Half birthdays and other WTFN celebrations

Yesterday was Sawyer’s half birthday. 21.5. He got texts from us and a giant s’more “pizza” from the Chocolate Pizza company delivered to his apartment in New Orleans.

The origins of the half-birthday celebrations in our home are straightforward: When Noah started the first grade at a local Montessori school, birthdays were a big deal. Imagine mostly white, upper-middle-class moms who did not work outside the home in all our early-2000s well-intended, assuming all was right with the world glory! If your birthday fell during a holiday, no problem! We’ll celebrate the kid’s half birthday.

Sawyer getting the rare whole homemade pie — half birthday treats usually are cut in half and from the store — on his 10th birthday.

Except Noah’s birthday is June 22 so his half birthday is December 22. And who was I to deprive my baby of a school birthday celebration? Such indulgences amuse me now — as if a huge-ass friend celebration and an extended family celebration weren’t enough! — but I remember the visceral need to make everything good for my boys when they were young.

And so, half birthdays became a thing.

They are the WTFN celebration that made it for the long haul. We once had a party to celebrate our German shepherd’s birthday (there is zero evidence I bought a dog bone cookie cutter, made human and canine cookies, and organized a game where kids drank out of dog bowls).

I did low-key cakes for lots of awesome things my kid did as they got older — and more likely to roll their eyes at any sign of enthusiasm from us.

Noah turns 18.5!

Solid SAT score? CAKE! Swim team captain? CAKE! Tennis captain? CAKE! Broke the Dallas ISD record held since 1968 in the 50 free? CAKE! Picked a college? CAKE! OK, sometimes it was a pie. But it always had writing on it and the people working the bakery at our Whole Foods were always amused.

I learned from the dog party (again, there is NO EVIDENCE so let me live my life): celebrations can be simple. Let me say it again: S.I.M.P.L.E. Kids want to be seen, loved, celebrated … but the older they get, they less time you have to squeeze that in. Be brief. Be low-key. Involve food.

For half birthdays, we just do half of some sweet treat. If a friend is involved, it’s because he was already here. I grab a few candles from the junk drawer, cut one in half, and toss half a store-bought dessert on a plate. We sing Happy Half Birthday (same tune, squeeze in “half”), they roll their eyes a bit, smile a lot, and we eat. And it’s done. The college version of this, obviously, is sending a dessert to them with a HHBD text.

I’ve had two popular responses to my WTFN celebratory ways through the years:

  1. I should’ve done this for my kids.
  2. Why are you so extra?

Oh No. 2, it’s who I am, (almost 🐾) no regrets! On No. 1, I say we all have gifts. I never took my kids to Disney, never did Elf on the Shelf, never make their own legit birthday cakes. We can’t do all the things.

A cake for breaking a Dallas ISD swim record and a key lime pie for making tennis captain.

And because we can’t do all the things, I decided after Noah’s 21st birthday that half birthdays were ending once they turned 21. What are we going to do this when they’re 40.5? But in 2020, we brought the half birthday back because COVID lockdown was sucking the life out of us and we needed sugar and candles and songs and ANYTHING fun and frivolous.

How long will they last? The jury is still out. The pandemic did nothing but egg on my innate desire to celebrate any time and any thing and any person we want to.

Because WTFN?

Noah turns 14.5, Sawyer turns 20.5, Noah turns 20.5, Sawyer turns 15.5.


About Dawn McMullan

Dawn McMullan is a freelance writer/editor in Dallas, Texas. Her two sons are now 21 and 24, Sawyer in college and Noah starting his post-college career, and both interrupted empty nesting during the pandemic. Dawn helps run a non-profit in Eastern Congo and is senior editor at the International News Media Association.
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