Daddy’s Birthday Disaster


by Aimee Tafreshi

August is the worst month for a birthday. It’s hotter than hell. In most states, kids go back to school in August. Goodbye sleeping in, hello pre-dawn wake-ups. My younger sister sometimes showed up for the first day of school on her birthday. My mom usually had to delay her birthday party so they would be able to invite children from her class. If you have a child with an August birthday, you may have to grapple with the issue of “redshirting” him for kindergarten, or starting on time, making him the youngest in the class. My husband and I debated the August birthday/redshirt issue at length before we even had children. For various reasons, August is a month fraught with issues.

So it makes perfect sense that I would marry someone with a late August birthday. I am drawn to this punishing month for whatever reason. My husband has not been spared from the wrath of August. Many of his birthdays have been spent on a cold submarine in the middle of the ocean, but that circumstance could have happened during a more reasonable month. Two of his birthdays immediately followed the birth of our second son and boy/girl twins (all born in late July). During those postpartum times, I was self-sequestered at home in a permanent state of disheveledness and recovering from two tough c-sections. Luckily, my mother-in-law saved the day last year, buying thoughtful gifts, wrapping them beautifully, and picking up a quality cake from a great bakery. Despite the chaos of newborn twins, my husband Alex seemed to enjoy his celebration, especially with his mother visiting from afar. The day felt special and a brief respite from the pool we were drowning in daily, caring for newborn twins.

This year I had no excuses (well, other than two demanding 12-month-old babies). We had just moved cross country to Midland, Texas, and with the older children in school and the little ones in care while I worked remotely, I could venture outside the home, buy gifts and even balloons! This year would be the one to make up for the past birthday failures. We had only been in our new home about two weeks when I started buying presents I thought he would enjoy—Texas Longhorn fan gear—a car decal for his new truck, a Texas shirt, a ball cap for the field, a bottle of quality bourbon, a nice pair of Longhorn dress socks. I got a recommendation from a local for a quality bakery and placed my order for a birthday Bundt cake, something unique and new to try. This birthday would be one for the books!

The big day for my husband arrived, and I began to complete the final touches. I had the children sign (and decorate) a heartfelt card for their father, and I found a humorous one that seemed to match our current state of chaos. I picked up a bouquet of balloons from the store, a family tradition. I decided on a restaurant for dinner, which did not accept reservations, but I figured if we arrived early enough, we should be able to get a table, as it was mid-week.

The day trudged on, and finally it was time to celebrate. I could tell Alex liked the balloons, and the tidy array of tastefully decorated gift bags and cards looked festive on our kitchen table. We gathered up our large brood and called the restaurant to inquire about a potential wait. They informed us that there wasn’t currently a wait, and a large table was open. So far, so good!

We arrived at the dinner spot, a place we had been dying to try on advice of our realtor since arriving in West Texas. I could almost taste the tequila of the margarita in my mouth. We approached the hostess stand where we learned that there would now be a 30 to 40 minute wait. Apparently others had showed up in the last 15 minutes. Okay, that’s just Midland, we thought, and amiably took a seat in the warm glassed-in waiting area. The kids were holding up okay, some on their electronics, and we fed the babies some puffs. After about half an hour, I sauntered back over to the hostess stand, where a host told me that the wait would be at least another 30 to 45 minutes. “But we’ve already been waiting 40 minutes,” I protested lightly, “and I saw a six top table available.” The host informed me that the table must have been for someone else. “Is it because we have children with us?” I asked somewhat rhetorically. “I don’t know,” he responded, “I’m new.” Huh?? So you’re saying we may possibly never get a table because we have children in tow? Couldn’t they have told us that from the get go and saved us all a lot of time?

I marched back to the waiting area and informed Alex of the latest development. “We may never get a table,” I lamented, “They’re going to make us wait until we just give up!” Alex, not one to take things sitting down, returned to the new employee to discuss things further. He returned a few minutes later and abruptly said, “Let’s go.” Apparently he’d christened the new host with a few choice words, and the next time we visit the restaurant, Alex will need to wear a disguise for us to get a table.

Not willing to give up, we headed back to our car and pulled up Yelp. I found another Mexican restaurant with excellent reviews—all 5 star!—and we headed to our new destination. We drove through downtown, across the highway, and found ourselves next to a junkyard. And here our new dining location stood. “Oh wow, it’s a junkyard,” the kids exclaimed, either sarcastically or with genuine excitement, I’m not sure which. I hope this restaurant has a liquor license, I thought, not wanting a “wine-a-rita” style drink. “It looks small,” another helpful child chimed in.

