Last month, Olive turned six years old.
I woke up in the soft grey of early morning and made waffles in our quiet kitchen, my feet cold against the stone tiles.
As I did, I thought about each of the past six years, right back to the beginning. Those months where I carried her inside of me; when I became so used to her tumbling, kicking, curious presence that my belly felt oddly still and empty after.
It’s one of the most vivid memories I have, that morning that I first met her, looking into her dark eyes and feeling so protective now that she was out with me in the world.
As I sat by her bed that morning a few weeks ago before waking her up, I kept thinking about how much she’s changed since that day and how much she’s changed me, too.
Birthdays were always a big deal in my family. Growing up as one of six kids, it was one of the few times that something truly belonged to you, from start to finish. We had to share absolutely everything else – rooms, clothing, toys, friends, our parents – but your birthday? That was yours and yours alone, and my mom always went out of her way to make it special.
Olive’s childhood has been different from mine in many ways, but most starkly because she’s not one of six kids, she’s just one. The world I grew up in, where I was surrounded with five buddies who played with me and harassed me and entertained me is so drastically different from hers where I have to arrange playdates, create activities, entertain her.
When my marriage ended, one of hardest things to accept was the loss of the big family I’d always imagined in my head, in which Olive wasn’t the only, but the oldest.
I’d always pictured her with two or three little siblings driving her as mad as mine had. I’d pictured her teaching them and helping them, learning from them the skills of patience and humility and apology. I pictured myself as the harried but loving mom of a big, boisterous brood of kids. Holding the chaos at bay.
A few years ago, I realized I wasn’t going to have any more kids.
It was a gut feeling that just showed up one day and I didn’t know where it came from, but I knew it was true.
To be honest, it was hard as hell to come to terms with. I felt like I had to grieve almost. Losing those someday kids felt so real to me, it was like they’d actually existed. Letting them go was heartbreaking. My children. Olive’s siblings.
Over time, however, I’ve come to feel at peace with this. Life with Olive, life as a mother-of-one has now come to feel more real now than that imagined chaos, my imagined mother-of-three-or-four self.
So while I’ve always liked doing these parties for Olive for all the regular reasons and as a way of carrying on the tradition my mom had for us where we felt so special and loved and seen, they’ve seemed more significant now because now I know that each one is both the first and the last.
I didn’t know at the time that my first pregnancy was also my last. I have mixed feelings about that. Maybe it was better I didn’t know, but I also wish I’d done one of those belly casts to capture my ridiculous proportions, taken more pictures, or somehow found a way to absorb that feeling of little kicking feet.
But I do know, now. So each year, I try and soak myself in Olive’s birthday celebration and stretch it out. A three-year-old’s birthday. A six-year old’s. I get one chance at each.
Sometimes I overdo it, and I usually end up with a migraine for the entire weekend because I’ve stressed myself out about everything, but it means so much to me to be able to celebrate these things. My daughter. The day I became a mother. How each new age means we’ve come another beautiful year further. Learned together. Grown together. Loved each other.
Her friend party was held the day after her real one, at our place. We invited six of her little buddies (to keep things simple, she’s always allowed to invite as many friends as the age she’s turning).
This year, she’d asked for a jungle party. This was a bit of a departure from previous years when she’s requested a dinosaur party, a puppy party, and a kitty party.
I think it all came down to indecision, really. First, it was a giraffe party. Then a tiger party. Then a lion party. She couldn’t decide! So in the end, a jungle party covered all of these bases – she didn’t have to pick an animal and I was spared the anguish of trying to construct a cake that resembled a giraffe.
Olive and I talk a lot about the importance of helping other people, so each year we donate to a group that matches her birthday theme. Last year we donated to the SPCA for her kitty party, this year we collected donations to the WWF.
(Real talk: These donations might still be sitting in a jar in my kitchen because good lort things are busy lately. But soon, soon they will become a REAL donation to the WWF.)
I stayed up until an embarrassingly late hour the night before the party, painstakingly constructing tiny party hats for various jungle animals. (It’s way harder than it looks! I swear!)
And the next morning, my saint of a mother arrived with latte in hand, and we began transforming my house into a jungle.
I’m already a bit of a crazy plant lady, so it really wasn’t that much of a stretch, but I’d also borrowed plants from my mom and sister to fill our rooms with greenery.
I found little tropical plants to hand out as party favours, so the first activity the kids did when they got here was decorating terracotta plant pots to put them in. My god, six is a civilized age! They were so tidy and efficient and organized!
The only problem with this newfound efficiency was that promptly twenty minutes after starting this activity, they were all done. DONE! And there was still two and a half hours to go!
I panicked, cobbled together a few games of charades, and managed to keep enough entertainment going until we got to pinata smashing, and then snacks and cake.
I’m not going to lie, this cake is one of my most prized achievements to date. I might remove my degree and frame a picture of this, instead.
Mostly I just can’t believe that it worked. I baked and stacked and iced and sprinkled and set animals on top and nothing went wrong. It truly was a birthday miracle.
I was appropriately humble about this miracle when posting about it on Instagram:
Olive loved it.
It was a beautiful birthday, and I’m so proud of this six-year-old girl. Each year she is kinder, cleverer, better at expressing herself through words and speech and drawing. She cares so deeply about animals, is so great with babies.
She’s quick and sassy, witty and wise. I’m so lucky to call her my daughter
I love this, thanks for sharing. I have one child (daughter) so I strongly relate, each birthday, milestone, transition, is that much more poignant because it’s the only one I get. Nice reminder to soak them in. I have only one child by choice, but there is always an ache in my heart about that. I think it’s more of an ache about the passing of time as there will always be a ‘last’ even if you have more than one child.
Congratulations and Happy birthday, Olive. I have just one daughter too. I wish I had more children, but I’m grateful to have even one! Thanks for your article.