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How to rock a kid birthday party when you’re not Martha

You could host a kid birthday bash at the local pizza arcade or bowling alley—or you could host one at home following this tried-and-true formula.


The friend who brings homemade Bailey’s and perfectly packed biscotti when she comes to visit; the co-worker who steps up to every office occasion with fancy, homemade cakes. I love these people. But, despite being someone who enjoys cooking, I do not routinely contribute “special” culinary creations effortlessly. I do not host elaborate parties. Martha, I am not.

Still, every May, I manage to plan and—with my husband—pull off a kick-ass, old-school, at-home birthday party (or two) for my boys, who were born three days short of two years apart. That three-day birthday spread really is what launched my BRING IT!  birthday bash mentality.

Near the end of my second pregnancy, I started freaking out that I’d be in the hospital on my older son’s second birthday—and, as a result, he’d think that I loved the new baby and hated him. So I planned a huge party for two weeks after the last possible day they’d let me stay pregnant.

And that’s how I found myself making googly eyes out of two types of chocolate for Cookie Monster cupcakes with a two-week-old baby strapped to my chest. (Full disclosure: I had three helpers. Thanks, Mom, Kate, and Mike!) I’ve learned a lot about planning kid parties in the five years since then, including these DIY shin-dig tips:

Nail down a theme. Star Wars, LEGOs, dinosaurs, rocks—let your kid pick, obviously, but consider suggesting a couple of options. It might seem that locking into a theme makes the whole party-planning situation more difficult. I disagree: homing in on a concept can help you focus, reducing the head-spinning effects of too many options. The key is to interpret the theme loosely, to make whatever it is you want to do—or you’re capable of doing—fit the focus of your fête. Case in point: last week, we threw a Harry Potter party for our younger guy.  Party favors included round “Harry Potter” sunglasses (procured in the “peacenik Hippie” section of the party store) and wands (twirly straws); the pinãta was a “wizard” (birthday) hat. Be imaginative, not perfect.

The key is to interpret the theme loosely, to make whatever it is you want to do—or you’re capable of doing—fit the focus of your fête. Case in point: last week, we threw a Harry Potter party for our younger guy. Party favors included round “Harry Potter” sunglasses (procured in the “peacenik Hippie” section of the party store) and wands (twirly straws); the pinãta was a “wizard” (birthday) hat. Be imaginative, not perfect.

Be realistic about your skills (or lack thereof). When it comes to cake decorating and such, know what you’re capable of and don’t cross beyond that line. I don’t do fondant or fussy. I “research” concepts online and then consider how a real person might go about executing them. Can you plop on plastic figures instead of molding shit from sugar-flavored wax? (YES!—and the result will be oh-so-much better.)

Think of it like fashion: only the few can pull off a look just the way it was worn on the runway; the rest of us real-people need to dial it down. Whatever you do, don’t let the kids “research” with you because they are likely to become obsessed with something that’s totally impossible. Decide what you want to do, pull a couple of realistic alternatives, and then go in for agreement.

Keep things in perspective. Last year, I become fixated on making an elaborate dinosaur cake, complete with an erupting volcano and a circling pterodactyl for the boys’ shared birthday party. When my friends invited me out for a drink two days before the party, I declined, saying I needed to make lava out of Lifesavers. (Whaaaat?)

During the morning of the party, I sent my whole family swimming so I could create layers of land and water and sand, and then populate the entire ecosystem with extinct creatures. My kids were just super psyched to have a cake—made of sugar—with dinosaurs on it. And they were equally thrilled with the way simpler cakes I made for this year’s (separate) parties: for one, a Harry Potter face that appeared as if an 8-year old created it; for the other, simple cupcakes topped with (purchased) rock candy. Remember: Sugar + Theme = Win.

Make concessions with (non-themed) concessions. And by that, I mean, don’t make the concessions—unless you really want to. In my real life, I make my own pizza dough and I peel and chop whole carrots. When I’m rocking a birthday party, I order pizzas (or buy the heat-’em-up yourself kind from Costco) and buy big bags of vegetables that are ready to dump on a platter next to a bowl of hummus.