We headed inside to a cute mom and pop type restaurant with red and white checked table cloths. It was charming in a kind of minimalist, Dollar Tree sort of way. A kind woman greeted us and directed us to our table, right under the window AC unit. She cranked it up to dispel the heavy heat surrounding us. Getting right to the important stuff, I asked if they served margaritas. “Oh no,” she said, crushing my soul, “we don’t sell alcohol.” I helpfully offered to Alex that we could buy margarita supplies on the way home from the drive through liquor store. “Well, we have a table and no wait!” I said cheerfully, “These ‘hole in the wall’ places are the best!” The nice lady brought menus with photos of food and no prices. I ordered the mole enchiladas, and they were honestly some of the tastiest I’d ever had. The mole was perfect and probably an old passed down family recipe. At the end of our meal, the waitress brought Alex a slice of cake, and we, and a few other patrons, joined in to sing Happy Birthday. Things were looking up!

After a satisfying meal, we gathered our belongings, and Alex went to pick up our baby boy, Rhett, from his high chair. Unfortunately Rhett was covered with a gooey brown substance, but it wasn’t chocolate. I’m not sure how it ended up all of over the front of his clothes, so we hoisted him up, held him at arm’s length, and made a mad dash for the car. With the junkyard as a fitting backdrop and the blazing hot sun melting us, we spent the next 15 minutes changing Rhett and cleaning him in the back of our car. We were exhausted and beat down. We couldn’t even muster the energy to hit up the drive through liquor store. We finally arrived home, and Alex collapsed onto the couch. He was too tired to eat cake or open presents. We would have to save them for tomorrow. “I’m sorry it was so terrible,” I told him, feeling awful that an evening with such good intentions and effort failed so miserably. I added, “My father always had a saying ‘When a day starts like this it’s all uphill from here.’” (A little gem from Zach Galifianakis in Due Date.)

The next day, we devoured the chocolate chip Bundt cake, and Alex opened up his Longhorn curated gifts and read the thoughtful cards. He seemed genuinely happy, and I didn’t even mind the cream cheese icing (too much). We laughed at the irony of the Facebook picture I had posted for his birthday of him wearing a sombrero and imbibing a huge margarita with a big grin on his face. “Everything’s bigger in Texas!” someone had commented. “Enjoy the margarita!” another had said. Well Facebook is a big fat liar. That huge margarita was consumed months ago in Florida! Alex has (half) joked before that he’s the lowest in priority on the totem pole—behind the kids and the dogs—but this super dad deserves a birthday for the books. I’m already planning next year’s. What could go wrong in Vegas?!

Children’s Birthday Parties—The Gift That Keeps on Giving

By: Aimee Tafreshi

IMG_9374Birthdays have the potential to strike fear in the heart of every levelheaded parent. And I’m not talking about our own inevitable decline toward middle age and the nursing home—I mean our darling children’s birthdays.

Some moms lament on Facebook the advancing age of their precious little ones. “Oh my goodness—Junior is already 18 months old—make time slow down please!” The lazy and unsentimental part of me wonders if we really want our children to be babies forever, and isn’t increasing maturity and autonomy a good thing?

I love seeing my kids grow up. I don’t miss the sleepless nights (for months on end) and their complete dependence on me during their newborn days. I am thrilled that my middle child will finally be entering kindergarten next year and beyond excited that my three-year-old is potty trained. No more budgeting for diapers or one dollar a piece pull-ups.

What I have discovered is that children’s birthdays are extremely stressful. These days the expectations are sky high, and I have no one to blame but myself for that mindset. My husband and I both enjoy entertaining and planning elaborate parties, and by the time the last guest has left, we need about a week to recover. Over the years, we have managed to put together some memorable shindigs.

The most over the top was probably my daughter’s fifth birthday party in Connecticut. We lived there only six months for my husband’s work, and we planned to combine her soiree into a social gathering to say goodbye to all of our friends. I began soliciting catering quotes, and some of the bids sounded more appropriate for a small wedding. We lucked out with a local military wife who prepared our food at zero or negative profit because she loved cooking for others.

The entertainment was a different story. I found a website that matched local talent—like clowns, balloon artists, face painters—with families looking for birthday party entertainment. I could enter in the event details and the price I was willing to pay, and the site would provide potential matches. On our shoestring budget, even Giggles the Clown had better things to do. I finally found an enterprising high school student who fit the bill as a talented magician and performer. My husband tried to negotiate down his price, but “Austin” stuck to his guns. We bit the bullet and hired the young magician, and he was every bit the consummate performer and professional. The kids loved him, and my MasterCard bill would tell me their satisfaction was “priceless.”

For the drinks, we actually considered bringing in a bartender but decided we could save money by providing our own liquor and a signature mixed drink recipe. As my daughter’s birthday falls on Cinco de Mayo, we had to go with the classic margarita. The recipe we inadvertently chose was so strong that only a few men could handle the stiff concoction. Luckily we had some beer and wine as an alternative to our tequila on ice.

