"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Magic of Harry Potter--A Birthday Party

My kids are lousy sleepers, and have been from birth. Two-thirds of them are lousy eaters. Three for three are emotional and dramatic and highly sensitive. They keep me up at night with my never-ending worry for their health, identities, and futures. I love them, as I told them tonight, even more than Lily loves Harry, but they're high maintenance little beasties. 

There is one thing, however, that has always come easy for us. I don't take it for granted (because I know it's a big one), but let me brag here just for a minute: my kids are Awesome Readers. Book lovers from birth. 

They're constantly with a book in hand, often stealing away to their bunks in the afternoon for some post-school free reading. They collect books like other kids collect sports memorabilia and their own personal library cards are among their most prized possessions (no late fees for kids!). As a book lover myself, this brings me endless joy. Especially, especially, when it was finally time for me to introduce my three best buds to the best of the best: Harry Potter.

I waited as long as I possibly could: Evan had just finished first grade when I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone aloud to them. It was a hit, and we quickly moved on to book two. Halfway through the book, Max stopped me as I opened it one night. "I think we'd better stop," my sensitive little soul said to me. "I think I need to wait until I'm older to finish these books. They're...pretty intense." 

Evan couldn't have been more thrilled, as this meant that he was no longer beholden to family read alouds to finish the series. He tore through the rest of the seven books during the first half of second grade. He enjoyed them, but it wasn't the love affair that I had hoped it would be. He never wanted to just sit and discuss the intricacies and complexities of the Potterverse. He had no interest in dissecting Snape's ever-present and unrequited love for Lily. He didn't even want to commiserate over a shared revulsion to "that Umbridge woman," a character nearly as loathsome as Voldemort himself. 

I wondered if I gave the books to him too soon...but I don't think so. I think Evan just doesn't connect emotionally to books in the same way that I do...instead, Evan reads for information. He collects facts, organizes historical events, and commits specific details and figures to permanent memory. In order to have some meaty HP convos, I would need to wait for Max to catch up. 

And catch up he did...this summer. Max picked up book two right where we left off three summers ago. That was July 20th. By the end of September, he had torn through the series and was working his way through Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Tales of Beedle the Bard

Max was hooked. There were Harry Potter socks and tee shirts and wands. There were homemade spell books and hours and hours of magical pretend play. My brother's partner, David, gave Max (and Evan and Molly, too) his collection of hundreds of Harry Potter trading cards. Max studied every card until he knew every minute magical detail of dozens of characters, creatures, items, spells, and potions...then he re-read the books until he knew where and when in the storyline these creatures, items, spells, and potions appeared.

And then, my dream of dreams came true...Max asked for a Harry Potter birthday party.

Why, yes. Those are floating golden snitches over the party table!

I've said it before but this time I mean it: This was my very favorite birthday party to plan and throw, ever. 

We started, as one does, with a Sorting Hat ceremony.

I found these cute Sorting Hat Ceremony origami fortune tellers, which were perfect. Each witch or wizard hopped up on the stool, wore the special hat, and had their House selected by the very official origami fortune teller. Once everyone was sorted, the kids had a chance to fold their own Sorting Hat fortune teller to take home with them.

Next stop, obviously, was Ollivander's Wand Shop!

Uncle Will and David played the part of Ollivander(s) while Evan served as their apprentice. The Ollivanders asked each party guest, one at a time, a question....favorite animal, favorite food, etc. They would then present an official Ollivander's Wand Shop wand box, acquired on their trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which Evan had secretly filled with one of the wands we had made prior to the party. 

I'm so thankful to have so many brothers and sisters nearby on birthday party days. Will and David were the perfect Ollivander(s). I've heard from friends since the party who say the their kids are STILL talking about their "phoenix-feather wand" or wand "of the dragon heart string." 

To make the wands, I just covered bamboo chopsticks in a thin layer of mod podge in different designs...sometimes just on the tip, sometimes a swirl or stripes the length of the chopstick, then added glitter in various colors. Once dry, I applied more mod podge to keep the glitter from ending up all over my house. I found these awesome twisty chopsticks which really made them special.

After the Sorting Hat and Ollivander's Wand Shop, it was a choose-your-own-adventure kind of party.

The Owl Post

On mini parchments, kids could write a letter to their favorite Harry Potter character with quill pens that I MADE MYSELF! After writing their letters, the kids rolled their parchments, tied them with a red bow, and left them in the basket for Hedwig to deliver after the party.