Figure out fun activities—ahead of time. Tug of war, a scavenger hunt (for crack-your-own geodes!), water-balloon tossing, craft-making, what have you. This year, in keeping with the “rock” theme for our son’s party, we dropped small stones (e.g., jasper, turquoise, quartz) into balloons, then inflated them so that each party guest had to pop a balloon to get his loot. You can do this with dollar bills or clues to a hunt, too.

Call in help. Every year but one, my parents have flown, or driven, up from Pennsylvania to celebrate the boys’ birthdays. This is awesome because 1) I love my parents and so do my kids and 2) my mom is much craftier and more clever than I am when it comes to birthday party execution. She embraces the role of co-caterer in these events, which is incredibly helpful.

My advice to you: find a friend who likes to kid-party and get her, or him, to help on the food front. Then appoint your childlike (note: I did not say childish) husband, or wife, or friend, Activity Master—you know, the dude who directs the scavenger hunt, or the pinãta smash, or the impromptu musical parade through the basement when it rains and it totally didn’t occur to you that that could happen.

Rein it in, or embrace the crazy. Give the guest list some good consideration. Because: rain, and then the party is in your house. Which is how, last year, after a long, lucky streak of bluebird-sky situations for our double-boy birthday bonanzas, we ended up with a house of chaos.

Approximately 25  kids, plus their parents, spread around a space too small to accommodate the sort of celebrating that was going on. It was cramped and it was crazy and it was the cause of our hosting two separate (and smaller) parties in one weekend this year but, as our older guy remembers it, it was “epic.” One for the books. Go for it. If that’s your thing. Just have fun.

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Dear Jeff Bezos and all who have anything to do with Amazon Prime Day,

I just want to start by saying—I know you are trying to be helpful. I love you all for that. I honestly do. But, you are kind of making me feel a lot of pressure today. Like, in a good way, but also, in an anxious way.

Let me explain…

On any given day, as a mother to three children, I have a certain level of anxiety. While it's not constant, I do have my anxious moments. Why? Because there are various versions of the following: Me asking my two older daughters to get their shoes on what feels like 500 times as I am changing my 9-month-old's very, very, very messy diaper while I am trying to figure out what I can throw on to wear in about five seconds while I am repeating brush your teeth, brush your teeth in my head so I, in fact, don't forget to brush my teeth.

Not even to mention the mental load that weighs on my mind every single day. Remember to flip the laundry, fill out the school forms, cancel that appointment, reschedule this appointment, order more diapers, figure out what we're having for dinner, squeeze in a shower, lock the basement door so the baby can't get down the stairs, find better eczema cream for my middle daughter, get more sunscreen...the list goes on and on and on.

But then you Amazon Prime Day me and I'm having a lot of feelings about that.

Because you're reminding me of things I need to order, to think about, to be on top of more.

The little potty that's on sale reminds me that I need to step up my potty training game for my 2-year-old. That super cute dollhouse reminds me that I need to think about my daughter's first birthday in two months (WHAT!). That face mask reminds me that I need to remember to wash my face before bed because I forget waaaay more than I remember which is terrible.

But then I realize, these deals are going to save my mental load by fixing my life. Right?

Like, I never knew I needed an Instant Pot until you told me it was only $58. Now I am scouring Pinterest for meals I want to prep in my own. THIS POT IS THE TICKET TO GETTING MY LIFE IN ORDER.

Do we need more plates and cups for the kids? I mean really they only probably need about two plates and two cups each but YES. Yes I do need more cute kids kitchenware. THESE PLATES ARE THE TICKET TO BEING A GOOD MOM.

What would I do if I had five Echo Dots? I don't know, but let's find out because they're only $29! THESE DOTS ARE THE TICKET TO EFFICIENCY.

If I order a Vitamix at 30% off, I know I'll lose the baby weight. Think of all the smoothies I'll mix up! I mean, I just lost a pound even thinking about the smoothies that thing can whip up. THIS VITAMIX IS THE TICKET TO A SEXY BOD.

