So I have to post a recap of my wonderful 27th birthday celebration here in Costa Rica because it will forever be one of my most precious memories from our time here. As a side note, I share my birthday with my sweet boy Mack who just turned 3. I mentioned in a previous post that I was planning a birthday party with all the little kids in my preschool program. I think leading up to my actual birthday, I actually started to get somewhat anxious over all the planning. I’m not really big on birthdays, especially mine. My idea of a good birthday is having the people closest to me remember my birthday and gathering a group of friends to go to dinner and enjoy each other’s company. That’s really it. I’ve never been big on parties and I’m not a huge fan of being the center of attention. Yet there I was, planning two parties for myself. One for the morning program and one for the afternoon. Now I will say, all I wanted out of this day was to do something really special and different for the children in my program that I love so much. I know that I am going to miss them like crazy next year and as we wrap up our time here, I was grateful for a viable reason to do something like this.
Jenny and I are practically birthday twins. She was born on November 5, 1986 and I was born November 6, 1986. For some reason, I have never ever really thought about this before until the week of my birthday… but Jenny and I were born a single day apart in two different countries only for our lives to be weaved together over two decades later in the same exact place. 27 years ago, Jenny’s family was celebrating here in a hospital in San Ramon and less than 24 hours later, my family was celebrating my birth in a hospital in Jacksonville. I know there are people around the world that were quite possibly born within just a few minutes of me and much farther away than Costa Rica, but I’ll probably never meet them.
Nonetheless, we celebrated our birthdays together this year as a staff on the 5th with a wonderful birthday lunch prepared for us by Maga. One thing Jenny and I surely have in common is our love of food. We can eat. My favorite Costa Rican dish is arroz con pollo with chimichurri and the best I’ve ever had is Maga’s, so I consider that a most excellent birthday gift.That evening, I was quite busy baking dozens of cupcakes for the parties. We’re talking several hours worth of baking. I didn’t get a chance to bake Mack a special puppy birthday cake like last year, but I reserved two vanilla cupcakes for him.
My birthday last year was actually rather tranquil when I compare it with this year’s. We went to lunch at Aroma’s with the staff and it ended with dismal election results that evening. The excitement this year kicked off early and continued to build throughout the day. We began decorating the classroom in the morning before the 10:00 a.m. program. Kids started to come by the room and see the piñata, streamers, and balloons. When we were ready to begin, Andrew and I went up to the apartment to bring down Mack. The kids are always excited when Mack comes out. We led him down to the classroom and started the party off with seven kids in the morning. The morning party was nice and calm with a small number like that. It is normal to have less kids in the morning than in the afternoon. We started by putting our party hats on, including Mack. The kids giggled like crazy when Andrew put Mack’s birthday hat on. Then everyone sang Feliz Cumpleaños to Mack and he ate his special vanilla cupcake with peanut butter and banana icing and a biscuit on top. After that, Andrew took Mack on upstairs so we could do the rest of the party. Somehow, I figured it would be too chaotic with Mack in there while we were trying to decorate cupcakes and do the piñata. I read the children a Dora the Explorer story about making a birthday cake and then we went to the tables to begin decorating our own cupcakes.
This was quite interesting to me because when I put out all the sprinkles, they didn’t know what to do with them. I had to show them. It was the same in the afternoon party. I even asked two of the mothers what the name was for sprinkles and they didn’t know. I also thought it was interesting when I had to show all the kids how to take the cupcake liner off before they could eat it. I could be wrong, but I would say most young kids in the US have been to enough birthday parties and whatnot to know how to eat a cupcake. That’s part of what made this experience very cool in my mind. So much of it seemed new and different to them, or at the very least rare.
They enjoyed eating their cupcakes. I had several kids hand me a ball of cake leftover after they had eaten all the bites with icing around it and tell me they were done. I thought that was humorous.
It was then time for the piñata. It’s common for a lot of the younger kids to come to program in the morning, so we had some of the babies in the morning party. I let them all take several swings to no avail. I let Greivin go last because I knew he’d wail on that thing pretty good. He was the one to bust it open. We packed those piñatas so full of candy that I think the morning crew probably got to split nearly ten pounds worth between the seven of them.
Once we finished all of our fun for the morning party, I sent all the kids out to the playground so I could clean up and prepare some for the afternoon party. I had to keep the door shut to my classroom so I wouldn’t have tons of kids running in trying to get a glimpse of what was happening. After a few minutes, I heard a knock at the door. When I opened it, I was greeted with half a dozen smiling faces and Yohan holding up a mud birthday cake for me.
It was such a precious surprise. They were so excited to give it to me.
We then took several pictures together, mostly taken by Ashley Tamara, and those photos will forever bring a smile to my face.
I went upstairs to rest for a bit before lunch. For some reason, the party and excitement had worn me out. Just after sitting down upstairs in the apartment, Andrew walked in. He said “I guess you’ve probably already seen these,” and then pulls out the most beautiful arrangement of flowers.
