In celebration of my daughters’ lives and birthdays, I have dedicated myself to creating extraordinary birthday parties for them. When my daughter, Saffron, was five months old, I was involved in an armed robbery while she was sleeping. For those of you who don’t live here, South Africa is such a beautiful and dynamic country with so much development and innovation. But as with many developing countries, crime is a reality. When life and death flashed before my eyes, and then life was restored to me and my family I made a conscious decision to live my life fully and to treasure every moment with my family. No apologies.
A few days after our home was robbed, Saffron celebrated her six month old party with an intimate family cake ceremony followed close on its heels by her first birthday party. Little did I know that these parties were going to become a testament to my daughters, Saffron’s and Scarlett’s lives. As I look back I can see how these parties have become the cornerstone of my legacy to my children.
My children’s parties were birthday as theatre, celebration as an artist’s installation. As our home became Paris, Moscow, Venice, Spain and Mexico, my children and our guests transformed into little inhabitants of another place and time, eating different food, speaking a new language, transformed through authentic costumes. I was determined to document these parties with professional photographers so that the parties weren’t once-offs, ‘a fun but fleeting evening’. They were a lasting legacy for my daughters, like a lived history lesson; one they would never forget. The parties acquired a reputation of their own so special and unique that one of my friends, Jeremy said to me:
‘What will you do for your daughters’ weddings one day?’
I said to him: ‘I’m not waiting for their weddings. Who knows if I will be around’.
Jeremy responded: ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be around. Even God wants to see their weddings!!!’.
Glance at a range of children’s party invitations and you will see that the themes are generally the same, year after year, reflecting the latest Disney blockbuster. How did I get my daughters to ‘choose’ The Mexican Day of the Dead, Russia, Venice or Spain for their parties? I have to admit to a tiny bit of manipulation. Stop for a moment and think about this: What party does your child want this year? Without being presumptive, I would imagine it would be a variation on a couple of themes that are doing the party rounds. This is because a child will only tell you what they know, what they’ve seen and what their friends are talking about; in other words what they have in their bank of information. I decided to enlarge my children’s bank of knowledge. I wanted to give my kids experiences, through dance or food or people or travel. But my task was to translate the cultural experience into an imaginative land of play and fantasy.
I have a knack for ‘kiddifying’ high-brow culture into something a child will love. In kiddifying Venice, the stripey mooring poles along the Grand Canal became like candy land.
When I taught them about Russia, the onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral in the Red Square became twirled lollipops and we created and hand painted Matroshkas out of icing.
Scotland became an opportunity for little boys who wouldn’t dream of putting on a skirt, to wear kilts, to the amusement of all the girls at the party.
The Mexican Day of the Dead became an opportunity to explore the beauty of Mexican culture and to handcraft and paint sugar skulls to teach my kids about this incredibly rich Mexican festival.
In this way, my children fell in love with places and culture beyond their years and enabled me to ‘nonchalantly’ suggest, ‘hey why don’t we do a party based on this country?’ At this point, my girls were in. And they would totally go with the idea of Spain or France or whatever cultural backdrop I was dreaming of for that year’s celebration. So my party philosophy is feed more information into the bank, KIDDIFY, don’t underestimate your kids, they deserve more than to live on the marketing gimmicks of the latest Disney offering. I have taught my kids again and again: Be a leader, not a follower and if you do it with your whole heart, people will support your individuality. I also want to say I owe a lot to my children’s friends. After their first party, they were hooked and I would find them running through the school corridors to ask me what party theme we were going to do this year. This gave my kids the confidence to walk proud with their parties that stood out from the norm. No apologies.
Look out for Part 2 of No Apologies: Saffron’s Bat Mitzvah