I’ve always called her my snuggle-bunny…a springtime baby who loves to curl up in your lap, put her thumb in her mouth and tuck her head into the crevice of your neck. But even the most gentle of babies must at some point catapult herself from the cradle of the caregiver’s arms.
In the past year, Gracia has gone from having a scant head of hair to growing wispy strands. She has given up nursing for a sippy cup to carry along on her adventures. She has developed a vast vocabulary that I can now discern and translate for others, a list of words that multiplies daily. She’s grown a whole five and a half inches to reach beyond the halfway point of her probable adult height. She has gone from toddling to all-out running. “Boom. I fast,” she says as she races down the hall. She has been like a rubber band pulled back, and now she darts all over the place.
Like Peter Rabbit, one of our favorite storybook characters, I find my little one on a quest to test her own power and her mother’s limits: “‘Now, my dears,’ said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, ‘you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden.’” Beatrix Potter’s classic is a perfect narrative for the emerging two year-old vying for a little taste of independence.
I’m not quite so free-range as Mrs. Rabbit, but I now allow my two-year-old to play out of sight in other parts of the house and sometimes even in the yard with her siblings so long as I’m in earshot. At times, rather than fight Gracia’s will, I allow her to let go of my hand on rough terrain when she asserts that she can do it “by self,” though I secretly hover near to swoop in and rescue at a moment’s notice.
It is a humbling thing to give up control. But when I see my kids as extensions of myself instead of the distinct separate beings they are, I find myself taking their rebellion and tantrums too personally. So quickly, in an effort to assert my power and put them in their place, I snap to being stern and accidentally leave them to think about my behavior instead of theirs. As the authors of Parenting with Love and Logic point out, the best way to help a child mature into wholeness is, to an extent, to let them experience the consequences of their own choices, and then to be there to comfort them when they are wounded by the harshness of the world.
While I don’t want to allow my children to act in ways that could lead to permanent damage, some small lessons in the dangers of life can be helpful in letting them know the comfort and safety of a loving authority. When my two year-old’s choice ends up in a half-dozen owies from diving into pebbles on a rocky trail, I am there to welcome her back to curl up in my lap and feel safe again, like Mrs. Rabbit’s TLC and a tablespoon of chamomile tea.
Gracia’s Peter Rabbit Party
For the invitation –> I turned a photo of Gracia into a sketch in Photoshop, then hand-colored the image with watercolor pencils. Then, I copied some Peter Rabbit artwork to put next to the drawing of Gracia. I used SignPainter and Bernard MT Condensed fonts and a textured Photoshop paintbrush for the headers.
For the decor –> 1. I wrapped my boxwood wreath in two different types of ribbon in spring colors. Then, I printed out some tiny cards featuring Beatrix Potter artwork and attached them to the wreath’s branches with clothespins. // 2. I had hoped to mimic this rough and tumble flower and veggie centerpiece featuring pouty peonies, but peonies aren’t in season right now…which made me pouty. So, for our centerpiece, I went to my flower shop and picked up some cornflower blue hydrangeas, coral and cream roses, purple daisies with green middles, and some other bits. Then, I went to the grocery store and picked up some kale and parsley to fill out the arrangement. I put it all in an old watering can to pay homage to the one Peter Rabbit tried to hide in. I framed the left side of the tablescape with a garden trellis set up in a triangular shape and bought some lovely vining flower ribbon from the craft store (look closely!). // 3. While at the grocery, I loaded up with a bunch of root vegetables and cabbage to fill up our clay pots. I used the pots as bookends for some vintage Beatrix Potter stories, then added a couple of vintage prints and a garden stake with some text from The Tale of Peter Rabbit. // 4. In the middle of the tablescape stands the largest cake stand I’ve ever seen. I turned a big clay pot over and decopaged it with some tissue paper I had on hand to give me the look and color I was going for. Then, I edged it with some lace from the dollar aisle at Target. // 5. While at Target, I picked up the little stone bunny pictured here, then got a little crazy and made a replica of Peter’s famous blue jacket to hang on the lattice. With this tutorial, some scissors, scrap felt, a bit of iron-on fabric adhesive, an iron, and some brads, it only took about fifteen minutes to come together.
