Chart Number 179

July 17, 2015

By Ekta R. Garg

Since Seven’s first birthday, we’ve thrown double birthday parties for the kids. Because their birthdays are only two weeks apart and they’re only two years apart in age, it made sense when Seven turned one to throw a party where we celebrated both of them at the same time. In more practical terms it was also much cheaper, and when the kids were younger every single penny counted.

It still counts, but now we count a few more pennies than we did six years ago. We still try to be careful with our budget, though, and sometimes that means making hard choices. This fact became crystal clear to me earlier in the week while the kids watched TV and discussed their birthday party.

For a little bit of context: in the earlier years I would pick a spot for the double party and spend weeks planning everything from goodie bags to the food we served. In the last couple of years the kids began asserting their opinions on where they wanted to have their party. Last year they went back and forth before settling on a party at the movie theater.

A few months ago we started talking about the party, and at first the vote came in for separate parties. I balked. Sure, we have a little more expendable cash now, but I still find it difficult to open my fist and spend on two events what we could save by doing one. I tried to talk them around, and eventually the kids agreed to have a double party at a skating rink here in town.

I agreed and the matter got resolved. For the time.

In the spring we began talking about our state of permanent residency—that is, my husband came to the decision that he felt settled enough in the hospital here to stay long term. That meant our living situation will need to change in the coming year. We live in a rental home now, and while our property management company is amazing we do want to have our own home at some point. Because we have the ability to do it now, we have decided to build a home. To that end recently we purchased a lot.

We also decided last fall to take a big family vacation—the first one we’ve ever done, really—this summer and will head to Europe at the end of this month. We booked the trip through Adventures by Disney, and while the trip itself is going to be magnificent it also cost a lot of money. No bones about it, we divided the payment into several installments to make it easier to handle.

With the money we shelled out for the trip (including plane tickets, which weren’t included in the purchase price of the tour) and what we paid for the lot, my husband and I talked about restricting other purchases. After a private conversation where the two of us both hesitated a few times, we decided not to do a double birthday party this year.

I thought this would be easy to do because on Nine’s birthday we went to see Inside Out and went out for both lunch and dinner. On Seven’s birthday the girls watched a movie of Seven’s choice at home, and both meals were courtesy of restaurants once again. We had a German chocolate cake on Nine’s birthday and went out for ice cream on Seven’s. Surely, I thought, the girls would see that we had celebrated their birthdays and on the actual days of their births.

I was wrong.

This week after lunch and before they jumped into music practice, the girls were watching TV and a commercial for Chuck E. Cheese’s splashed across the screen.

“[Seven], are you sure you don’t want to have our party at Chuck E. Cheese’s?” Nine asked.

I blinked a few times and waited for Seven’s answer.

“No,” she said, with a little bit of complacency. “I just want to have it at [the skating rink].”

I knew then that I had to have a talk with the girls and lay it out for them: no birthday party this year. I thought about taking the sucker’s way out—putting it off for the entire summer until school started and then saying, Oops, the summer’s over, no time for a party! But I knew that wasn’t fair, and it was actually a stupid thing to do.

I also wanted to use this as an opportunity to share a little bit of reality with the girls.

When their TV time had ended, I invited the girls to sit with me on the sofa and started talking to them. I reminded them that we planned to build a house and also about going to Europe. I also reminded them of how their dad had been coming home every evening practically dragging himself through the door at the end of a long, hard day at the hospital. He’s incredibly good at what he does, but it takes a lot of time, energy, and physical effort.

Because of all the money we’d spent this year, I said gently (and knowing I would just have to bite the bullet and say it) we wouldn’t be holding a party this year.

The girls got really quiet for a few minutes.

“Why can’t we have a party here at home?” Nine asked.

Admittedly, this seemed like a decent compromise. But I reminded her that even holding a party at home would still cost money, and the point I wanted to offer them was that we were trying to keep expenses down.

“Why can’t we just have a party, without inviting anyone or spending any money?” Seven asked.

“That’s why we went out on your birthdays,” I said. “Remember, we went and saw Inside Out and went out for lunch and dinner and ice cream? So we’ve already celebrated on your actual birthdays.”

Seven considered this, and she surprised me by shrugging. “Oh, well. It’s not like we’re never having another party. And family is more important than parties.”

I turned to Nine who had gotten really quiet. She didn’t say anything, but tears slowly filled her eyes. I pulled her into my lap and told her that she could share whatever she felt with me and I would not get upset at all.

“I’m fuming,” she said, her voice lined with her anger.

“I know, and I completely understand how you feel,” I said. “I know in some ways it isn’t fair, but Daddy and I didn’t say you could never have a party again. We’ll have one next year. And this year we’re doing so many cool things, right?”

I had her there, and she nodded begrudgingly. By this time Seven had lost interest and skipped off to practice her guitar. After talking to Nine for a little while longer, I managed to appease her and send her on her way.

It was a hard conversation to have, mostly because I don’t like disappointing the kids and also because I’d actually been the one to convince them to do a single party in the first place. But I also wanted the kids to understand something: just because we possess disposable income doesn’t mean we should dispose of it without a second thought. Staying responsible for one’s finances means making choices; sometimes those are hard choices. And if those choices really don’t affect a person in the long run—which, I firmly believe, that missing one birthday party really won’t affect the kids—then a person should feel encouraged that a hard choice can be a good one.