Happy 40th new mom in a small town...now how do we celebrate?
February 5, 2014 4:17 PM   Subscribe

My awesome sister in law, who had her first child a few months ago, is turning 40 in a few weeks. My brother, however, has no plans for this milestone - a fact which I think is a disaster in the making. How did you celebrate your 40th in some memorable yet not massively difficult to achieve way? Help me give her a birthday she'll remember!

My SIL is a fun, outgoing personality who likes to have a good time and celebrate: she planned a big surprise party for my brother's 40th (he is introverted and shy and not good at planning these things, but thoughtful and kind and very in love with his wife). They live in a smallish town (~15,000 people), many of their friends aren't within easy driving distance, and her family is thousands of miles away. With a new baby, they're both feeling tied to home and tired. Are there any great ideas on how we could make this day special for her despite being far away from most friends and family and having a little one to look after? Getting away for a weekend isn't really in the cards for them right now (I don't think they'd want to even if we volunteered to watch the baby). They don't live close to any major cities, so typical things like "give her a spa day" or "get them a fancy restaurant certificate" really won't work. My parents are willing to pitch in/babysit, and I can probably recruit a handful of others, too, if needed. I suspect if he really does nothing more than a gift/card/dinner/flowers, she's going to be disappointed, and he confessed he has no idea what else to do the other day.
posted by OneSmartMonkey to Human Relations (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
40 days before my 40th birthday, gifts started to arrive. Turns out my husband arranged for a gift/sentiment/something to be sent to me from friends and family for the next 40 days, culminating in a surprise birthday dinner with all my favorite people.

It was amazing.
posted by cooker girl at 4:32 PM on February 5, 2014 [11 favorites]

You might want to reach out to your BIL and mention you want to plan something for your sister's 40th.

I'm a guy, I don't like to celebrate my birthday, and was very thankful no one did anything for my 40th. I also find planning parties to be a pain in the ass, unless it's for my kids.

I'm too busy working and earning a living.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:38 PM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

When my wife turned 40, I did a "summer of George" type thing for her. I let her sleep in, and I took the kids out for breakfast, and we basically disappeared until lunch, giving her a morning to herself. I then took she and the girls to a nice lunch, and watched the kids all afternoon while she got a pedicure, and then got a sitter and took her out for dinner. She still talks about it.

Disclaimer: our kids are nothing like this post would have you believe.
posted by 4ster at 4:38 PM on February 5, 2014

How about making sure all the long-distance friends send her cards?
A friend's wife did this (though she went to the trouble to print out 40 self addressed stamped postcards of his graduation pic), and he loved it.
posted by luckynerd at 5:04 PM on February 5, 2014

If your parents and the "few others" you can recruit could make it to an 'instant birthday party' would that suffice? Bring cake, balloons, streamers, some light booze, and gag gifts and tell her she gets a 90 minute surprise birthday party. Make sure you use paper cups and plates for this for easy cleanup. Explain to her that since she's 'old' and has kids, she needs her rest, so your going to keep it short. Do the black balloons thing if that's her type of humor.

Maybe you could put together a photo album of when she was a kid. If she had a favorite toy, get one. Get a couple DVDs for her and her husband to watch together. Gather up a basket of goodies for when they watch the DVDs. See if you can't get her friends long distance all on speaker phone to sing Happy Birthday together.

Go, set a timer when you get there. Tell her she's on limited time since she's 40. Sing, eat cake, drink a beer, then when the timer goes off, everybody leaves. I mean leaves. Stop in the middle of the sentence. Put down your drink and just go. Yell Happy Birthday when you go out the door.

If you don't think it will fly, you can still plan for a 90 minute party, just go a little easier when you leave and don't hit the 'old' so hard.

Believe me, she'll be thrilled just to know that everyone took the time to acknowledge her.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:08 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have a skype/facetime party with those that are far away?
posted by Sassyfras at 5:14 PM on February 5, 2014

I'm too busy working and earning a living.

A lot of women do this and still somehow manage to be active party/social planners! Which is why I particularly love giving back to those kinds of women (it sounds like your SIL is one), because they give so much to those around them.

I think having all friends/family send something (a letter, a card, a gift, whatever) in the mail is so special, and you could coordinate that. You have a few weeks, which is not a bad time frame-- not too long where you'll urge people and they'll forget, not so soon that there's not time.

If there's anyone at all who can make it, I'd say a small party is in order. Get a cute cake. A surprise Skype/Facetime party in the middle would be excellent. Milestones like this are more about people than fancy gifts, so anything you can do to involve the big circle of people around her who care about her is A+.
posted by stoneandstar at 5:29 PM on February 5, 2014 [10 favorites]

For my 40th birthday, I asked guests (all women) to bring chocolate, not presents. We pigged out happily!
posted by Carol Anne at 5:53 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

New baby? Any party needs to be out of the house so she doesn't have to clean it. Have the parents babysit, her husband tells her a couple weeks before that he is taking her for an intimate dinner at a fancy restaurant (so she dresses her best and feel good) where as many friends as you can gather will be waiting for her. She's been isolated pretty bad, probably feeling like she has no adult conversation besides her husband and needs to feel a little irresponsible and fun again. Is there anywhere nearby you can go dancing? Even some cheesy place that is only one you laugh about later? She needs an experience to brighten her up and make her feel loved. Would you feel comfortable posting a general location in case people can make specific suggestions?
posted by saucysault at 8:09 PM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