For the delectables –> 1. We set up a baked potato bar. If you go for this, you’ll want to think ahead about how much time you’ll need for baking enough potatoes for your crowd. The more potatoes in the oven, the more cooking time. Check out these two baking methods and make sure not to use olive oil if you don’t want your house to be smoky when the guests arrive (personal experience). My in-laws blessed me with a slow-cooker buffet set for Christmas and I was excited to use it to keep our chili, broccoli cheddar soup, and chicken soup warm for guests to ladle over their baked potatoes. We also provided cheese, sour cream, salt, pepper, chives, dill, peas, tomatoes and shredded carrots to top it off. // 2. My husband picked out the idea for Gracia’s cake this year: a carrot patch cake. For the candy carrots, Farah and I warmed some orange Starburst candy, formed each one into a triangle shape, then carefully wrapped the broad part of the triangle around a few snips of green grass Twizzlers available in the Easter candy aisle. We baked our old standby Hershey’s cocoa cake from the recipe on the side of the container, the best chocolate cake recipe I’ve found. I iced the cake in a moss green buttercream. (I bought a grass icing tip, but couldn’t figure out how to make the grass effect turn out quite right.) Then, we crunched up oreos to sprinkle on our carrot patch and, finally, pushed our candy carrots down into the “dirt.” As a special touch, Gracia got to eat her slice of cake off of a Peter Rabbit birthday plate that a family friend discovered at a local thrift store. // 3. We bought our own Pottery Barn vine basket after our photographer Rachel put Gracia in one for her baby sessions. Here, you’ll see we used it to hold snack “carrots” stuffed with cheese bunny crackers. // 4. This cake might just be my favorite find of the season. I wanted to do something with blackberries as that’s what the good bunnies were picking while Peter Rabbit was off getting himself in trouble. This blackberry skillet cake would be perfect for any brunch or baby shower. You’ll need a cast iron skillet, some blackberries (fresh and frozen both worked for me) and some other basic ingredients to make this lovely Martha Stewart recipe. // 5. We couldn’t do this party without sipping some chamomile tea in honor of Mrs. Rabbit’s prescription for her prodigal rabbit. I love that we got to use Craig’s grandmother’s Franciscan Desert Rose china that she gave to us as she was downsizing last year. All I was missing was the teapot, so luckily a friend had one in her own grandma’s hand-me-down set.
For the fun –> 1. We started out with some coloring pages copied from a Peter Rabbit coloring book that tells the whole tale. We put our pretty eBoo crayons and watercolor pencils in Mason jars and let the kids have at it. // 2. We put together a story-time basket with Beatrix Potter books, hand puppets and soft vegetables for the kids to feed to the puppets as their mothers read stories to them. // 3. We have a whole collection of Calico Critters animals in the girls’ dollhouse upstairs. They’ve always reminded me of Beatrix Potter’s characters: Peter Rabbit’s family, Mrs. Tiggywinkle (the porcupine/hedgehog), Tom Kitten, Squirrel Nutkin and the like. When I saw the Calico Critters tree house play set, I knew it was the perfect addition to the girls’ collection and to our Peter Rabbit theme since, in the story, Mrs. Rabbit and her little ones lived under the root of a tree. And the set even comes with a little berry pie. Perfect. We also bought a tiny garden set complete with removable vegetables and a garden hose. These toys got a lot of play at the party! // 4. Now here’s the part I was most excited about. Thanks to a family we know who raises rabbits, we had the honor of having three REAL BUNNIES visit us at Gracia’s party. So sweet. // 5. For favors, we raided the dollar aisle at Target for fruit baskets, bunny ears, and bubble necklaces shaped like carrots. In the Easter candy section, we found Peter Rabbit character chocolates. Back home, we cut out some stickers to share from our Beatrix Potter books. Then, we made bunny tails (using cotton, ribbon, felt and some hot glue) for each of the kids to wear. Finally, for a little active play, we set up a kid-sized rabbit tunnel and hutch (filled with stuffed toy bunnies) down in the basement and borrowed a trampoline from some friends so that our kids could get hopping.