Dol or Don’t #PartyforPurpose

Starting to plan our third Dol was a tension between the obligation for the third child to “have one too” and the effort to “will it to be.” This would take a team effort this time.  Gone are the days where I can spend months planning and agonizing over every detail, although I certainly did try.  Something about old habits dying hard?

grayson dol-12A dolchanchi (dol) is the traditional first birthday celebration in Korea.  The infant mortality rate in Korea used to be very high.  Infants were lucky to live past one year, and reaching this first birthday was such a significant milestone that the entire village participated in the celebration with food and blessings for the family.

In modern America, we’ve taken some liberties with this ancient tradition.  I’ve heard people describe this to non-Koreans as:

  • A wedding
  • A sweet sixteen party
  • An expensive obligation
  • An excuse to bring together everyone we love

For us, it was all of the above.

Planning started when I was pregnant.  I mean, when you are on bedrest, what else are you going to do?  This would be my third dol, and because of my innate competition drive with myself (former Texas dancers/cheerleaders have it entwined in their DNA or they don’t let you leave the state), this one had to be bigger and better than the last.  After all, I am an expert at this now, and have amassed a good party supply collection of purchased and handmade supplies that can be tweaked to fit just about any theme (or darn it, I will at least make every effort to make it work).

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Every party nowadays has a “head table,” usually reserved for intricate desserts and it’s a great place to concentrate your theme.  The head table is a thousand year old tradition from Korea, so, you’re welcome party planners of America!  For me, once I get that head table design mapped out, I can really set the rest of the details:

  • Date and Time
  • Invitation List
  • Room Layout (map it!)
  • Decor and Centerpieces
  • Food
  • Entertainment
  • Party Favors
  • And recently…..the cause

And yes, I really do MAP out everything, from the head table, room layout, individual tables, party favors, gift table, food and more.  WHY? So that my staff (i.e. kids, husband, random guests who arrive early, anyone I can successfully negotiate with) knows exactly where I want things to go, which makes set up a breeze. See my post on Party Mapping.

I’ll explain the dol in another post, every self-indulgent detail, of course.  But the purpose of this party was very narrow and focused for us.  And we brought our modern American village together to celebrate.

Our daughter spent over 3 weeks in the hospital in the summer of 2015 suffering from Kawasaki Disease and complications from her multiple IVIG treatments. She lost much of her hair.  At barely three, she couldn’t really understand why she was in the hospital.  She cried hysterically when they inserted IV after failed IV (they were lasting only 3-6 hours with the caustic medication running through them).  She cried, “Save Me!” or “No Thank You”! at the top of her lungs.  Heartbreaking because even though she was suffering, she was so polite.  Which of course made us cry harder.

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Our respite came in the form of Child Life at Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC).  If you’ve never heard of it, Child Life is a profession.  Like a nurse or a PA, they are specially trained and licensed, only many hospitals unfortunately consider them optional.  Child Life specialists help children cope with the procedures and treatments in a way they can understand.  They provide pain management by distraction or other comfort, often through the use of toys that are just for them.  They help reduce the need for additional medications and higher doses of anesthesia.


See the stickers on her anesthesia mask? Child Life Specialist Liz Anderson helped her decorate it, blow bubbles using it, and make it smell like strawberries to help ease the transition into surgery.

If you’re unlucky enough to be on “contact isolation,” your child cannot leave the room.


The one haven children have in the hospital is the playroom.  You could be top of the transplant list and you will be in that playroom, heart failure or not.  It’s that important.  So hospitals rely on donors to provide new toys to help Child Life Specialists with their sole task–comfort a child in crisis.IMG_7248

So when we were deciding to “dol or don’t,” we knew this was the perfect platform to give back to the Child Life specialists who cared for aubrey on the floor, in surgery, and everywhere else…even after discharge.

Our invites included an insert describing our daughter’s story, and a request for gifts to be donated to Children’s National Medical Center.  They are always in need of items for infants and teenagers.

We are proud to say that our friends and family donated over $1,000 worth of toys and crafts, and it took two SUV-full trips to get all of the items to CNMC.

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As a thank you, guests had an amazing “swag” buffet for their favors.

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Because had guests with an age range of 1 month-80 years, it presented a goody bag challenge, so we opted for a little of everything, keeping with our Carnival in Narnia theme. We had a variety of toys for babies and kids.

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Our more mature guests and families could take home a reindeer cookie cutter and snowflake ornament, offset by handmade tags on white linen yardstick cut into circles using the Silhouette cutter,

and kraft colored labels Avery Print-to-the-Edge Square Labels, Kraft Brown, 2 x 2 Inches, Pack of 300 (22846) we designed for free on Avery’s website.  In fact, we saved our design there open source, so it’s yours for the taking!

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Ultimately, this was a party for a purpose.  Yes, it was to celebrate the first year of our youngest son, but the whole purpose of a dol is a reminder that although infant survival rates in ancient Korea were terrible, our kids today are still faced with significant morbidity.  We appreciate the life we have and we feel that gratitude makes all the difference.

Thank you to our “village” –our neighbors, our small group, our church, our family and friends, and to our Moms in Prayer mothers—some of whom we didn’t even know at the time, so sacrificed from their time and budgets to provide meals, babysitting, groceries, and every other need we never realized we had.  And to Jenny Lee, for selflessly coordinating it all.  You are my hero.



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