Better than Chuck E. Cheese

Rebecca as an award winning actress

There was a beautiful, tear-jerking scene toward the end of last week’s This is Us (I know, right?) in which Kate calls her mother to thank her for giving the three “triplets” a childhood in which they never knew they didn’t have money. She told her mother that their homemade Halloween costumes and big, backyard birthday parties with homemade cakes “were better than at Chuck E. Cheese.”

Boy, can I relate to that, and I think my girls can, too, if not now, then when they have kids of their own.

Until my girls were in high school, I made every Halloween costume they wore. They were simple and inexpensive and were often made of materials we had around the house or purchased from the Dollar Tree. Despite all that, the girls loved them, and some even brought home trophies, winning accolades over the most expensive store-bought costumes or the hours-long, detail-oriented ones of Pinterest fame. Even thrift shop dresses and grandma’s old stole can turn an ordinary girl into an Academy Award Winning Actress (who traded her Oscar for a Prettiest Costume trophy).

My mother taught me to a make what you can, buy what you must, and use more imagination than money, but the key ingredient was always love. Mom loved us, and she loved showing us how much she loved us, not by breaking the bank, but by putting her heart into whatever she did (and still does).

And something else Mom taught me is something that I can’t help but wonder if so many moms have forgotten in the past several years: The more you spend on something…

the less likely anyone is to appreciate it.

Think about it. Does any child really recognize all of the time and money put into giant birthday bashes? Aren’t they often more of a way for the parents to show off than for the kids to have fun? And where does that leave the parents who don’t have the ability to show off their lavish lifestyles or their perfect Pinterest prowess?

When mom and I were talking the other day about the show, she said that her favorite party she ever gave to any of us was my Wizard of Oz party. The fanciest decoration was the most talked about one–a red-roofed house built of construction paper and a tornado made of spiral-cut paper that hung from the light over the cake table. As simple as it was, she and I can still picture it hanging there, and everyone thought it was the most clever thing ever (Mom, why didn’t we think of Pinterest first?)

I remember my own version of a Wizard of Oz party, Rebecca’s 3rd birthday, mostly because I was eight months pregnant and was out duct taping yellow poster board to our walkway before the guests arrived! The cake could not have been more simple, and who doesn’t love Pin the Heart on the Tin Man? The dress? There was nothing special about that ether. Rebecca had been living in it since I made it for her for Halloween!

What was Mom’s favorite party of the ones I gave my girls? Rebecca’s 8th birthday beach bash. The girls all came wearing bathing suits and were given grass shirts and leis to put on (love that Dollar Tree!). The rug was the sand, and the kitchen floor was the water. They played the limbo and ring toss, and had a hula hoop contest. A fire in the fireplace kept the room warm while a snowstorm raged outside. It was February after all!

The cake looked exotic, but it was just a plain box cake with blue raspberry jello in a hollowed out ocean, graham cracker crumbs, and lots of Teddy Grahams, Gummy Fish, and Froot Rollups!

My no-fuss Katie was always happy with just a cake and a few friends over. She’s still like that today, and she taught me that parties can be small, and cakes just have to taste good (and have lots of sugar and icing).

The point is, I hope that my girls look back on their childhoods and have a Kate moment. I hope they realized what I figured out when I first became a mom. It’s not how much money you have or where you shop or how big the presents are. It’s about the love that goes into every slice of everything you do. Even in the most simple ways, with the fewest materials, and the least expensive items, you can make the most extraordinary things happen that will be looked back upon and cherished.

A few days after that episode of This is Us aired, my daughter, Rebecca, sent me a message about country singer, Maren Morris, throwing her child a Peter Rabbit themed birthday party. What I found so remarkable about the party was that it was not over-the-top or Hollywood (or Nashville in this case) flashy. It looked a lot like the parties my mother used to give us, like the ones I hosted for my girls, like the ones Kate remembered from her television show childhood. While Morris’ cake might have been fancier and no doubt more expensive than the one I made for Rebecca’s Peter Rabbit birthday party, the photos from her party prove what my mom and I have always known. You don’t need a lot of money or even the magic of Pinterest to create something special. All you need is a little brainpower and a lot of love.

“Everything that is done out of Love acquires greatness and beauty.”

– St. Josemaria Escriva

Morgan as the Tooth Fairy

One of my favorite creations will always be the Halloween costume that transformed Morgan into the Tooth Fairy, complete with Dollar Tree crown and tooth holders (the ones kids get a school) and a handmade wand with a styrofoam tooth. It was easy and made at a minimal cost which was great because after every birthday party and every night trick or treating, no matter how much time, money, or effort goes into something, it always ends up going from this…

to this…

Morgan after trick or treating

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Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture MeWhispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018 and was awarded a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2019 for Inspirational Fiction. It is the 2019 winner for Best Inspirational Fiction in the RWA Golden Quill Contest, Best Romance in the American Book Awards, and a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award of Fiction. Amy’s 2019 work, The Devil’s Fortune, a finalist in the Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Awards and winner of an Illumination Award, is based, in part, on Amy’s family history. The third book of Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy,  Island of Hope, was released in August of 2019.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at and at

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018), The Devil’s Fortune (2019), Island of Hope (2019), A Devotional Alphabet (2019), Desert Fire, Mountain Rain(2020).