There are some things you just have to learn for yourself – and learn the hard way. You can tell a toddler that a stove is hot, but sometimes you just have to just let him burn his fingers. You can tell a teenager that she should take it slow, but sometimes you just have to let her get her heart broken. And you can tell a young mother that she should not go crazy over a birthday party, but sometimes she has to be kneeling down on the floor hours after the party, still picking up trash and scraping smashed Skittles off the floor, pink icing still crusted under her fingernails, when she hears her daughter say, “Mom, I am sure glad that’s over. You were really stressed and grumpy!” to realize she has lost sight of what’s important.

I am normally kind of a minimalist about parenting. I mean, OK, that’s not true, but at least I’m not a Tiger Mom who insists on violin lessons at age 3 or holds up flash cards of the presidents for my infant, nor am I a psychotic “Toddlers & Tiaras” mom. (True confession: I watch “Toddlers & Tiaras” to feel better about my parenting in the same way I watch “Hoarders” to feel better about my housekeeping.) Ruby usually has one activity a semester: ballet, soccer, gymnastics. She gets plenty of time to play imaginary games in her room; “Pinkie Pie Goes to Boarding School” was last night’s installment. If she doesn’t do her homework perfectly, I let it slide because it’s supposed to be practice. And even though she isn’t yet reading chapter books, I am not panicking that she won’t get into a good college in 10 years.

But this birthday party was not a laidback affair for me, and in the days leading up to it, I lost my temper repeatedly with Ruby, my husband, and pretty much every driver on the road.

“I can’t right now!” I would yell when Ruby would ask me to play with her. “Can’t you see I’m cutting out party circles/labeling candy boxes/hanging banners/baking cakes/frantically cleaning?!”

When she didn’t seem to appreciate my hard work, I would get even angrier. I was doing this all for her, after all – why couldn’t she see that?

Well, she couldn’t see it because she is one day away from 7. She’s a kid. And as much fun as she had at her party, I realize belatedly that she would have much rather have had fewer decorations and a nicer, calmer mom. I hope that when she looks back, she will remember the love that went into the party and not the stress, but I still have some regrets about the whole thing.

For days before the party, Ruby and I were butting heads. When it was finally over; when I finally was able to hear what she had been trying to tell me; when I finally decided that the cleaning up could wait and put down my bag of trash, sat down next to her, and colored with her for 30 minutes – that’s when she curled up in my lap, put her candy-smeared face on my shoulder, and said, “I love you, Mommy.”

That was what I had been wanting to hear. This was the connection that we had both been craving. It wasn’t a labor-intensive, expensive party that showed her I cared; it was sitting down on the floor with some Crayolas and spending a quiet half-hour together.

I wish I had realized this sooner. I wouldn’t have called off the party, but I might have worked harder on my attitude, tried harder to keep things in perspective, scaled back a bit on the errands and prep work. But there are just some things you have to learn for yourself – and learn the hard way, and in this case, at least I think I have finally learned my lesson.