Care of Magical Creatures

At this station, the kids had to feed Hagrid's very hungry dragons...

We had cardboard dragons from a game Max played a few years ago. We named each dragon after a dragon in the Harry Potter series, then assigned each dragon a favorite food color... the Chinese Fireball only eats RED HOT cherries, for example...and the Norwegian Ridgeback only eats ORANGE pumpkins.

The game was to try to toss the correct color pompom into each dragon's food bowl. This was a last minute addition, but one that the kids kept coming back to throughout the party.

Charms Lessons

I didn't get a picture of this one in action because it was complete pandemonium in the basement where this lesson took place....with their newly acquired wands and a plethora of ready and waiting balloons, the little wizards were free to practice the charm Wingardium Leviosa! (The levitating charm.) Let's just say there was more popping than levitating happening in this lesson (popping and then screaming because of the popping).

Make a Snitch

A simple, independent craft, the kids made golden snitches using these gold glitter foam balls and white feathers.

Spell Books

For this activity, each party guest was given a list of spells and charms and a Book of Spells. The spellbook contained situations in which you, a Hogwarts student, needed to use a particular spell or charm in order to successfully get through your day. Kids could use the list of spells and charms to find the correct magic words for each situation.

Some kids took this activity VERY seriously. It was hilarious to see the kids who would NOT leave this activity until the entire Book of Spells was complete...and checked for accuracy. 

Potions Class

To set the scene, Max filled glass jars and bottles with glitter and water, then labeled them with the  names of potions from the books (like Polyjuice Potion) or from his own imagination (like Fatigi Potion).

While they were waiting for the guided lesson portion of Potions Class, they could pretend to mix their own potion concoctions in the cauldron (which was a water bead sensory bin).

But the highlight of this station was the potions lesson, taught by none other than Luna Lovegood (Max's Aunt Emily). 

Three students at a time were instructed to place two scoops of crushed bezoar (baking soda) into their cauldrons, then tap their cauldrons twice with their wands before adding Doxy Tears (vinegar) to create their own unique potion. 

What the kids didn't know (and what made it magical...) was that before the kids got to the station, Professor Lovegood had secretly added a few drops of food coloring to each cauldron...a different color for each cauldron). The students added the same ingredients to their cauldrons, but each potion bubbled up a different color.

Pure magic.

When the witches and wizards grew hungry after their afternoon of magical lessons, it was time to come together in the Great Hall (decked out in the colors of Max's Hogwarts House, Ravenclaw).

Big thanks to our amazing neighbor for letting us borrow these perfectly authentic cast iron cauldrons for snacks!

The cake!

Notice the buttercream frosting (which is NOT homemade fondant). The glasses and lightning bolts are fondant...but of the store-bought variety. 

Lesson Learned:

I love, love, love Harry Potter. 
I love, love, love putting on birthday parties for my kids.
I love, love, love this 8-year old.

This party was one for the history books....

Pure magic.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

8 is Great

Since he was four...maybe longer...Max has known that he will be a baker when he grows up. The name of his bakery will be "With Sprinkles on Top" and he'll live in the apartment above. He'll offer daily specials, to encourage new visitors to his shop, and free coffee on Saturday mornings, to keep his regulars coming back for more. His cousins, Olivia and Lauren, will be his bakery assistants and will help, especially, with the wedding cakes...which are kind of a lot of work, if you didn't already know.

He's got it all figured out.

(Because that's what Max does. He figures things out.)

The only potential hitch in his grand life plan, it seems, is me.

I've done well enough encouraging this dream of his...in theory. I've signed him up for Cake Camp the past two summers and I even bought him his very first cookbook. I've just done a wonderfully terrible job of allowing actual Baking Practice.

Maybe it's the fact that I'm not a huge baker myself.
Maybe it's the tired trope of the "busy mom of three" that just doesn't have the time.
Maybe it's my Type-A personality.

Whatever the reason, I've been forced to acknowledge the hard truth that I'm doing a lousy job of supporting my child's bakery-owner dreams in my constant quest for a clean kitchen.

With his birthday right around the corner, I decided to give him his first 8th Birthday gift last Saturday: the gift of an open kitchen.

"Hey, Max...whaddya say we start to get ready for your birthday party by making marshmallow fondant?"

It was as though the heavens opened and the angels began to sing. His already-twinkly eyes sparkled brighter than a star as he looked up from the Harry Potter book he was reading on the couch. "Now?" he asked, incredulous. "HERE?!"