Most people would assume hosting a birthday party in your home would be the most economical choice, but I have found it to be the most stressful and expensive option. The food and drink bill usually runs several hundred dollars, and then you have to worry about entertaining the little guys and gals, so they won’t decide to destroy your house instead. And forget buying your own child birthday presents—that budget gets blown out of the water by food and entertainment expenses.

Another in-home birthday party for my middle child was more low-key but probably about the same price as the high-end catered affair in the end. My son’s birthday falls near Halloween, so he is stuck with a ghoulish theme for the rest of his natural life. We rented a bounce house, the best investment ever, as some kids jumped the entire time, including ours.

We also had fun placing dry ice in a cauldron for a spooky effect, and we turned our garage into a modest haunted house with a few scary characters and creepy music and sounds. Finally, we picked up some smaller pumpkins from a local church-run pumpkin patch and set up tables with washable paints and brushes. Each child could decorate his or her own pumpkin and take it home as a party favor. Normally I forgo party favors unless the party lends itself to them—like the pumpkins or cascarones (a/k/a confetti eggs) on Cinco de Mayo. Those filled-to-the-brim-with-confetti eggs are a fun favor to send home with unsuspecting parents. Now everyone will have something to vacuum post-party.

Two of my favorite birthday parties occurred outside of the home. For my daughter’s most recent birthday, we weren’t feeling up to the usual big bash and elaborate preparations. She loves to swim, so we rented out the local pool for the morning timeframe before it opened to the public.  When I schedule a birthday party for the a.m. hours, the event doesn’t consume my entire day, and the kids (and adults) are still pleasant and alert.

We bought some kid-friendly beverages, heavier hors d’oeuvres and Minion-themed cupcakes for dessert. We invited her girlfriends, and they had a blast swimming and hanging out. A few of the moms told me they enjoyed the low-stress nature of the party, and I agreed. I marked this idea down as one I would replicate in the future. And most importantly, the birthday girl had a blast doing her favorite activity with her school and dance friends.

Another memorable birthday fete occurred at a local ranch that rents out its space and services for events on the weekend. The price was reasonable, and the featured entertainment was worth the cost. For my son’s third birthday party, the kids interacted with barnyard animals, including giving a bottle of milk to a baby cow. A rustic hayride was also part of the package. We simply showed up with some sandwiches, drinks and cake, and sat back and let the party hostess run the show.

For our two sons’ most recent birthdays, we decided to scrap hosting a shindig and go with a “family” birthday party instead. We don’t have any relatives whom live close by, but we are lucky in that various family members have traveled from Texas or Alaska to join us in celebrating our children’s birthdays each year.

For my youngest son’s third birthday, we made a dinner reservation at our favorite downtown joint, and they seated us in an area that was private yet open to the restaurant. My in-laws were visiting, so we had a festive number of people around the table. We devoured a custom Minion cake (what else), and the adults enjoyed margaritas during the delicious dinner. Following our meal, we headed down to the waterfront to load onto a boat for a sunset family cruise. We saw dolphins, some lightning (eek!) and enjoyed the tranquility of cruising around a river at dusk.

We took a similar approach for my oldest son’s fifth birthday last month. I asked him what he wanted to do, and in his direct nature, he told me exactly what he wanted—to visit the zoo, eat at a particular restaurant and go to the beach. Our family dedicated the entire weekend to his birthday. On Saturday, we spent the good part of the day at the zoo, riding the train, attempting to pet stingrays as they glided by and walking through the butterfly garden.

The following day, his actual birthday, he opened presents and ate cake mid-day, and then we headed to a casual beachside eatery that evening. The weather was blustery, but we were able to dine outdoors sitting under an overhang, while the kids climbed on a playscape in the sand, and waves broke in the background. Following a low stress dinner, we walked a few hundred feet to the beach. The weather was so uncharacteristically windy and chilly that we lasted about five minutes on the shore—enough time to shriek in the frigid air—while the kids dipped their toes into the tidal pools, and the sun melted down into the horizon.

We bundled ourselves up in towels, sprinted to the car and found satisfaction in checking another birthday off the list, the last one in our family for the calendar year. As that crazy weekend wound down, I realized the most important part of a child’s birthday is to simply live in the moment and focus on your child’s happiness. I don’t need a costumed character or twenty sugared-up children to properly celebrate my little one’s big day. Please send my regrets to Giggles the Clown because I see more carefree birthday celebrations in our future…

Aimee Tafreshi is a mother of three young children and former litigator who has contributed to, Fé Fit and her own blog, She also enjoys teaching Zumba in her spare time, seeking out Mexican food dives (in Florida!) and watching Texas football.