I must have passed them as they were laying in the backseat of the truck when I walked up to the apartment, but I truly hadn’t seen them and they were still a wonderful surprise for me.Along with the flowers, Andrew gave me a card that he had the whole staff and all the volunteers sign. A few minutes later, I see one of my preschool students, Miriel, walking up to my door with her mother.
She was carrying a sweet little bouquet of pink flowers. Her mother told me she picked them out herself. Later, Maga (whose son is dating Miriel’s mother) told me that when Miriel woke up that morning, she said ‘I have to buy Ashley something today, it’s her birthday!’ and she already knew she wanted to buy me pink flowers saying ‘Ashley will like these the best!’ She was right, they were perfect.
In the afternoon, I spent some time on the playground and out and about around campus. I received so many birthday hugs from all of the children. Naidelyn, another one of my preschool kids, found me outside and said “Feliz Cumpleños Ashley.” When I turned to see who it was, she handed me a small, apple-shaped box full of candy. It was quite adorable. As I was walking towards the classroom, Yohan was walking out and told me to stop and close my eyes. When he reached me and told me to open them, he was holding out a small paper heart that he had cut out and colored red. He handed it to me and gave me a huge hug. Right behind him was Greivin with his paper heart. I walked into the classroom with both of them and sat with them as they wrote their names on the back of them. Often times, Yohan comes late to program. He doesn’t like singing songs and being with the little kids so much anymore. It’s ok with me because I know he’s too advanced for my program and completely ready to move on. I made a deal with him a while back where he gets to choose whether he reads pinocho in the first classroom or write letters in program with me. He often runs up to my room asking if he can come do letters. So on my birthday when I asked him to write his name on the heart so I’d remember who it was from forever, he happily did it and wrote it out perfectly without any help. They are both so ready for first grade next year and I’m going to miss being here each day to work with them.
By the time 3:00 p.m. rolled around, I was certain I might need security to get into my classroom with Mack and my kids. There were kids of all ages swarming everywhere asking if they could come to the party. The party was only for kids that do the preschool program with me each day as a special reward and celebration. I told Marion and Clif to stay in the classroom with the door shut until Andrew and I returned with Mack. We had a herd of kids follow us up to get Mack. I made them wait by the gate and as soon as they saw him come out of the apartment, all you could hear was them chanting his name. Mack is a furry, four-legged celebrity around here if you didn’t already know. There were probably thirty to forty kids waiting outside of my classroom hoping to get in. I passed kids who hadn’t been to the programs for ages that somehow knew about this party. I had them all make a line and I slowly started admitting them. There were 17 in total that were a part of the afternoon party. Just so we’re on the same page here, 17 kids between the age of 3 and 6 who are extremely wound up and ready to party is the exact definition of chaos. I wasn’t kidding about the security part. I had a volunteer stand outside the door to keep kids clear of the room that weren’t a part of the party.
We started the party in the same fashion as the morning one.
The kids sang Feliz Cumpleaños to Mack and watched him gobble up his second cupcake of the day. Mack was such a good sport about the whole thing. Andrew took him back upstairs and we read our birthday story, this time it was the Five Little Monkeys. The cupcake decorating went very similar to the morning. They seemed initially confused about the sprinkles and then again with the liners on the cupcakes.
The piñata was a hoot in the afternoon. I think it was a miracle that all the kids got to hit it a few times and it still didn’t break. We had some kids who were too afraid to hit it. I didn’t even blindfold the afternoon group because it would have taken forever, but there were still some who were scared. I have no idea why. I wasn’t planning on taking a swing at it but as I was holding the stick after all the kids had gone, they started chanting my name. So I hit it a few times, unblindfolded, and it still didn’t come open.
Then we called in the big guns. Andrew came in and the kids could hardly control their excitement. They knew he’d get that thing open for them. After a couple of hits, candy started flying everywhere and the kids were sprawled out all over the floor scooping it up as quickly as they could. Rebecca’s mom, who is probably in her 40’s, had an extremely fast reaction time and was right there with the kids grabbing candy from all directions. I have it on video.
After that party was over, I was exhausted. I needed to go upstairs and relax for a few minutes in relative peace and quiet. As the gates were closing for the day, I walked back outside and heard an english “Happy Birthday” and saw Valeria running up to give me a hug. I saw some of the kids leaving, several who were at the party still had their party hats on. They were excited to get a party hat to take home with them. Can you imagine being that happy about something so simple?
I ended my day with a delicious dinner at Aroma’s with Andrew, his mom and Clif. The next day, I heard from several of the moms and grandmothers of what a hit the parties were to their kids. Carolina said that all Joseth could talk about was Mack. She kept asking him who Mack was and he kept saying “perro, perro!” Maga told me that the kids that she usually watches at her house couldn’t stop talking about the piñata and all the candy. Xiomara came in the next morning to clean and told me that her grandson Eitel was telling her about the party as well. He doesn’t speak very well but she said she could make out that Mack was there and a piñata was involved.
All I wanted out of my birthday was to do something really fun and special for the little kids that I have grown to love so much while I have been here. I think I accomplished that and in doing so, it was one of my favorite birthdays yet!