I failed at birthdays last year, which is sad because all of my kids hit significant milestones. Gleek turned 12, Patch 10, Link 16, and Kiki 18. All the birthdays hit in the midst of other things and though I wanted to give them full attention, I just didn’t have that. The one I failed worst was Kiki. When I look at all the things going on at that time, the failure is understandable. I had all the end-of-the-school-year stuff. I had meeting after meeting about Gleek to make sure that we had her anxiety under control and things set up properly for the next year. I’d just sent The Body Politic off to print. We were expecting the coins the next week. I had relatives incoming for Kiki’s graduation. There was also the trecherous emotional terrain we were marching through having our first child graduate and be college bound. I wasn’t entirely stable. I careened through that month just trying not to crash. Then two days before the birthday, my hard drive failed and I had data loss. Computer failure is always massively anxiety inducing and I was already maxed out. So, yes, completely understandable that the birthday did not go as we would have hoped, but still painful.
I remember talking with Kiki about having a low key birthday and thinking it would be okay. We were getting her a laptop for her combined birthday/graduation present. It was the largest and most hoped-for present she’d ever gotten in her life. We went on her birthday to pick it out, but it had to be configured, so she did not get to take it home and play with it on her birthday. If I’d thought that through I would have realized that computers are rarely things to walk in and take home. I’m pretty sure that Howard took her out for sushi that birthday afternoon. So it is not that we deliberately ignored her, nor that we forgot. I thought it was all good. But she was sad, because most of the day had been just a normal day. Then at bedtime Patch had a meltdown because he hadn’t given her a present and it was really important to give her a present because she was leaving and her leaving was sad. Patch’s meltdown reminded Link and Gleek that they felt the same way. So I piled the three younger kids into the car and took them to Walmart to buy presents. I guess Kiki was in the shower or something. Somehow we left the house without her knowledge.
Though I would have liked to have done the shopping trip earlier (ahead of time, instead of late) as I walked with my kids through Walmart, I realized this was exactly what they needed. I watched them as they looked at towels, mugs, etc. Looking at these things, they were actually picturing Kiki at college and thinking about her there. They each selected a thing that they thought she would use and appreciate. Then each one knew that their sister would be taking something that they had selected for her. Much love went into the selection of those gifts. Every bit as much as if they’d shopped earlier, though for obvious reasons advance shopping would have resulted in a different birthday experience for everyone. When we arrived home we had a 10:30pm “patch up the feelings” birthday party. There were smiles and hugs. Kiki was touched that we’d disrupted bedtime in order to try to make the birthday more what it should have been. It was definitely not the 18th birthday that Kiki emotionally needed.
There were about two weeks between Kiki’s birthday and her graduation. I gave her a small gift on each of those days. I called it eighteen days of celebrating Kiki. We both knew it didn’t erase the birthday that wasn’t what it ought to have been, but it let me show that the hard day was not for lack of caring. I don’t know if it really helped or if she was humoring me.
This year is different. Kiki really doesn’t need more than a low-key birthday. She went to a movie with Howard. I fixed her lunch and took her shopping. She got plants; a philodendron from me and a little bonsai tree from Gleek. Link gave her the stuffed portal cube that he had. Patch gave her books. Howard gave her an easel. It was still more cobbled together than advance-planned, but the key is that she never felt ignored nor neglected. Not once. Not only that, but I was able to tell her about my (failed) quest for a lucky bamboo plant. It was a story that demonstrated that I’ve been thinking of her and her birthday for over a month in various bits and pieces. (This is usually true. I think a lot, but actually pull things together just in time.) The love is no different between this year and last, but the emotional needs and capabilities vary greatly. Last year Kiki was looking ahead to leaving home and needed evidence that she was loved and would be missed. This year she’s just arrived home and had seen in a dozen ways how glad we all are to have her here. Different year, different emotional needs.
Kiki and I talked about last birthday and this birthday. I don’t believe any hard feelings linger. But I did have a moment of being appalled when I remembered the scrambled 10pm shopping trip. I’d actually forgotten that part until Kiki mentioned it. It is one more evidence of how insane last year was. I’m so glad to be in this year now. I’m also glad that I don’t have to figure out any more birthdays for a while. They’re hard to get right.
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