Of Purple Parties and Fitting In

The Purple Party

“The people you love will change you

The things you have learned will guide you
And nothing on Earth can silence
The quiet voice still inside you
And when that voice starts to whisper
Moana, you’ve come so far
Moana, listen
Do you know who you are?”
from Disney’s Moana

The dining room windows are dark, their rain-streaked surface an imperfect mirror on the scene of a mother wrapping presents after bedtime. The bedtime is Luci’s, the mother me, and the occasion my eldest daughter’s third birthday. The gifts are modest and traditional—a ball, some books, a rag doll—and earlier today I went out to secure wrapping paper and decorations for her “party,” a gathering of family tomorrow at my parents’ house in the mountains.

My party prep had been vague, at best. I had visions of those cone-shaped hats when I went to Fred Meyer, not expecting (or enjoying) the pre-Thanksgiving crowds at the store. That was my only goal: weird paper birthday party hats for my family to wear. I thought they would make Luci smile. Alas, such hats were not to be found. Instead, I ran headlong into a party aisle filled with branded… things. Napkins, plates, noisemakers, all with various characters on them, only a few familiar to me. At the very front was the Frozen stash.

I did think about it. Luci loves Frozen, Disney’s homage to sisterhood and Scandinavians, and I don’t hate it. Contrary to the Disney movies of my own childhood, it’s not too scary and is pleasantly romance-light, and the music is fine, neither great nor horrible, and good for singing in the car. What I do hate, though, is the branded stuff that is still everywhere. I don’t like eating off a princess on a plate, nor am I wild about the way that Mylar balloons, popsicles and even yogurt seem to sell themselves to eager little girls if these two faces appear on them. Feeling rebellious, I continue down the aisle until I find the solid-colored items. I buy a roll of solid purple wrapping paper, and two different shades of purple paper streamers.

 

My almost-three-year-old safely asleep, I set to work wrapping the presents and twisting the streamers across the dining room windows and table. I go a little wild and make a streamer fringe for Luci’s chair. I made a Happy Birthday banner last week, but you can bet we’ll be using that for everyone’s birthday, forever, so it’s not purple. Everything else, though, is some shade of purple—royal, lavender and violet.

Birthday parties are a big deal on Mom Social Media, elaborate fetes that are complete with favors and photo booths. People are motivated to take pictures of the homemade desserts and decor, branding these parties with their own cute hashtags. I’m seriously impressed with this, and overwhelmed. These parties have themes and color schemes. Purple, social media tells me, doesn’t count as a theme.

 

Except Luci loves purple, and I don’t love party planning. And, as I decorate the dining room and wrap the presents, I know that this is going to work really well for both of us. My daughter has a purple-themed party, and I bet she’ll like it.

Conventions are hard to escape. It’s far easier for me to sink into common features of my identity in Christ—beloved, redeemed, provided for—than to figure out how I fit into some seasons of life, and how it’s fine not to. As a new teacher, I constantly felt like I was playing school, fearing the day that someone would come in and say “a real teacher would…” before revealing one of my many shortcomings.

I have a vague memory from college of friends deciding, midway through some house party, that they wanted to drive to Canada, just because. I was invited—these were my best friends, after all—but I surprised even myself by saying no. I was disappointed, not that I didn’t go, but that no part of me wanted to. Try as I did, I couldn’t muster up any enthusiasm for a three-hour drive in the dark, for a weekday dawn in Vancouver, for the long return trip down the interstate. I wanted to be the kind of girl that wanted to. That girl, I thought, was more interesting, was more properly a college student, than I was.

A few life stages later, I recognize the feeling enough to name it, that gap between who I am and who the anonymous “everyone else” like me seems to be. I recognize Ideal Mom enough to sometimes laugh about her, rather than cry about how I don’t measure up. Sometimes I check the boxes—I love baking and sewing, and like everyone else I asked for an Instant Pot for Christmas—and often I don’t. I’d rather read the New Yorker than take a nap, and I’ve never listened to a podcast about parenting. I not only don’t plan elaborate birthdays for my children; I don’t want to, at all. And I still love my girls fiercely, still listen to Disney music for hours in the car because they like it.

The next morning, Luci’s birthday, she can’t stop talking about the purple streamers. Long after the gifts are opened, she keeps coming back to the sparsely-decorated dining room and declaring, “It’s so pretty!” She likes them so much that we take them with us to the mountains, where we decorate Oma and Papa’s table, too. The purple party is a winner. And I think, how am I going to top this? If she asks for a Frozen party next year, maybe I could do that, after all. Because I may not love planning parties, but I sure do love her. And after all, isn’t that what this season of life—and every season, really—is about?
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