Single mama Nichole Brown writes about her beloved daughter Emmy’s birthdays and the celebrations she created for them in the chaos of change.
Before she was even born I had started planning Emmy’s first birthday. I knew it would be pink, princess, delicate, and sweet. I knew there would be tulle of some kind, ribbon of some kind, and little glass milk bottles with paper straws. There would be a pink dress ordered from an online bridal store, there would be diamantes, and there would be individually boxed cupcakes for guests to take home.
We didn’t have much money, let alone money to spare on a birthday party, so planning ahead was a necessity. With months to spare I started ordering decorations, designing the cake, and making the guest list. Invitations were printed in the middle of winter, despite having an end of spring baby, and envelopes were addressed and stamped, just waiting for a more appropriate time to mail them.
The day before her party the tears started. We had made it – just her and I – almost one entire year together. We were happy and in love, and I was overwhelmed with the thought of having my baby be any number other than zero.
The day came and went and she was none the wiser. She couldn’t walk, could barely string together a few incoherent mumblings, and the sugar overload had given her a sore tummy.
Almost immediately the planning for Two began. I forgot to make secret boards on Pinterest so all of my friends knew they would be attending a carnival themed birthday in eleven more months. Photo booth props were made, and shopping for a new outfit commenced. New glass milk bottles were ordered – this time with flavoured milkshake straws – and instead of plates we bought cardboard takeaway boxes to eat hotdogs, fudge, and candy apples out of.
We sent out three page folding invitations with tiny hand cut bunting. The carousel cake staked on top of three tiers of cupcakes took two people to move and needed Nan on security to stop kids picking delicious bits off it. Giant Jenga and the kissing booth were big hits, though the bouncy castle proved a pretty worthless addition.
The day came and went, and this time she was a little wiser. She’d learned a lot in a year, and could run – fast – and eat without too many consequences.
I cried again that day too. Reading all the beautiful messages in the birthday cards reminded me that even though it was just Emmy and me, I wasn’t the only person who loved her.
Then half way through her third year shit collided colossally with fan: enter Daddy. Nothing aligned, chaos ensued, and our lovely little life balance got LOL’d out the door. Suddenly there was all of this newness – new people, new relationships, new bonds – and it overtook the friendly familiarity of our ‘oldness’. Nothing was the same, certainly nothing got easier, and we learned first-hand that change can be both incredibly good and heartbreakingly bad all at the same time.
For two long and beautiful years, her birthday was the day when we could reflect on us – just the two of us – and how much we had grown together. It was our little celebration among the magnificent anarchy of life that gave us a little sigh of relief. We weren’t sure where our lives were heading, and other than each other we didn’t really have much to look forward to, and so birthdays became our little pillar. If we could just make one more birthday together and still be in love with each other, and with the life we had built, then we would be OK.
So, just as we had every other year, we clung onto her impending third birthday and threw everything we had into planning the celebrations – just her and me, like it had always been. She chose a cake that cost more than two weeks’ groceries, we hired a secluded spot at the local gardens, and the invitations were printed on cards we found in the wedding stationery section. There was too much of everything and Emmy absolutely loved it.
And then it was over and once again, shit and fan collided, but instead of getting lost in the rubble the most beautiful thing happened.
We got our own shit together. Instead of letting life just happen to us we decided to put the pieces back together exactly how we wanted. We kissed ‘the plan’ goodbye, jumped over onto the ‘non-plan’ plan, threw ourselves into things and people that actually mattered, moved to the beach, and started wearing nothing but bare feet and smiles.
Instead of living all year for that one day, we started living for every day. I threw myself into my work and Emmy threw herself into all the muddiest, messiest, dampest places at kindy. We started going to all the places we read about, and enjoying life for what it was, not for what it should have been.
Did life automatically get easier? Hah! No! But it got better, and fuller, and brighter. Did we get any extra help? Hah! No! But we said yes to every single opportunity, no matter how scared we felt.
Suddenly we had more to look forward to – little adventures, new loves, forever friends, and golden opportunities. Days turned quickly into weeks which turned quickly into seasons which turned quickly into holy shit it’s nearly November and we haven’t even ordered a birthday cake!
With only days to go before her birthday we’ve still got a couple of invitations that haven’t yet seen the inside of the post office, I’ve not had a chance to check if the BBQ gas bottle is full, and I’ve not even bought her a present.
It’s not because I don’t care – because lord only knows that I am so in love with my little girl that I still cry dropping her off at kindy. But now our life has more meaning and more happiness than that one day we used to cling onto.
There will still be cake, there will still be presents, and there will still be all the people that love her, but there will be no big hurrah this year because we finally look forward to every single day.
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