The ‘Best Birthday Evah’ by 914mom.com
Brooke Bizzell Stachyra, a journalist and mother of two girls, created 914mom.com for Westchester moms and families.
When I was growing up in New York City (several decades ago), a great birthday party was held at the kid’s home, included a poster of an animated donkey with an “x” in place of a tail and a homemade cake brightly decorated with gobs of frosting and ended, if you were lucky, with the opportunity to bang your frustrations out on a well stuffed piñata! We’d exit with a plastic bag bulging with candy and a sugar buzz that would drive our parents crazy for the next few hours.
In 1998, I was thrown back into the world of children’s birthday parties when my oldest daughter India, started getting invites to celebrate with playgroup friends and neighbors in our Westchester community. What I experienced as a new parent shocked me. The parties were held at play-spaces, restaurants, and just about everywhere except at home. We caved into the pressure and threw India’s first birthday party in the back room of a restaurant, feeding the adults, and putting out a blanket covered with bowls of Cheerios for the crawlers and toddlers. That’s not to mention the hours I spent searching for the perfect party favors-animal-shaped combs that I personally monogrammed with each child’s name. Expectations were even higher by India’s third birthday, I had a 1-month-old baby girl on my hip and still the party went on! We entertained 20 of her nursery schoolmates and their parents at a gymnastic studio with instruction, snacks, dinner, cake, and yet another elaborate party favor.
For the next 10 years, my daughters attended more and more extravagant birthday parties, featuring performers, expensive food, and larger-than-life party favors. The most expensive parties were in New York City and included the now defunct Warner Brothers store on Fifth Avenue, lunch at the American Girl store, and dinner at the Hard Rock Café. This raised the bar for me. Each fall, I felt challenged to throw not one, but two spectacular bashes. I monogrammed porcelain piggy banks, threw an ice cream pajama social, and even used my professional connections to have That’s So Raven star Raven Simone send a recorded birthday greeting and party favors for the attendees. The effort was well worth it—my girls were happy and their friends (and more importantly their parents) were impressed.
But then I got tired and lost interest. I started combining the girls’ parties, throwing them in my basement or backyard and giving candy out as parting gifts. Then in 2009, when India started middle school, I just stopped, blaming things on my lack of steady employment, and lack of interest in continuing to participate in the birthday party competitions. I had perfect timing as a year later the bat and bar mitzvah invitations started flowing-there was no competing with Tappan Hill and fill-in-the-blank exclusive country clubs. I shifted my focus to inexpensive party dresses and figuring out the proper monetary gift according to each individual.
This past fall, when my youngest daughter Jillian turned 11, she insisted that we do something special. We decided to allow her to have a small dinner party with 10 of her closest friends. The rules were that it must be at a reasonably priced restaurant of her choice. But after failing to schedule a date that would work with the guests, I had a birthday epiphany.
Columbus Day weekend 2011, the weather predictions were record-breaking high temperatures into the 80s. I decided to do something unexpected. I called my mother and sister and asked them to help me make a new birthday memory for Jillian. On that Sunday, we packed picnic baskets, towels, and our suits and headed out to meet my family in Bay Shore, N.Y. My mother, sister, and her two daughters were waiting for us to board the ferry to Ocean Beach, Fire Island. A 20-minute ferry ride later, we were strolling to the beach under a sunlit, clear blue sky.
We spent hours frolicking in the sand, swimming, building castles, burying each other, snacking on our picnic feas, and taking photos to capture all of the fun. We ended our day as uninvited guests at an afternoon beach wedding and dinner at one of the local taverns. The ferry carried back seven exhausted, but happy birthday celebrants to reality. Jillian constantly describes this as her “best birthday evah” and I couldn’t agree more. Now to figure out how we’ll celebrate as a family this fall!
914Mom.com, in its beginning stages, aims to be a resource for Westchester moms and families with listings of events, shopping, and dining places in the neighborhood. Follow Brooke on @914Mom and find her on Facebook.