Our not-so-little girl turned three a few weeks ago! I honestly thought this year’s celebration was going to be a tricky one to successfully execute and I feared there would be a dark cloud of disappointment hanging over our heads as we tried to make the best of a bad situation. You see, Dessa really came to understand the purpose of birthday parties this past fall and fell in love with every detail: the cake, the candles, the presents, the “Happy Birthday” song – and especially the people. This past January, Dessa started looking forward to her birthday and excitedly announced, “I’m going to have a birthday! And there’s going to be cake and candles! And everyone is going to be there!” – at which point she proceeded to list a dozen family members who would be in attendance to celebrate her third birthday. She was so excited.
Fast forward to March, when illness began to run rampant through the country and Michigan was hit especially hard. Rob and I kept a careful eye on the daily numbers update for our state, and every couple of weeks we would find ourselves talking about Dessa’s birthday and what we would do if things didn’t improve. Week by week, we delayed planning for her party because we kept hoping that things would miraculously improve and we could have a regular party with all of our extended family members and wouldn’t have to worry about keeping a safe distance. Of course, that didn’t happen. As July finally rolled around, Rob and I decided to host a very small outdoor birthday party just for the four of us and Dessa’s grandparents.
Dessa had such a clear narrative in her head of what her birthday party would look like, I was worried that it would disappoint her that none of her cousins would be over to join celebration. I carefully broached the subject while we were on one of our daily walks and explained that only her grandparents would come to the birthday party. She asked about her cousins, aunts, and uncles; but I explained that they needed to stay home because of “germs.” To my great surprise, she accepted that information without the slightest hint of disappointment and was fully on board with our small guest list. With Dessa’s help, we decided on a mermaid theme for her party, and the simplified details all just sort of fell into place to create a surprisingly simple and joy-filled birthday celebration for my very big girl. I’m so excited to finally share all the details on the blog today.
This post contains affiliate links. We earn a small commission each time someone makes a purchase through one of our links, which helps to support our family so we can keep sharing stories from our lives with all of you. Thank you so much for stopping by to read today’s post.
Ever since Dessa’s first birthday, we spend her actual birthday celebrating as a family. We host her party on a different day and try very hard to keep both celebrations as simple as possible. Young kids are easy to please, and this holds especially true for Dessa. Aside from the cake and a handful of gifts – the main features of her birthday party were the oversize mermaid balloon and coordinating plates that I bought from Target, the Slip N Slide I borrowed from a friend, and the dozen helium balloons Rob picked up at Party City the night before her party.
We let Dessa open three gifts the morning of her birthday in preparation for the party: a mermaid bathing suit that I bought for her as a surprise, a small bubble machine, and a big bottle of refill bubbles. (Sidenote: Dessa was excited about the bubble machine for approximately 3 minutes and we’ve barely used it since. The $5 investment is not one that I would recommend, but the bathing suit was a hit!)
Once Dessa put on her new mermaid bathing suit, we headed outside to play while we waited for guests to arrive. I was so busy keeping the kids entertained while trying to set up a few streamers on the back porch, I somehow neglected to get any photos of the kids in the yard that morning. Fortunately, we tested out the Slip N Slide that was on loan to us the day before her party so I could make sure Dessa would actually have fun with it. Her birthday party fun with Havey looked a lot like this – just in a mermaid bathing suit.
While I was setting up for the party, I surprised Dessa by pulling out the assortment of helium balloons Rob had picked up on his way home from work the night before. When I first laid eyes on the balloons in the morning, I was less than thrilled. The helium had disappeared and there wasn’t the slightest hint of a rise from the bundle. They just drooped sadly toward the ground, and three of the balloons had almost deflated entirely overnight. To say that I was annoyed was an understatement. My display options for the balloons were limited, so I just tied them onto the gate for our fence and rolled my eyes.
The grandparents arrived a little later, and we feasted on hamburgers, salad, chips, and fresh fruit. Then it was time to sing “Happy Birthday” and blow out the candles. Dessert was just a simple cake from the box, but Dessa helped me bake it the day before, which made it extra delicious alongside her dairy-free ice cream. (Chocolate Cookies & Cream cashew milk ice cream from So Delicious is her favorite flavor.)
The only thing left was to open the presents! My parents gave Dessa some new clothes (including my new favorite top for Dessa) and money for college, while Rob’s parents gave her a toy cash register and construction vehicles that she could deconstruct and reassemble using the plastic bolts and screwdriver that came in the toy set. It was the perfect balance of gifts that were practical and fun.
A few hours after the party had begun, we gave the grandparents hugs and kisses, then said goodbye. Dessa and Harvey each took a big nap, and we ate leftover party food for dinner.
Remember the sad, deflated helium balloons that Rob had purchased? Dessa had been begging all day to play with them, so we went outside after dinner to finally remove them from the gate. Dessa wasn’t bothered at all that the balloons no longer floated toward the sky. She carried those balloons behind her while she ran joyfully through the yard. It was a fantastic reminder that it doesn’t take much for a toddler to feel happy and that great, big, fancy parties are not necessary to create a truly happy birthday.
