My title as worst birthday mom ever was solidified yesterday, my son’s 16th birthday. It was essentially an ordinary day: school for him, work for me, volleyball practice/carpool for both of us.
The boy is accustomed to reduced fanfare on his special day, at least compared to some of his classmates. His birthday is unfortunately situated on the heels of Christmas, which feels like such a large accomplishment that it’s really just easiest to take January off from the gift brainstorming and buying. (Full disclosure: I also have not yet gotten my own father a birthday gift and his special day is even worse—January 2nd). The boy’s birthdays were doomed from the time he turned 1. I had planned a family get-together to celebrate (read: people coming over for dinner), but he had bronchitis and the whole thing had to be called off.
Things didn’t improve much after that. One year we celebrated with his friends by touring Wrigley Field, during the summer obviously and a half year off from the actual day. There were other attempts at birthday parties that never seemed quite as awesome of those of his peers.
The boy and his three sisters have low expectations for their birthdays, which may or may not diminish their disappointment about how they end up. One daughter often shares her birthday with Thanksgiving. Another has her birthday on Flag Day. There’s so much competition.
In a guilty panic yesterday, I walked to Macy’s at lunch, returning an hour later without any gifts (if he doesn’t want makeup or Frango mints, there aren’t tons of options at a department store). I mentioned my quandary to a coworker who, rather than helping me rationalize my situation, made me feel absolutely horrible about it.
I estimated that if I took an early train home, we would have about an hour to eat dinner together before my son got picked up for volleyball practice, so I grabbed a meal that he loves and he seemed quite happy (food generally seems to make teenage boys very happy). While he was at practice, I ran to the closest sports store and picked up a few clothing items, which quite honestly qualify as need-based. Those were presented to him after practice (unwrapped). One of his sisters made him a cake.
The boy loved his dinner, loved the cake and was excited about the clothes. He did ask, as nicely as he could and preceded by the words “I don’t want to sound greedy,” whether there would be any more gifts at a later time. I assured him there would be, carefully not committing any particular date.
Maybe I’m not the worst birthday mom ever. Maybe I’ve just mastered the art of meeting the lowest of expectations. Or maybe I’m just good at some things and not others. As one daughter remarked, as if trying to solve a complex puzzle, “But you’re so good at Christmas.” Christmas = good, birthdays = bad. It’s a wash. At least that’s what I’m telling myself until it comes up in therapy down the road.
Filed under: Parenting