Buying this trendy, floral dress will step up my mom style significantly. THIS DRESS IS THE TICKET TO KEEPING MY COOL.

Okay, then after I add all the fixers to my cart, I realize… I have 99 things, but necessity ain't one.

I mean, I have everything from waterproof band-aids to bras to dresses for myself and my kids to an alarm clock and books. I basically feel like Oprah—You get an Audible subscription! You get an Audible subscription!—but instead of these products magically being paid for by Queen O herself, the money is coming from my bank account, which is a lot less fun of a game, TBH.

And if I am being honest, I don't need much help with my order-things-from-Amazon-and-pretend-it's-being-paid-for-with-Monopoly-money game as I am quite often coming home to an Amazon package wondering what it could be, opening it with the enthusiasm of a kid on Christmas morning—even though I am the exact person who ordered whatever is inside of that Amazon box.

But today, on Amazon Prime Day, you tempt me with all the deals. And yes, my anxiety, blood pressure and adrenaline rise. And yes, my bank account might temporarily decrease—BUT if we are being fair, with the savings I'm getting on things I would buy anyway, I am basically making our account increase overall. Right?

And while these things aren't going to make me skinnier, or cooler, or more put together—I'm okay with that. I am doing a pretty good job on my own. But some of them will actually help my life in a few different ways at a reasonable price, and I am grateful for that—for real.

Now, Bezos, please end this 404 error nonsense and let me purchase all the things!

Thank you for all the savings and excitement,

Mamas everywhere

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Usually when celebrities post swimsuit photos on Instagram they don't exactly look like your average beach-going mom, but former Bachelorette (and mom of two) Ali Fedotowsky posted a series of bikini photos on Monday that are both beautiful and relatable.

"This might be my most vulnerable post on Instagram ever," she wrote in the caption for the photos which show a postpartum belly that looks like a real postpartum belly.

"At the end of the day, I know it's important to be open and honest about my postpartum body in hopes that it helps even one person out there who is struggling with their own body image," Fedotowsky (who just gave birth to her second child in May) wrote.

In the first photo of the series she's wearing a sarong around her stomach, but in the second and third photos Fedotowsky reveals the kind of stomach many mamas sport: It's not perfectly taut, she's not showing off any abs, but it is definity beautiful.

"If you swipe to see the second photo in this post, you see that my body has changed. My skin around my stomach is very loose and stretched out, I'm 15lbs heavier than I used to be, and my cup size has grown quite significantly," Fedotowsky writes.

The photos are a sponsored post for Lilly and Lime Swimwear (a line made for women with larger busts) but that doesn't mean it wasn't brave. In fact, the fact that it's an ad makes it even more amazing because research shows that when advertising only shows us bodies that don't look like our own, women become "generally more dissatisfied with their body and appearance".

Ali Fedotowsky

On her blog Fedotowsky notes that a lot of comments on her previous Instagram posts have been followers remarking how slim she looks, or how much they wish they looked like she does postpartum. By dropping that sarong and showing her tummy Fedotowsky is showing other mothers that there is nothing wrong with their own.

"While I appreciate the positive comments, you guys are always so good to me, I keep trying to explain that I'm just good at picking out clothes that flatter my body and hide my tummy," she wrote on her blog.

"I bounced back pretty quickly after I gave birth to Molly. But things are different this time and I'm OK with that. I'm learning to love my body and embrace how it's changed. I hope I get back to my pre-pregnancy shape one day, but that may never happen. And if it doesn't, that's OK."

Ali Fedotowsky

It is okay, because our bodies are more than our swimsuit selfies. They the vessels that carry us through life and carry our children and provide a safe, warm place for those children feel love.

Loose skin is a beautiful thing.


Thanks for keeping it real, Ali.

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Amazon shoppers were anxiously awaiting the countdown to Amazon Prime Day, but when the clock struck one, er three, the website went down.