You could probably get a group rate at a motel, to accommodate friends within a few hours' distance. There's got to be a motel, right? One phone call and a round of emails (this week, agree with stoneandstar) and it's done. If your SIL is the giving type, I bet people will make an effort.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:17 PM on February 5, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the great ideas so far...I particularly like the idea of getting people to mail her things for the next month and will pass that along to my brother. Their location is the central coast of Washington state - if you look at a map, you will see...not much. I don't think there are any places to go dancing within an hour's drive - she had his party at a roller skating rink to give you some idea of what it's like. There is a motel, and I will make the suggestion to my brother of trying to get a group of their friends to come to town. I'm willing to help as much as I can since this is not his forte and she deserves a memorable experience. And great point on not having the party at their house so they don't have cleanup aftermath!
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 8:37 PM on February 5, 2014

She had a baby a "few months" ago? Please, have mercy, don't throw her a party, or arrange one for her. She probably hasn't had more than 4 hours sleep at a time -- if that -- since the baby was born. Getting all surprised, getting all grateful, conversation, laughing, dealing with all the YOU'RE FORTY NOW bits .... lord, it makes me tired just to think of it. And if you arrange to have things arrive in the mail, arrange to have them arrive with a thank you note attached, so all she has to do is sign and mail.

Lots of expressions of love, and support, and someone taking care of the baby so she can nap. That's what she'll love best. If you have to do something, the coast of Washington is very very gray this time of year. Lots of bright flowers arriving would be nice. But no plants -- nothing more to take care of!

Being a new mom trumps everything. How about using your awesome party powers on her 45th?
posted by kestralwing at 9:26 PM on February 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

A lot of people probably feel similar to kestralwing but my sister recently had a baby and wanted to party just about one month later. My aunt just told me the other day that she breastpumped furiously after her first daughter was born so she could go out drinking again ASAP. (Heh...) So maybe use your brother or contact w/ your SIL to gauge how much partying she would be into right now.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:40 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think that a campaign to get friends from near, far, past, and present mail her birthday cards (or postcards or whatever, they can be creative!) is fabulous, no matter what.

As for a celebration, it doesn't need to be a surprise, and it doesn't need to be up to her husband. You should ask her about how she'd perhaps like to celebrate. What's her wish?
posted by desuetude at 10:42 PM on February 5, 2014

Ask her what she wants.

No seriously. Ask her.

If she wants a surprise, then do that. If she wants a thing at her house, do that.

If course, this is predicated on you having the type of relationship where you two are open wth each other about these things.
posted by bilabial at 2:48 AM on February 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would have absolutely loved a grown-up birthday party a few months after my kids were born. I remember how hungrily I leapt on any invitation. It was so good to get cleaned up and dressed and be an adult in a grown up environment.

Sounds like she doesn't have many friends around, so that might be a dead end, but if he makes the arrangements to have the parents come to babysit, and he makes dinner reservations somewhere exceptional (or the most exceptional place they can get to within an hour's drive), and he gets her some surprise jewelry that he can give to her as she's getting dressed (careful with this -- maybe you can help him choose?), and he calls the restaurant in advance to find out if there's anything special they can do… that would be nice.

Also, there are a million places where you can order a nice printed photo book from digital prints. He could curate and order one for her, focusing on HER and them together, not just on the baby… I would have really liked that. (Still would.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:16 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

For my 40th we grilled burgers on the deck and had a few beers; my sister, her kids, and my parents "happened" to be in town. For my wife's we had her clan over and I called in a handful of her oldest friends to join us. Both pretty tame.

Not long after that, my best friend burned a pyre of frequent flyer miles and took just him and me to a surprise location. We ended up in New Orleans doing the "Behind the Lines" all-day tour of the National World War II Museum, and eating and drink and talktalktalking. It was heaven.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:59 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

For my husband's 30th, I got lots of his friends (some of whom he hadn't seen for years) and family to e-mail me a message, and I then put them all together in a photo book. It's one idea if family and friends are all far away - and it's even less effort for them than sending a gift (though you could ask them to do that too!).
posted by raspberry-ripple at 8:46 AM on February 6, 2014

I'd do a pot luck and plan to stay in the motel. Perhaps the motel has a conference room, or you could congregate in the lobby or breakfast room (we did this for Christmas and it was AWESOME!)

Hell, even some friends with a bucket of chicken or pizza would be a nice treat. She doesn't have to clean the house or cook anything, but could come out with the baby and you all could just visit with each other for a while.

It would be a bit much for the folks who traveled, but I'd do it for a good friend or dear family member.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:03 PM on February 6, 2014

When we drove cross-country a couple of summers ago, there was one hotel with a big breakfast room that was clearly being used for a family party (with only some of the people appearing to be staying in the hotel).

If you needed to be out of the house where a new baby lives, and some people were traveling in, it would be a decent solution. (Check with the hotel's manager first, though.)
posted by wenestvedt at 1:25 PM on February 6, 2014

I had my child a couple months before my 40th and a party would not have been memorable or appreciated, sleep deprivation and all. I would go with the 40 days of gifts/sentiments or even better, 40 offers to help. All of the "Yay! New baby, must help mom" meals, general help, etc. dries up pretty quickly. A "40 days of care" calendar would have been amazing a few months out.
posted by murrey at 7:14 PM on February 6, 2014

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