SERIOUSLY KIDDING

Travails of year-end birthdays

As Yanrong's birthday falls a week before Christmas, the perennial challenge is to get her a birthday cake. -- PHOTO: FEAST@ EAST  
As Yanrong's birthday falls a week before Christmas, the perennial challenge is to get her a birthday cake. -- PHOTO: FEAST@ EAST  

Year-end babies have it tough when it comes to birthday celebrations.

That's my view anyway, which is very much coloured by the fact that my two daughters, Yanbei and Yanrong, are born in November and December, respectively.

Yanbei, in particular, loves to celebrate birthdays. My younger daughter enjoys the cake, cards, gifts and all the attention that come with her birthday.

In the early years, it was enough that the fuss on her special day came almost exclusively from her own family. That changed after she started preschool. Her kindergarten made it a point to celebrate the children's birthdays.

In a class of 30 to 40 children, that worked out to an average of one celebration every two weeks.

It was great for the children, especially as some parents went to great lengths to get food and paraphernalia. On the days when there was a party, Yanbei would, without fail, bring home a goodie bag containing trinkets that she happily spent the afternoon admiring.

The class parties stopped once she entered primary school. Still, there were the occasional low-key birthday celebrations among her classmates.

So it is somewhat of a bugbear that she does not get to celebrate her birthday with her friends at school. By the time her birthday comes along, the school term will have ended.

Of course, there is nothing to stop me or my wife from arranging a get-together for Yanbei and her friends. But it's hard to plan anything during the long holidays, in the peak travel season. At their age, primary school children also tend not to keep in touch as much as they do during the academic year.

We weren't even in Singapore on Yanbei's birthday last year and the year before. In 2012, we were in Taiwan on her birthday and I had to scramble to get a slice of cake when the coach made a brief stopover during our round-the-island tour.

That night, in the room of a nondescript hotel in a town I cannot now recall, we sang Yanbei a birthday song over the forlorn-looking slice of cake. I didn't want to buy a whole cake as we were on a tour and had to lug our luggage around as we moved from city to city.

Under the circumstances, Yanbei could barely muster a smile, whether due to travel fatigue or lack of atmosphere it's hard to say.

Not without irony, she said it was memorable for being the most forgettable birthday ever.

There was a marked improvement last year as we celebrated her birthday together with her aunts, uncles and cousins at a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. Unfortunately, her day was marred by a tummy upset.

Her birthday last month was, by far, the most enjoyable in recent years, Yanbei declared the other day.

Much of it was down to the fact that we were at home and not away in some foreign land trying to keep up with a taxing itinerary. As a bonus, there were even some visitors, including a classmate who came with her mum to convey her birthday wishes.

That made Yanbei's day.

She spent the rest of the afternoon happily plugging away on the computer. For just that one day, my wife and I allowed her unlimited time on Facebook.

The year-end holidays pose a different issue with my older daughter, although she is less enamoured of birthdays than Yanbei.

As Yanrong's birthday falls a week before Christmas, the perennial challenge is to get her a birthday cake.

I used to admire the ubiquitous Christmas log cakes at the malls. But since becoming a father, I despair at their lack of variety once Yuletide season draws closer.

There was one year I visited half a dozen bakeries in a vain attempt to shop for a birthday cake. There was none. The display chillers were full of Christmas cakes.

That experience has taught me to either order a birthday cake in advance if I have a clear idea of what I want, or patronise the HDB heartland mom-and-pop bakeries, whose range of cakes shows that they are far more cognisant of the needs of customers than some of the fancy bakeries at the malls.

dennis@sph.com.sg

How do you celebrate your kids' birthdays? E-mail stlife@sph.com.sg