On Monday afternoon shoppers were trying to get their hands on the much-hyped Prime Day deals but instead of low prices, many users just saw 404 errors, continuously refreshing pages, or had issues keeping or adding items to their shopping carts.

CNBC reports shares of Amazon were down during the shopping glitch, and many shoppers took to Twitter and Instagram to discuss how all they could see on Amazon were the dogs who decorate the site's 404 pages.

As cute as the dogs are, shoppers are getting tired of seeing them, so hopefully Amazon gets things back up and running soon. Analysts had projected Amazon would rake in $3 billion dollars this Prime Day. Time will tell how much of that was lost during the great dog picture debacle of 2018.

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"Say you're sorry!"

"Go apologize and mean it."

"You don't sound like you're sorry to me."

"She won't want to be your friend anymore if you don't apologize right now."

Sound familiar? This is a hot topic for many parents. We want our kids to have good manners, to truly feel and show compassion for another, to want to apologize from a heartfelt and authentic place—yet when we tell them to say they're sorry, what are we really communicating?

I think:

  • I need you to apologize so I can feel better about what just happened...
  • This is how we fix problems...
  • I need you to do what I say ...
  • You need me to tell you how to feel and behave...
  • I'm in control...(bigger and stronger wins)
  • Integrity is secondary to apologies—what you do doesn't have to be aligned with how you feel or think... just do it anyway.

Whew. Maybe not the message we really want to give.

Yes, manners are important and apologies are necessary. But, encouraging the growth of this from within—a genuine desire to (re)connect and show compassion, being in our integrity—is essential for healthy relationships.

Think about it. How might you feel if, after being hurt deeply by a friend they brushed you off with a cursory, "I'm sorry" or after a tearful yelling match with your teen that left you feeling raw, your spouse said, "How could you lose it like that?! You need to go apologize to him!"

I'd venture to say you might feel more hurt, maybe misunderstood and alone, or even mad.

Often, situations our children are in that we catch ourselves telling them to apologize are defined by just the same kinds of feelings. Hurt whether they are the one doing the hurting or being hurt; frustrated and mad that their favorite toy was grabbed, a cool idea rejected, some other injustice experienced; misunderstood because their feelings and thoughts weren't respected, because the adult missed all that led up to the conflict, because they weren't listened to; alone because they are misunderstood, not listened to, hurt on the inside, feeling rejected; MAD because they really didn't like what their buddy did and their feelings overflowed.

Having your child say "I'm sorry" is going to do very little for a child to grow an understanding of how they feel, why they feel, what they can do with all these feelings—all precursors to compassion.

The words I'm sorry" are more often about our need, not our child's. So what can you do to grow the genuine, integrity based, heartfelt ability to apologize?

1. Role model, always

Be genuine with your own apologies. Voice compassion for your child, others, and their situation.

2. Name and affirm feelings of all parties involved.

Just think, if your spouse, following the tearful yelling match with your teen, had said, "Honey that was really tough. Let me hold you for a minute while you pull yourself together," how might you now feel? How might that change the next step you took? I bet you'd feel connected, understood, cared for, and in a better position to now re-connect with your son and apologize for losing it. And it would have come from a genuine place within you.

3. Give choices or ideas.

"What can you do to help him feel better?"

"When you are ready to let her know you feel sorry, she'll appreciate it."

"Can you use your words or would you like to show her you feel sorry?"

Words, smiles, pats, sharing a toy, playing next to—these are all authentic ways kids can show they are sorry.

4. Notice what your child chooses or does on their own to express their apology and their feelings and name it.

"Thank you for offering your special stuffed guy to your friend. You wanted to help him feel better. What a nice thing to do to let him know you felt sorry."

And now you are helping your child learn a bit more about what healthy, caring relationships look like. Genuine apologies are on their way. It takes time to grow a child who can tap into their inner selves and respond with compassion and honesty in a difficult situation. Time, patience, and gentle guidance... trust this. "I'm sorry" will follow... and be truly meant.

Relationship building all around.

Originally published on Denali Parent Coaching.

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