"Yup! I've got everything we need...let me just pull up a quick recipe..."

"No!" he interjected, racing over to get between me and the computer. "I've got this! I know how to do this because we did it in Cake Camp! I'm an expert!"

I quieted the dissenting voice of reason and order and logic in my head and made the decision to just let go and trust him. We were using the very simple recipe of, basically, marshmallows and powdered sugar...what could go wrong?

Three minutes later, Max was covered to his elbows in sticky marshmallow fluff, a veritable cloud of powdered sugar was raining down All. Over. the kitchen, the mixing bowl was completely devoid of anything that even partially resembled usable fondant, and I was hyperventilating over the sink.

"Hey, bud?" [careful, deep breath] "this is why I suggested looking at a recipe. See? Just to make sure we got the proportions right?" [inhale. exhale. inhale. exhale.]

Delighted by the rich sensory experience he was currently immersed in, Max smiled sheepishly. "Sorry, Mom. Looks like I got a little carried away..."

He left to go clean himself up while I added a little water and a little more powdered sugar to the goopy disgusting mess left behind. A bit more melted marshmallow and a bit more powdered sugar later, the goop actually started to resemble fondant. Finally, I was able to knead the mess into a pretty neat ball, which tasted like fondant and will hopefully roll out like fondant when we attempt to put it on the cake in a few days.

I looked around at the mess while Max stole a taste and wrapped the fondant in plastic.

Counters, cabinets, the sink and a good 20 square feet of my kitchen floor were covered in varying concoctions of sugar and melted marshmallow. I had to use a spatula to scrape my countertops smooth and the floor is still a bit sticky, days and many washings later. As I cleaned, two voices argued in my head. The first, and loudest, wondered why I ever suggested this stupid messy experience in the first place. The second voice, however, is the one who had, throughout the fondant-making catastrophe, kept an eye on Max...instead of the mess.

Why can't I be more patient?
Why can't I just let go and be in-the-moment?
Why do I have to worry so much?

Why can't I be more like Max?

He's so amazing, this, as of today, EIGHT year old child of mine.

He's brave and confident and imaginative. He's creative and adventurous and FUN.

He's everything I'm not and, when I look at him and watch him do his thing, I'm equal parts mesmerized and bursting with pride.

Especially when that "thing" is belting Miley Cyrus while busting some serious moves.

There have been many times over the past few years when I've wanted a crystal ball...to peek, just for a second, into Max's future...to see where/how/who he becomes as he finds his way. I don't want that anymore. I want, now, to just enjoy this ride because I think he actually already has it all figured out.

Max is Max....and that's all you need to know.

How is it that my 8-year old has it more figured out than I do?

When in doubt, eat cake.

The other day, Max told me that a classmate, who is new to the school this year, asked whether he is a boy or a girl.

"How did you answer the question?" I asked.
"Well, I told her I'm neutral; not your average boy or girl."
"Yeah? Good for you buddy. How did she respond?"
"She said, 'Really?! You're my very first one I've ever met!' And now we're friends."

So that's that.

He's a good friend, that Max.

Max with the good hair.

Max with the good ideas.

Max with the good soul.

Max with the sensitive heart.

Max, my one in a million.

On this, your 8th birthday, my love, I wish for you a world in which you are always be greeted with the the same joyful enthusiasm your new classmate showed you. I wish for you a world in which you are given the freedom to express each and every magical, creative, messy, beautiful whim you dream up.

And I wish for you a more patient mama....

Lesson Learned:
This wasn't the first time I've indulged Max in his culinary whims. There was this time during Winter Break last year....

I was able to steer him away from the Steak-and-Kidney Pie and towards the cinnamon rolls, which was a win. After two days of mixing, rising, more mixing, rolling, topping, more rolling, more rising, baking, and finally...eating...I sold that stand mixer and decided that cinnamon rolls from a pop can are just fine, thankyouverymuch.

I can't wait until you're a baker. I can't wait until you have your own kitchen to play in (instead of mine). I'll be first in line for your daily specials and, baby, you know I'll be camping out all day on free coffee Saturdays.

BUT....I can wait until you're grown. Over the past year I've learned that I don't want to wish the time away and I don't even need to peek inside that crystal ball. It doesn't matter to me where/how/who you grow to be because I already know YOU. I know your heart and your soul and your spirit. You are Max...and Max is Max is Max. And Max is awesome.

Happy Birthday, to my very best Maxwell. We love you, kiddo.