As many of you know, Paton and I (Christiana) share a September 10th birthday! This year, he turned three and I turned thirty-six! It’s an honor and a joy to share a birthday with my son, but it does present the yearly dilemma of how we should actually celebrate the day, so that HE has a special day, while I’m not completely stressed out on MY birthday, to give him that special day. This year, I was going to keep it low-key, perhaps taking him to one of the wonderful indoor playgrounds that we have here. The week before our big day, however, I was really missing family and friends in the U.S. (this happens every year around my birthday…so many wonderful memories of years gone by) and realized that even though I couldn’t be with my U.S. loved ones, that I was surrounded by people here in Cambodia who have invested in my life, and in the life of my precious son, and I wanted to spend my day with at least a few of our Cambodia friends! Since our birthdays fell on a Wednesday, during our regular play group time, I decided to host play group for that week and then invite a few extra friends.
A few days before the event, Paton and I took a tuk tuk around the city gathering random items for the animal-themed party (I MUST have a theme to plan a party–you can blame my parents for that!). Cambodia doesn’t have “party stores” so you have to be creative when planning celebrations. Apart from decorating the house, I really don’t have an outlet for my creativity these days, so scouring my brain (and Pinterest!) for fun ideas, was actually part of MY birthday celebration. I chose an animal theme because, well, my son LOVES animals AND because it would be an easy theme, especially since we already have so many animal objects all over our house. I used some items from Paton’s 1st birthday (a puppy party) and then everything else was fairly easy to put together. While it does take time and effort, especially at 27 weeks pregnant, I thoroughly enjoy doing these parties for my children.
After all of our little (and big!) friends arrived on Wednesday morning, the kids played for a bit (while I was frantically finishing up the cupcakes, ha ha), and then we played a few party games: 1) pin the tail on the lion (Paton’s current favorite animal…and whales!) 2) animal bingo and 3) animal guessing game (for the moms!). We then enjoyed the animal-themed snacks after the traditional “Happy Birthday” singing and candle blowing. Paton was a bit overwhelmed at that point, but he was soon enjoying the frosting (only the frosting!) of his birthday cupcake. We ended the party with Paton opening his gifts (and I even received a few myself! :)). We are so grateful for the friendships that we’ve made here in Cambodia, and our Wednesday play group, is just a taste of the many people, both past and present, who the Lord has been pleased to bring into our lives!
Since play group was in the morning, Ava was a little disappointed to miss the party (she’s in school during the morning hours), but we celebrated later that evening as a family. It’s been our tradition since coming to Cambodia, to have birthday breakfast at The Shop Too, a little gem of a restaurant, not too far from our home. Because our lives have changed (particularly, Ava starting school!), we decided to keep the tradition alive, but instead of breakfast, a birthday dinner! Paton and I opened gifts and cards from U.S. family and each other (I had brought several gifts back with me from my recent U.S. trip). My favorite gift was a speaker system from my parents, that enables me to play music in my kitchen while I’m washing dishes! :D I also enjoyed the handmade cards from my kids…and husband! It was fun to see Paton light up with each gift. This is the first year that he’s really comprehended the “birthday concept” and I’m pretty sure that he approves!
Our lovely evening ended with a rather strange event. As I mentioned, we have been going to this quaint restaurant for almost five years, so the staff know my kids well, and we have a special relationship with them. After opening up his batman mask (see picture below), I said, “Go show Boo!” (which is “Uncle” in Khmer–something you call all men of a certain age). Paton went into the next room to show Boo, who was clearing a table, and let out a Batman growl…only one, and not very loud at that. We immediately heard a female, American voice yell at my son, “That’s too loud, little boy, you need to be quiet. Where’s your mother!?” Nate and I were so shocked by her rude, cruel response, that we were paralyzed (Oh, the things I thought to say as soon as she left! It’s a good thing that I remained quiet). Our sensitive, sweet Paton thankfully seemed unaware of what had just transpired, and walked back into the room where we were sitting (If he had reacted negatively, we would have definitely talked to her). The party of several adults (who we couldn’t see…since we were around the corner) then immediately left the restaurant after the woman loudly said to the others, “that little boy should be smacked on the side of the head!”
While the incident did unnerve me, it also had an amazingly positive effect on my heart. I realized that in the nearly five years that I’ve had children, I’ve NEVER experienced such rudeness and lack of love towards my kids, and that the primary reason for this is because I live in a country where children are cherished by Cambodians and expats (foreigners) alike. Yes, sometimes I struggle that my children are a little TOO cherished and random strangers try to touch them, but for the most part, Cambodia is a very child-friendly place, where adults smile lovingly when a child enters a room. Most venues are child-friendly, including restaurants, and there are often toys and distractions, and even playrooms for children IN the restaurants. At his particular restaurant, the owner (Belgium) had brought back a play kitchen and play workbench from the IKEA in Thailand, for her little patrons. I’m sure that it’s mostly for liability reasons, but where can you find such places in the U.S.?
So yes, it wasn’t the most delightful way to end our birthday, but it was a wonderful reminder of the many blessings that we experience here in Cambodia, even amidst the trials and difficulties. I am grateful for my precious little family; I am grateful for the many friends and family members all over the world who took the time to wish Paton and I a, “Happy Birthday!” through phone calls, messages, posts, emails, texts and every other manner of communication. And, I am grateful for that rude American woman who reminded me that there is blessing in the hardship, and that the Lord has graciously provided for us in ways that I haven’t even realized.