Sunday, July 27, 2008

one five year old, three parties, and one Artoga camp week; part I: the Birthday

So July 16th, my firstborn turned 5 years old. Any mama who has crossed that milestone might agree with me when I say it is a surreal experience, humbling, wild, woolly and just plain old incredible. Who knew? Who knew who she'd be, 5 years ago, as she came slipping and squirting into this world? Who knew who she'd be, 5 years ago at 6:30-something in the morning when she arrived, perfect and calm, with a face I'd always known? Who knew she'd be so divine, so wonderful, so gorgeous, so perfect for us? Maybe heaven knew, and that's how she came to us.

Allie and Magdalena, 6:30am, decorating the cupcakes I made for her to take to Artoga

Her birthday arrived smack dab in the middle of her much anticipated week of Artoga camp. A week-long camp that is just what it sounds like and more: a week of art, yoga, theater, writing, playing, pretending, creating, forging ahead, making new friends and keeping up with old. Her breakfast request was doughnuts from the tortuous doughnut shop at the end of our street, I convinced her to make it doughnuts, sliced apple and mozzarella cheese. While Ethan was out getting the doughnuts I tried to stuff her and Allie, her dear buddy and sleepover date, as full of apples and cheese as I could, with moderate success.
Bridget, the Empress of Artoga, laughed on the phone with me that afternoon when I called to see how the birthday had gone. She said, "I asked Magdalena if she was going to have a cupcake and she said no, the cupcakes are for everybody else. I don't eat cake, just frosting, could you open this for me? And then she proceeded to eat a bowl (it really wasn't a big bowl, come on now) of icing that I opened for her. You sent her with a bowl of icing?" Uh, yeah, wouldn't you?

Augustus with Abuela, doing serious outdoor craft with collected treasures and home-made paste

My mom and Jeanna came over, bright and early on Wednesday morning, to help me with the transformation of the bedroom that would be Magdalena's main "gift" for her birthday. I was puzzled and a bit troubled as her birthday loomed. What would be The Gift this year? What did we need? What did she want? Wait a minute...something's not we need more stuff? I was thinking a bicycle, but we have been remiss in getting her going on a bike, so would we use it? I was thinking other large-type "big" birthday presents and nothing was really connecting.

Then I had an inspiration. Eleanor, Allie's mama, was transforming their living space by clearing out, organizing, recreating space and rediscovering toys through purging of "too much stuff". So...I thought why not make Magdalena's gift be an event, a site-specific installation, if you will, that is the room she share's with Augustus? We are trying to downsize, yet I'm always getting more stuff. We have a tiny house and we are overflowing with "stuff". Stuff that is broken, stuff that is outgrown, stuff that is plastic, stuff that is unnecessary, stuff that is unsightly, not aesthetically pleasing or of particularly good quality. Stuff I want out. So that was it. I began the transformation slowly, doing a bit of purging here, a bit of rearranging there, nothing too earth-shattering.

The birthday dawned, Aunt Su-su (oh God bless that Aunt Su-su, without her, none of this would have been half as successful) picked up Allie and Magdalena for Artoga at 7:30am and off they went and, well, I believe I said, Release the Hounds! What followed was about 8 hours of sustained activity the likes of which I haven't seen in years, well, actually, since I was last nesting! I hung shelves, I hung pegs, I got rid of two pieces of furniture, one from the room one from the closet, I hung hooks, Jeanna hung curtains, well, first took down broken closet doors, hung an expensive curtain mistake from Target, bought fabulous sage sheers from the thrift store, then hung them, ran errands and worked like mad until she had to go to work.

Abuela, my mama, worked like the retired teacher she is and took Frida and Augustus off my hands all day, and I mean all day, she was tireless! And she did totally cool stuff with them, she took them on a long long exploration walk, collecting treasures, and then putting them in the double stroller for a nap. She and Augustus braved the mosquito farm that is our backyard and did crafts for hours, hours I tell you, whilst I scurried and worked feverishly to get the room done. I framed Magdalena's first wet-on-wet pink watercolor, from when she was two years old, and her most recent self-portrait in which she appears to be a ravenous green, pink and orange reptile with a pink heart (which she says "is my first right heart") and a large pink doughnut-shaped belly button. I hung her fairy bower, which we've had for at least a year, and hung three butterflies in the bower so now it is her magical butterfly bower.

The room was transformed. It was magic. Magic I tell you. It is magical, the bedroom, since that day, and we have been keeping it neat to boot. And Magdalena, well, if she could have actually done a standing front flip, she would have. She was so excited and loved it so so soooo much. She said, mama, that was a lot of work for one day! No doubt! I finished, literally, vacuuming up plaster and sawdust, just before Aunt Su-su pulled into the driveway with the girls.

Magdalena under the butterfly bower, in love with the "new" room.

Now everything is done in the bower. She closes it around the bed, reads and listens to stories with Augustus in the bower, brushes her hair in the bower, snuggles and pretends, plays and creates. All from a bit of creative energy from us, with a minimum of conspicuous consumerism. Magdalena spent hours discovering all the changes, with exclamations of delight and thanks.

Magdalena, in all her five year old glory, about to blow out candles stuck in the homemade ice cream because she doesn't like cake, remember?

Wearing her birthday crown, made and finished that morning for this birthday.

Opening her one "present" from Ethan and I, two gorgeous play silks.

So it was a smashing success, in the end. Now I'm just wondering, honestly, how to keep up that level of energy, that level of sustained activity, all the time. Or, maybe not so much, but a little.


  1. Oh, what a great Birthday! My Mom did a similar thing for me one year, I remember I loved it! It was a memorable Bday as I'm sure this will be for Magdalena. Very Special. That camp sounds awesome!

  2. As always, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! And a great idea for a transformative, sustainable, birthday treat.

  3. I knew she would be devine and the new madagascar is out....must see and when i do i will be thinking of you all. xoxoxo