Monday, October 13, 2014

The birthday debacle

Birthdays always leave me feeling guilty.

Well, unless it's mine.  And even then I'm left thinking other people should feel guilty.  (Joel.)

There's a chance I have unrealistic birthday expectations.  It's just that I want to feel like a queen from the second I wake up (or actually, right after midnight when I wake Joel up from a deep sleep to tell him it's my birthday) to the moment I fall asleep.  I want everyone to think all day long, it's Kim's birthday!!!, and I don't want that thought to leave their mind.  Ever.

And that's just the actual day.  When Joel and I married, he was quite shocked at how long my birthday stretched on.  I mean, a week, at least.  Of course I don't expect the same intensity all week long as I do on the actual day.  That would be crazy.  But there had better be a birthday weekend.  With lots of coffee and food I don't have to make or clean up and the ability to watch my family from a safe, but happy distance.

So, if you haven't guessed already, I'm usually quite disappointed.  I'm trying to tone down my expectations a bit.  And also I've started planning my own birthdays.  Turns out I'm a lot better at it than Joel is.  I guess I'm the only one who understands just how special my day should be.

The unfortunate side effect of this birthday obsession is that I tend to assume my children possess the same irrational birthday beliefs I do.  And there's a chance, of course, that they do.  Take Finn's birthday, for example.

Finn requested breakfast in bed on his birthday morning.  Since I'm much too controlling to let that happen, I settled on breakfast in their room, over a small table.  I gave them those terrible, sugar-filled yogurts with the extra container of candy balls, partly because they love them but mostly because I'm terrified of crumbs.  Crumbs in bedrooms lead to bugs in bedrooms and that is just not happening here.

Afterwards I rushed them off to school, with the same frantic vigor as any other morning.  Only my normal post-drop-off guilt was multiplied by ten because I had yelled at Finn on his birthday morning.

I didn't have much time to dwell  on my inadequacy, though, because I had to finish Finn's birthday cupcakes and get them back to school by 10!  I could and should have finished them the night before, but then all three of my kids went to bed and suddenly my arms got very heavy and all I could possibly make them do was lift the TV remote.

So I rushed around from 8:30 on, and I said to myself, multiple times, I don't care what these look like. There is sugar in them.  And that's all that matters.  In fact, my only goal in making these cupcakes was to ensure that there was one cupcake acceptable enough to not cause a birthday meltdown.

But, as always, I was running late.  So I sprinted to the car with the cupcakes.  Only Benjamin refused to follow, and as I hurriedly scooped him up from the rug I jammed my pinkie toe hard into the couch leg.  I looked down and thought, Hm. That's a strange angle my toes are making.  But it was go time so I slid my shoe carefully over my quickly swelling foot and went.

The one cupcake was good enough, so I breathed a sigh of relief and thought, Oh my gosh.  My toe really hurts, and I limped back to my car.  Where I then placed my favorite cake tin on the roof of the car, only to leave without pulling it back down.  I'm sad to say I don't imagine I'll ever see that cake tin again.

But it was a birthday and there was no time for trivial things like doctor's appointments or fretting over an irreplaceable gift with my name engraved on the top.

There were gift bags to fill and presents to find and dinner plans to make.

We ended the day at Finn's favorite pizza place in the city.  It was completely miserable.  Not one child could sit still and if I wasn't shoving Benjamin back into his high chair I was yelling to the boys that if they didn't come out from under the table right now we would never go out to eat again!

But Finn said it was a great night.  So there's that.

There were cakes and presents at home and I'm assuming most normal people could call it a good birthday and leave it at that.  But not me.

We had been asking Finn for weeks if he wanted a party at home or a playhouse birthday with just one or two friends.  After only very slight nudging, and a few, small extra incentives, he picked the playhouse birthday.  I felt so relieved.

But then the day came and I also felt guilty.  Of course.

It was his fifth birthday.  Shouldn't he get a big party?  Shouldn't we invite his whole class?  Shouldn't he feel celebrated and special?  Shouldn't I be able to suck up a day or two of extreme, soul-sucking stress and plan him a freaking birthday party?

But he seemed okay with it.  So I just kept moving.

He seemed to have a great time at the playhouse.  Climbing and sliding and jumping, eating french fries and drinking juice and devouring giant (store-bought) cupcakes!

Eventually we said good-bye to his friend, gathered shoes and children and made our way to the exit.  The boys handed me small handfuls of tickets from the arcade section and started drooling over the toys in the glass display case.  I handed the lady their tickets and watched hopefully as she dropped them on the scale.

"Thirty," she said.

"Great!" I replied.  "What can we get?"


"Nothing?  But we have 30 tickets."

"Yes, but you need 200."

"200 tickets!  But what about those stickers?"

"Yes, you need 200.  For the stickers."

I turned to the boys and explained in my sweetest voice that we didn't have quite enough this time.  But we'd save them for next time, and then we may have enough.  It was a lie, but "we'll never ever make it to 200 tickets" just didn't feel appropriate at the time.

Finn lost it.  He sobbed and screamed and flailed him wimpy, little arms.  Joel had to pick him up and drag him to the parking lot, where he refused to get in the car.  Angry five-year-old's are strong.

I finally settled him down and strapped him to his car seat (that's what seat belts are for, right?  Strapping down wild children?).  But then I lost it.

"Did you hear him?  He said it was the worst birthday ever.  It was the worst birthday ever.  We should have thrown him a party.  We should have invited more friends.  I'm such a bad mom!"

"Kim," Joel said in his I'm-so-much-saner-than-you voice.  "He's just mad about the toy.  That's it.  It was the last thing that happened so it's all he can think about.  He's just mad about the toy."

"But it's not about the toy.  It's about what the toy means.  The toy sums up all his disappointments about the day and his life and me..."

At this point I finally thought to myself, perhaps I am being a bit crazy.  I didn't say it out loud, of course.  I would never give Joel that kind of satisfaction.

But I sat quietly for a bit and thought.

Because the truth is I feel guilty when I throw parties too.  I'm so stressed and nervous and busy that at the end of the day I realize I hardly even talked to my birthday child.  Let alone enjoyed him.  I usually join them in bed on those nights, long after they fall asleep, just to feel like I've spent some time with them on their birthday.

I really am crazy.

I don't know why birthdays are such a big deal to me.  Growing up my mom always cooked our favorite meal on our birthday.  We'd have cake and a few days later a simple party where we ate pizza and played Wet Head and ran relay races.   I loved it.

So I don't really understand why I've made birthdays so complicated.  Why I am sure my children will suffer permanent scars if their birthday isn't absolutely perfect.

I think I need to let myself off the hook.

I love my kids.  And I try my best.  Except when I'm too tired to try my best.  Also, I mess up sometimes.  In both big and small ways.

But I think it's the love part they'll remember.  I know it's what I remember, and it's what makes me smile when I think back on birthdays passed.

These little things just want to be loved.  In the end.

And that, my friends, is something I can do.


  1. I didn't know about your birthday obsession! This made me laugh. Is this the incident causing the re breaking of your toe?

    1. Unfortunately yes:( Well, that and my irrational hope that somehow my toe would start magically bending the other way all on its own.