By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

Even holiday moms have their limits

I was recently asked if I was the kind of mom who sews Halloween costumes for her kids.

Though it was asked casually, when over-analyzed, as is my way, the question can pack a punch. To me, it begs the question: what kind of a mom am I, exactly?

I thought back on my miserable, now hilarious, matching family pajama debacle.

No, I am not the kind of mom who sews Halloween costumes — or anything, actually — despite my plans on Pinterest. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Last year, I intended to make Lego costumes for the boys. At the very last minute, I ordered two angry bird costumes, with two-day delivery courtesy of my Amazon Prime membership.

This year, I saved a few bucks by waiting until our choices were limited to the 40-percent off rack at Fred Meyer. My brother and I went as hobos year after year, and we turned out alright, so I don’t feel too bad about this.

I’ve gone on the record as being a “holiday mom,” so you’d think I’d bring a little more to the table for Halloween. But I’m just not a ghouls and goblins kind of gal.

At the end of October, I’m still recovering from Sam’s birthday festivities. That’s because I’m the kind of mom who makes a big deal out of birthdays. My favorites are those of Sam, Jake and baby Jesus.

For the last one, I lean on the traditions established long before it was my job, and joy, to bring the holidays home for my family. But for the first two, I’ve been creating our own for the last six years and think I’ve finally got it down.

My goal is this: to celebrate birthdays in such a way that long after I’m gone, and the glitter from birthdays past stops surfacing in random places, my boys will know how glad I am they were born. Of course, that can be accomplished without the balloons and fanfare, but I have fun adding those touches.

Fun, that is, except when it’s the day before the party, and I’m still cutting vegetables to make a platter in the likeness of a favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. That proved to be a hit, by the way, but still no match for pizza.

I will admit that my birthday planning is sometimes reminiscent of my labor experience — kind of a pain, but for a good cause.

I also bear in mind the quote often attributed to Maya Angelou, reminding us that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

So on the birthday eve, I line the hallway and stairs with foam stars leading all the way to the kitchen table, which is set with a collection of birthday-themed books from the library and balloons for decoration.

Next, we have birthday oatmeal, following a super-simple recipe: steel cut oats topped with coconut milk whipped cream and a liberal doses of sprinkles, as it’s dye-be-damned for this occasion. That is served with one of those candles with a number on it, which is one of the little details I obsess about dating back to Sam’s first birthday.

Six years ago, I didn’t know I was going to be a big birthday mom. In lieu of a first birthday party we took Sam to the beach for the weekend and had a lovely time.

Until, on the way home I realized there was no cake, ergo no picture of Sam blowing out a candle in said cake. And I couldn’t have that.

At the time, I was even more rabid about nutrition than I am now, and we wouldn’t be home in time for me to make any kind of cake. So on the way home, we picked up a small, insanely expensive little cake-like thing and some pricey frosting-like product. Also, a candle molded into the number “1.”

I kept Sam up well past his bedtime, but I got the picture I wanted, as well as the motivation to plan ahead better in future years.

I even have a “birthday bag” containing number candles I’m saving from Sam to re-use for Jake. I consider it a small way to pay back the cost of that first cake, the birthday stars, the whipped cream recipe, and the reminders to interview the birthday boy, mark his height in his chart and take a picture of both boys with their favorite “snuggies,” a giraffe for Sam and a zebra for Jake.

Then there’s the business of parties and gifts.

There’s a notion that these things have to cost a lot of money if you want to “do it right.” But except for that first cake, none of the aforementioned things cost a lot of money.

We’ve learned about budgeting. We actually have a “celebrations” envelope used to pay for gifts, parties, pumpkins and such.

That wasn’t always the case. We used to put stuff like that on credit cards. In fact, we even charged the babies, because the hospital was calling to collect on them before their little umbilical cords fell off.

These days, though, we’re of a mind that the best gift we can give the boys is a sense of security. And that kind of peace of mind comes with being free of debt, which we’re working toward.

Part of that is explaining to the boys about why they can’t invite everyone they’ve ever met to the party.

This year I’ve added two new things to the mix: wrapping every item in his lunch box, just for the delight of it, and thank you notes for gifts.

When Sam handed a friend a painstakingly handwritten thank you, his mom termed it was a lost art.

Well, here’s to lost and found, and three cheers to being whatever kind of mom you want to be, so long as you are able to delight in the little things that make it all worth it.

So, I may not be the kind of mom who sews Halloween costumes, let alone Christmas pajamas. But I did just use a Sharpie to turn a mandarin into a lunchbox pumpkin surprise, and I’m sure that counts for some holiday mom props.

Contact Nathalie Hardy at


One of my favorite birthday traditions is the annual interview where I sit down one-on-one with my sons and fire away. Because I set the scene up right, they lean right in and give me the scoop on what matters to them right now.

Here are some of my tips on interviewing tips:

  • Make it special, maybe go out for a hot chocolate or serve up some tea.
  • Do it when no one else is around to influence their answers.
  • Ask a mix of questions ranging from favorite colors to biggest frustrations.
  • Especially with younger ones, stick to a fill-in-the-blank format.
  • Avoid asking "yes" or "no" questions.
  • Write down exactly what they say, word for word. It's the best part.

For instance, on Sam's recent six-year-old interview I learned that his favorite subjects are: "myself and danger."

Just when I worried about him being a little shallow, in response to the advise he would give himself in the future, he answered: "Take the other trail."

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