what kids really need

Thursday, October 31, 2013

He wanted a Halloween party.

"We'll put up spider webs and everyone will wear their costumes and we'll scare each other and I'll show them my legos," my six-year-old announced in the kitchen.  "Can we?"

"Well, Halloween is in two days.  We'd have to have a party tomorrow.  Can you make invitations and deliver them to your friends this afternoon?"


"Okay.  I'm not hanging spider webs, but I will make a snack and your friends can play here tomorrow.  How about that?"

My little boys went to work. One drew pumpkins on the back side of used printer paper, while the other carefully lettered above them:  "Please come to my house tomorrow at 4:00 for a party.  Wear your costume if you want to."  He folded three invitations into uneven squares and stuffed them into his pocket.  "What about your friends on the next block?" I asked.  "I'll make them later," he answered.  But by the time he rang three doorbells, something new captured his attention, and later never came.

By the next morning I couldn't believe I'd agreed to this.
He gave three people a day's notice, I thought.  Nobody's going to show up, and he's going to be disappointed.  All day I vascillated between chastising myself for saying yes, and chastising myself for not doing more.  Why didn't I print invitations?  Why didn't I text parents?  He's already the new kid in town.  If he wanted to throw a party, why didn't I do more to help him succeed?

I loaded the dishwasher, wiped the bathroom counter, vacuumed the living room, and declared the house ready for a kid's party (that wasn't going to happen).  I made chocolate chip muffins and pink lemonade during nap time, thinking at least the boys would have something good to eat when nobody shows up (because I didn't help them plan a real party).  As I picked up the boys from their enrichment program, I started my best mom spin.  "Maybe if your friends can't come today, we can deliver treats to their house instead."

"They'll be here," my son said.  "When I gave them invitations, they said, 'see you tomorrow.'"

I sighed.

But to my astonishment, at 3:55, three children walked down the sidewalk toward our house.  "They're here!"  my son yelped.  "The party is here!"  I opened the door to two solid little fairies, one purple, one green, with hoodies over their wings.  Their brother, opting out of his costume, cheerily said, "Happy halloween!" as he walked in the door.

"Happy Halloween!" my son answered.

The whole room grew formal and giggly.  One of my sons put muffins on paper plates while the other poured lemonade and counted out grapes.  My toddler daughter even joined in, declaring, "I like your pretty princess wings.  I'm going to be Captain Hook!" every minute or so.  The children sat at a plastic art table in the kitchen and ate their muffins as though they were meeting the President, talking quietly and grinning at one another.

When they finished their snacks, the kids scattered to find toys.  My son showed off his legos, as promised, and my little girl chose the green fairy as her playmate.  There was a round of Go Fish and ships built from blocks and someone found the grocery cart.  In short, they had a blast.

As I sat in the kitchen watching incredulously, I realized I had bought into the lie.  The one that says parties must be Pinterest-worthy to be fun, that kids won't have a good childhood without adults intensely intervening. 

I forgot children simply need room to grow.  

My kids didn't need me to plan and fret and text.  All they needed was my "yes."  Yes, you are free to play and pursue what you love, even when that includes a Halloween party the day before Halloween.  It is not our job to create their childhoods.  Our children carry within themselves all the creativity, energy, and life they need to thrive.  

What they need from us is the freedom to enjoy it.


  1. I love this picture of children...what a reminder for me to just say "yes" too, to just make room for people. Thanks for the sweet word pictures!



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