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I Know What Martha Stewart's Mother Must Have Felt Like

Our darling daughter, Eleanor's, 8th birthday is on this Thursday. Everyone is the family is already exhausted and wishing it was over. Oh stop - I am not heartless, and you aren't here, so you don't know!

Eleanor is a girl of many talents, and one of them is an eye for elegance and occasion, and the need to live it. Here's an example: On Sundays Eleanor hosts her Ugly Doll Club. She passes out tickets for the event, dresses the room, plans an activity, makes a snack, and we all join her for club time. This last Sunday the snack was bananas and pears, sliced on the diagonal and laid out in a geometric round on the plate with all pear points facing inward, and a little tower of banana slices in the middle. The plate was sprinkled lightly with sugar. We didn't have the turbinado sugar she wanted, which frustrated her.

The tickets were valid for the next four weeks of club dates, and at the entrance one corner was torn off by Eleanor to show that it had been used this week. The club was held under a blanket-fort in the living room. This happens every Sunday. It's quite charming and fun, until we've had enough of clubbing, and are ready to move on to other things. Then Eleanor gets annoyed. "The club is always too short! It should be at least two hours or something!" 

I'm 43 years old. I don't want to sit under a blanket and color and talk about Ugly Dolls for two hours. It hurts my back. Now - give me a book and a pillow and a glass of wine and I'll stay there forever...

Here is the list of things that Eleanor wants to do for her birthday. This is not a pick-and-choose list. She says her birthday should include all of these things:

  • Breakfast in bed
  • Present opening
  • Dressing up and going to High Tea at the very posh Caledonian in Edinburgh (an hours drive away)
  • Painting a piece of pottery at Ceramic Experience (half an hour drive for this one)
  • Making homemade cookies; both snickerdoodles and chocolate chip
  • Goody bags for the whole family, including the birthday girl, with individually picked prizes in each one
  • A small party with a few of her new friends, some balloons and banners saying Happy Birthday, and the walls decorated with crepe paper and streamers. The party should also have a theme.
  • A trip to the toy store
  • A chocolate birthday cake with vanilla filling and white fondant with decorations like a wedding cake on top
  • And a candle in the shape of an 8 on top of the cake
  • My homemade chili for dinner
  • Family Video Night with her choice of movie
  • Going out that evening for Guy Fawkes fireworks in the park

All of this in one day. Eleanor does understand intellectually that all of this can't happen, but she's so very attached emotionally that she gets sad and mad and dissolves into a puddle of tears on the floor saying, "It's so frustrating!!!" when we talk about the reality of the situation, which is that we don't do those birthdays. We never have done those birthdays. We're not pony-ride and hired-princess people. Neither are you I'll bet.

I still remember that cake. It was beautiful! Thanks Wendy.Eleanor requested breakfast in bed for her 6th birthday too.

This isn't the first year that I have felt the pressure of jumping through hoops to please Eleanor. And I'm not the only one. A few years ago Eleanor had a specific vision of what her birthday cake should look like, involving vining flowers and fairy dust. I baked the vanilla and raspberry cake. My dear friend, Wendy, who has blue ribbons hanging on her kitchen wall for her cake-decorating brilliance, helped me decorate it. Even Wendy was nervous! Eleanor's exacting eye had a blue-ribbon winner on her toes!

Yesterday I sat down with my little girl and had a heart-to-heart. I talked about how a girl who is 8 years old shouldn't get a tiered wedding cake for her birthday, because then what would she have to look forward to on her wedding? I talked about how we all love her so very much, and want to do things for her that she might not even know about yet. I talked about how she was totally bumming her dad and I out, and no matter what we did, we knew it wouldn't be enough! We just can't AFFORD all this stuff you want!! And even if we could I STILL wouldn't do it because it's more than ANY one child needs!! I AM NOT GOING TO RAISE A SPOILED BRAT!!!!...

At this point Bob laid a hand on my shoulder and gripped. Firmly. I stopped talking and took a deep breath. Here is what Bob had to say to her while I closed my eyes and counted to ten.

"Eleanor - your birthday will be a good as you decide it will be. If you decide to be disappointed at what doesn't happen, then no matter what we do it won't be enough, and you will be sad. If you decide that you'll have a great day, with your family around you wishing you well, then you will be happy."

It's hard to know that I can't fix this for her. I hope she sorts it out. I'm spending almost £50 on High Tea. This is one of the great things about being Eleanor's mom. You get an excuse to do for her what you wouldn't do for yourself. And she likes doing such fun things!

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Reader Comments (8)

Are you sure it was Bob who said that? How did he get so wise? must be being in Europe...

This was very touching, I hope and pray that you all have a wonderful day.
Much love.

Nov 3, 2009 at 11:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterRupert

WOW B, I wish we could have a long talk!! I TOTALLY relate. OMG, this sounds like my house (different details, same scenario.) Thank God for a husband who can pacify when I start escalating.
Enjoy E's birthday even if she doesn't!! She's so gorgeous. Remember, it's a life process, she'll grow out of it. xx

Nov 4, 2009 at 11:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

Dearest Eleanor,
Chloe and I love you so much and wish we could hug you and help you celebrate your birthday. We will look at photos of you and tell stories as we remember some of the adventures we have shared. We would even drink some stinging metal juice in your honor but alas we don't have any. Have a super day!! Dora

Dear Ella,
Wow!! Eight years old! I miss you so much and wish I could be there to celebrate your birthday! Have a whole bunch of fun, and we'll make sure to call you on skype. Have fun at tea, and again happy birthday

Nov 4, 2009 at 8:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterDora

Hi everyone,

What a wonderful story. You are awesome parents! And Dear Eleanor, Russ and I wish you the happiest birthday ever. WOW, eight years old! I can't imagine anything lovlier to do to celebrate a young lady's birthday than High Tea. It's perfect! Enjoy!

We'll look forward to seeing pictures and hearing more about your very special day.

Love and hugs,

Nov 4, 2009 at 10:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterDorothy

Hope you had a Wonderfull Birthday E...My little girl Abbi is 7, And says Happy Birthday toooo!!!!

Nov 5, 2009 at 6:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Antry

OMG! Our daughters share the same birthday, just 3 years apart. She sounds just like my Mia! I chalk it up to being the baby to two older sisters. I think I might use your words, Bobby, tonight with Mia. We do tend to jump through hoops for our children, don't we? Mia's main request was a Black Forest cake.
Take care. I enjoy your stories.


Nov 5, 2009 at 7:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterLori Medlin Casagrande

Happy birthday Eleanor. I miss you very much.

Nov 5, 2009 at 8:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul

OMGosh! Eleanor! Happy Happy Belated Happy Birthday! Our little 8 year old world traveling friend. I hope your day was fabulous. Even if you didn't have a tiered wedding cake. Haley wants one like that too!

Nov 15, 2009 at 7:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterLisa Gilford

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