That night everyone in the family enjoyed a long, restful night of sleep and we spent the following Sunday recuperating from Dessa’s birthday party. The next day (Monday) was Dessa’s actual birthday and I had a few surprises up my sleeve to make the day special even though Rob had to work. Dessa selected her outfit for the day and excitedly put on one of the new tops and shorts she had opened at her birthday party. At Dessa’s request, she feasted on eggs and toast and washed it all down with a big drink of “coffee” (aka water) from a travel mug.
The weather forecast for the day was going to be beautiful and I had made arrangements for Dessa’s best friend who lives in the neighborhood to join us for some special outside playtime. Rob and I gave Dessa two of her birthday gifts that we figured would be especially helpful for the day’s outdoor plans: a new box of Crayola sidewalk chalk and a play kitchen set with actual running water.
Dessa liked the chalk, but she loved the play sink. I had barely set up Dessa’s new toy before she had squirmed her way over to it and helping herself to a cup of water from the faucet.
With a fun new sink full of water to pour, drink, and play with, Dessa was finally ready to head outside for the day. I knew Dessa would love the sink, but I also bought it to fill a very specific purpose of my own. You may recall that we purchased an adorable cedar playhouse for Dessa during the quarantine. It wasn’t cheap, but it’s the cutest little house that I have ever seen.
The playhouse looks adorable in our backyard, but there has always been this one small problem: Dessa hardly ever goes anywhere near it to play. The house held her attention for approximately fifteen minutes when Rob assembled it, and then she was done. And I get it… unlike other outdoor houses for kids, this one didn’t come with fun details or accessories inside. The most interactive components are a plastic phone, an actual doorbell that rings, a play clock and a few black chalkboards. It’s a cute house, but there isn’t really anything for a toddler to do inside the house. I set one of the benches from our kid’s picnic table inside the house as a work surface and placed Dessa’s kitchen on the bench. My plan worked! Dessa was completely mesmerized and spent the next few hours playing inside the house with her new kitchen toys.
It didn’t take long for Dessa to request a dining table so she could sit down to enjoy the imaginary food from her kitchen, so I set up a second bench outside of the house along with a couple of little chairs. Dessa was in heaven! I had to refill her sink a few times because she kept drinking all the water inside of it (I had no idea the toy would be so helpful for keeping my little camel hydrated on a warm summer day.)
After an hour or so, Dessa’s friend arrived for their playdate! The original plan was for the girls to enjoy playing with the Slip N Slide before we returned it, so they changed into their swimsuits and then ran right back to the house for kitchen fun. Even Harvey couldn’t stay away from the house, so I strapped him into his hand-me-down Step2 push car so he could watch the big girls play.
It was a very exciting, whirlwind morning. The girls enjoyed a picnic lunch (at the dining table bench, of course), then we said goodbye to our friends and everyone took a very big nap. After nap time, the kids played for a bit, then it was time for dinner. We ordered Japanese food from Little Tree (one of our favorite restaurants in the area). Dessa’s dairy and tomato sensitivities have always made it a challenge to find restaurant food (other than hot dogs, scrambled eggs, and french fries) that she can actually eat, but Japanese restaurants have lots of great options for her. Whenever we get food from Little Tree it is always a treat for everyone. Dessa feasted on chicken teriyaki, pickled ginger, and miso soup. The three of us shared an order of gyoza, and Rob and I enjoyed a spread of hand-rolled sushi.
After dinner, we sang “Happy Birthday” and Dessa blew out the candles on the leftover birthday cake from her party before we polished it off. Our two silly kids enjoyed a little ride in the laundry basket before it was time for bed and the sun set on a really great third birthday for our sweet little girl.
When I woke up the next morning, I realized that we had been so engrossed in dinner, dessert, and laundry basket rides that Rob and I completely forgot to give Dessa her remaining birthday gifts. Dessa opened her last three birthday gifts from us before Rob went to work. She didn’t mind that they were late. In fact, our tardiness helped to keep the birthday excitement going for a third day as Dessa enjoyed playing with her toy measuring tape, reading her Poke A Dot Alphabet book and running around outside in her new bathing suit and water shoes.
These are crazy times filled with unprecedented challenges. But, as time continues to pass while our family tries to keep ourselves in a healthy little bubble, I’m learning to let go of my grand expectations and find more contentment in simple things. We’ve always lived a somewhat pared-back lifestyle and kept the birthday parties in our house pretty low-key (you can check out her first and second birthday celebrations), but Dessa’s birthday this year reminded us that Dessa really doesn’t need anything expensive, fancy, or elaborate to feel special. All she needed was to spend time having fun with the people she loves.
Here were some of Dessa’s gifts, party decor, and other items that helped to make her at-home birthday party extra special: