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A different kind of birthday party

My daughter turned 8 on Dec. 12. Several weeks before her birthday, I started to think about what to do for her birthday.

It's not that I am a good party planner and like to plan events in advance. I am not even a party person. Quite the opposite, I was just not sure what to do. The whole kids' birthday party thing was giving me some kind of blues.

If you ask my daughter what she wants to do for her birthday, she would say to have a birthday party at this or that place like her friends did.

Over the years, my kids have been invited to many birthday parties. They have been to the indoor playground, to the fabric store, to the candy store, to the color me store, to the sport store, to the bowling place, etc. to celebrate birthdays. My kids certainly want to do things just like other kids do.

Unfortunately, they have a mother who doesn't always like to do things just because everyone else does so. Because I personally don't like commercial birthday parties, or you may say, because I am too stingy, I will not pay someone or some place to do a birthday party for my kids.

I don't want to throw a lavish birthday party for them and flood them with more toys than they need. I don't want to have a birthday party where kids are dropped off and I don't even know who their parents are. My kids don't need to do a craft or decorate a cake at some stores. They can do it at home.

I know some people would not agree with me and say, it's the child's birthday. You should let her make the decision as what to do and where/how to do it. Just let her have fun for her birthday even if it means to spend more money. What's more important, your kids having fun and being happy or your money?

That's not the whole point. As a parent, I have my belief and value systems. I don't want to do things that are against my belief and value systems. I am only willing to do things that feel good to me, too. I am sure my lack of enthusiasm for birthday parties has something to do with my own childhood.

During my growing up years in China in the 1960s and '70s, birthday celebration was never a big issue. Like most kids at that time, I didn't have any birthday cakes or presents.

The best thing my parents could do for anyone in the family who had a birthday was to make a bow of noodles with an egg or meat. Sometimes we might not even remember a birthday. We had more things to think and worry about than someone's birthday date.

That's why I don't put much attention into a birthday celebration. Yes, I can afford a commercial birthday party for my kids, but that's not a good reason for me to do so.

In the past, we had invited some Chinese friends and their kids to our house for a party. It's a birthday party for kids, but also for parents to get together. This year I didn't something different for my daughter's birthday.

One thing stays unchanged. In the morning on her birthday date, as usual, she received a handmade birthday card which I created from scratch the night before and a little present.

But later in the afternoon after she came back from school, I took her to the new grocery store in town she had never been to and wanted to go and let her buy some healthy snacks. Afterwards we went to a restaurant we had never been to and got a carryout to eat at home.

I intended to have a surprise birthday party for my daughter on the weekend and invited two of her school friends and their parents to our house for dinner without her knowledge. But at age 8, she is not so easy to fool any more. She ended up figuring out what's going on and it wasn't so much a surprise in the end.

Both invited friends came to the party. One friend's parent and siblings came too. This family just moved to the U.S. from a French-speaking country in Africa in the summer.

They were starting a new life in Minnesota, having to adjust to the cold weather and a different language. I only briefly met this family once before and knew little about their background. So I thought it would be a good idea to invite this family over for some home cooked food and friendship.

We shared our meal together. The mother really enjoyed the Chinese food I prepared. We talked about kids and families while the kids having fun playing together.

Even though I had to spend more time and effort in preparing for this birthday party by cleaning my house and cooking dinner for the guests, I think it's more meaningful for me and hopefully for my daughter too.

What I want to teach her is birthday parties are not just about having fun and getting lots of presents. It's about people and relationships.

The day after my daughter's birthday, I saw a feature article in a newspaper titled "The giving party." It's about having a party with a purpose. It describes a Woodbury mother throwing a birthday party for her daughter at a fun place and donating the gifts to a charity.

I certainly like this party better than most other commercial birthday parties where kids just have fun. At least it also had a meaningful purpose. But for now, home made is still the best choice for me.