From Bitter to Glitter: Trying to find the sparkle in the Worst Birthday Party Ever

Wow. Not sure how to describe my day. As I mentioned in my previous blog post about turning 40 being similar to turning 4, today we celebrated my youngest’s 4th birthday.  But contrary to what I wrote in the previous blog post, my girl apparently does NOT know how to party.

She was SOooooo looking forward to her ballerina-themed party.  Perhaps too much. She had me decorate the house five days in advance, on her actual birthday, and it was all she talked about all week.  She even said she wasn’t “really” 4 until her party - which made me wonder if I should cancel my upcoming 40th birthday party so that I’m never “really” 40…

Since this was her first real party (unless you count some special playdates or family barbecues we passed off as her birthday parties in previous years), we decided to keep it small and only had five girls over.

Apparently that was four too many. She only had eyes for her B.F.F. and wanted to play with her alone in her room. When I made her come downstairs to play with her other guests, or invited her other friends into her room, she started crying. And she wouldn’t stop. The ENTIRE party.

She loves her other friends, and has had great 1:1 playdates with most of them, but she did not know how to share them with her one-and-only and it stressed her out. Plus, she’s just been really moody all month with the end of the school year, transitioning off her nap, and who knows what else. Perhaps she has picked up on my increased stress level this month. Or maybe it’s just P.M.S. – Preschooler Meltdown Syndrome.

Whatever it was, it didn’t get any better. Once the tears started, she didn’t know how to stop them, and anything and everything set her off.  She said she wanted to start the dance party, then started screaming when her friends started dancing because she didn’t want a dance party. She said she wanted to play with her friends upstairs in her room, then screamed that she wanted to be downstairs. She said she wanted everyone to just sit on the couch and talk. They did, and she stormed out crying that she didn’t like what they were talking about.  I was losing it and she had clearly already lost it.

Thank God her friends were so sweet, and their mothers were so awesome, they all carried on while the Birthday Girl hid behind a chair in the corner of the room and screamed her head off.  There were moments of calm: when the pizza arrived, when she opened her gifts, when she ate her cupcake, and in the end when I let her play with her B.F.F. upstairs. But the remaining 105 minutes of her two-hour party she was in tears (note to self: two hours is too long for a 4-year-old party at your house when you have not hired any entertainment).

I mentioned to the other moms that this could be good fodder for my blog, if I could even bring myself to write about it. If you’ve read my blog before, you know I usually try to have a positive angle on even negative things – to turn crappy into happy – but I couldn’t find any silver linings in this crap.

The truth was, I just wanted it to end and to never think about it again. As soon as the last guest left, I took down all the decorations and hid all evidence of the party. I gave a few cupcakes to my neighbors and then scarfed down too many myself (another note to self: don’t make a batch of cupcakes for only 5 guests, there are WAY too many leftovers).

My daughter bounced back shortly after the party, but I was still shell-shocked for hours. My heart honestly did not slow down back to normal pace until about seven hours and two glasses of wine later.  I don’t know why it unnerved me so. Part of my trauma was seeing my little girl so miserable on her special day; part of it was my own disappointment in this party we had planned and looked forward to together; and, if I’m completely honest, a lot of it was that I was frustrated that the other moms were getting such a wrong impression of my normally sweet and happy girl. 

At bedtime the Birthday Girl was elated and wouldn’t stop talking about all the great presents she received at her party. At one point she clutched some glitter pens that came with one of her gifts and said euphorically, “Mommy, today was the best day EVER! Because, [raises glitter pens up high] GLITTER!”

I looked at my sweet, gleeful daughter with equal parts awe, relief, and appreciation. She was not dwelling on her previous misery or disappointment; she felt no shame or embarrassment; all she felt in that moment was pure joy. Because, glitter.


According to Wikipedia, glitter “describes an assortment of very small, flat, reflective particles. When particles are applied to surfaces, they reflect light at different angles, causing the surface to sparkle or shimmer.”  That’s exactly what my girl did tonight. She applied her current good mood to her earlier frustration and saw her day from a different angle, causing the whole day to sparkle and shimmer and brighten any lurking darkness.

I need to do more of that. Forget the bitter and focus on the glitter.  My glitter today was seeing my four-year-old’s eyes light up as she regaled me with animated descriptions of each of her gifts. My glitter today was tucking her in her bed and hearing her say, “I love you Mommy” (it was almost enough to make me forget her saying, “I hate this party and it’s all your fault, Mommy!” earlier in the day). My glitter today was lying down in her bed next to her after she fell asleep, listening to her deep, calm breaths, and remembering how soundly she used to sleep on top of me just four short years ago.

It’s true that “all that glitters is not gold.”  Sometimes really crappy, stressful, embarrassing, painful things can also glitter, if you allow yourself to see it.

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