A timely article inspired by my daughter who turns 6 tomorrow. The years are going by fast, but very early on I started thinking about traditions and celebrations and dreamt of how I would do these with my girl, and I dreamt of a full family with two parents and laughter and fun times and lots of love and treasured moments. It’s funny, there is a staunch independent strong side to me that feels empowered that I can do things alone and I really treasure the nice moments we do have and feel this extra urge to put a lot of effort in to the celebrations. However, when I dream, I dream of a bigger family, that encompasses a husband and more children, and I dream of the delight and happiness and laughter of a family unit bigger than just us…I know as I type this, and feeeel the emotion, that a big part of that holds the sadness for what I haven’t given her for the first 6 years of her life, and the hope and warmth of a future that I can.

I thought about the moments that I remembered from my childhood, and celebrations were definitely near the top of the list. At the time I think I probably just thought about what presents I got. But looking back, I felt a sense of togetherness and excitement and the scurry of running around getting things ready, joy, laughter, yummy food to enjoy, lovingly prepared by my mum, and lots of presents. Not necessarily big expensive presents, it was just one of mum’s things, she liked having lots of presents and I remember at Christmas there was always lots of little presents, even a wee lip balm would be wrapped and we all got caught up in the excitement of just unwrapping them all, with a surprise in every one. In hindsight, these moments seem like a lighthouse amidst a dark sea.

I understand now, that for the parents, or the mum at least, it can be quite a stressful time. The decision-making process of working out what to buy your child, what is too much and what is too little, how much is too much to spend and how much is just enough, what is age appropriate and what will lead to them wanting something beyond their years too soon, whether to have a party and how many people is acceptable to invite, what is a cool party or one that will outcast them. I can see how parents in the big smoke get so competitive. I am glad we are more small town and that I don’t really care for that sort of competition. I hear it is like that on our own back doorstep, but I choose to ignore it. I seriously don’t think I could cope if I did, I can see that I put enough pressure on myself as a solo mum, for my child to not be the child from the solo parent family that doesn’t have a decent uniform or shoes on her feet and that she isn’t missing out on what she could’ve had if her parents were together. I can see why most budgets you find online and budgeting services, have a space to allocate money for birthdays, and if there are several kids I can understand hell why not open up a separate birthday account. I just have one child, but at the end of the day, the other bills don’t stop because it’s your daughter’s birthday, and unless you plan to not celebrate your child’s birthday, it’s an expected bill that you have a whole year to plan for. I bought one of her presents in January, if only I had followed suit with the rest, I could have made her cake then too 😉

Our birthday Tradition (every year since Mikaela-Rose turned 2)

  1. Birthday girl can choose what she wants for breakfast and dinner
  2. I display her pressies on the dining room table the night before which has one what I call big present (i.e. this year I bought her an mp3 player because she is always listening to music and singing) and the rest are little things like a lip balm, knickers and a t-shirt and shorts, a little purse, a scrapbook pad and crayons she wanted, a book.
  3. I decorate the dining room table with birthday confetti, poppers or similar, balloons, snake lollies, chocolate coins (she always gets chocolate coins birthday and Christmas) and a big Happy Birthday banner
  4. A big long journal of a birthday card usually saying how special she is that I read out to her (and she always keeps them on her dresser or somewhere close and I catch her looking at her cards randomly throughout the year, its obvious that they are special to her). This year she will be able to read it all herself!
  5. Keep a birthday book and each year we put in the birthday cards, photo of her table, what she did, who came, what presents she got, etc. – for her to look back on.

This year is extra special, as I wrote this we were preparing to board a plane to Wellington. Her cousin turns one tomorrow and I decided it would be really special to celebrate their birthdays together. Our bags are packed, half clothes and half presents and birthday table stuff. Over the years it has become really important for me to have the continuity of her birthday celebration, I know she will remember them as she gets older and at least the feeling of warmth, connectedness, the love, the joy and laughter, and hold on to these as she journeys through life. This is unique and exciting in more ways than one. We have another celebration on the way…after two years commuting back and forth Tauranga to Taupo every other weekend, we are finally making a move to Taupo to blend with my partner and his two kids…so next year my girl will be celebrating her birthday surrounded by double the love and excitement and connected with a step brother and sister and a step father who loves her very much. The kids have grown very close, it feels right and all the planets are aligning to make this happen. I can feel the tears welling up now, knowing that on so many levels, our dreams we dared to dream are coming true. Pick your celebrations and make them special, they hold the stuff that dreams develop from.


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Michelle Woolley is a qualified nanny, has worked in hospitality, accounts and advertising, and is now studying Bachelor of Social Work full-time, working part-time as a support worker for people with disabilities. In her teens, she volunteered at kids' camps and listened to real life stories, dried the tears of many young girls struggling with living in a broken family. She didn’t realise that one day she would be drying the tears of her own child while parenting alone. Join her as she writes about her journey.

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