, always patient, never worried about mess or risk or terribly failed projects. Another year, we tie-dyed tee shirts (and our arms, and the floor). Buckets of dye, rubber bands popping, old tee shirts turned into some very unique if inelegant works of art. I think dye and glitter were permanently absorbed into the floors of that house.
Besides the crafting, party games just sort of materialized. We mounted up teams and went on a neighborhood Scavenger Hunt ("Excuse me sir, do you have a dryer sheet, a cotton ball, and three pieces of elbow macaroni?"). One of the more extreme games to induce adrenaline in our little redneck* hearts involved seeing who could spend the longest time in the pen with the geese. Two live, territorial geese. It was terrifying. I don't think anyone made it past more than about fifteen seconds.
And nearly every year, we'd wind the night down with a 2:00 AM fashion show, wherein we'd fight over the prettiest pieces of home made or thrift store procured costumes in our trunk. The gaudy glittering tops, ill-fitted dance leotards, sashes of bright satin, and hoards of Mardi Gras beads made us all feel like pageant queens and look like something peeled off a Las Vegas sidewalk. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) little photographic evidence of these fashion shows now exist. We'd fall asleep waiting on our friends to assemble their outfits, waking the next day with itchy imprints of sequins on our skin.
All of these parties merge together in my memory. I remember very little about any gifts, except one particular year. As I was nearing my teens, my grandmother asked my mom what we wanted for our birthdays. She immediately responded that my sister was dying for a puppy. I was too "grown up" to so ardently express my desires (read: beg for things), and my mom couldn't think of anything off the top of her head for me. "Well, is there anything she needs?" our grandmother asked. Jokingly, my mom suggested socks and underwear.
That year, in front of all our friends, family, and random people from the neighborhood, my little sister ecstatically received an adorable, fluffy, white puppy. I then proceeded to open a festively wrapped package of socks and underwear.
I finally put my foot down about the whole joint-birthday thing.
And incidentally, that may have been the same year as the tie-dye party. Her puppy may not have still been white the next day. As I said...it's all a blur.
*Redneck is only a term I use in hindsight. If you ever actually called me a redneck as a kid, I would have thrown a fit. We preferred the term "Mississippi Mudpuppy," lovingly bestowed on us by our Grandaddy.