It was never supposed to be this way. It never HAD been this way so what possessed me to try this year I’ll never guess. Maybe it was a last HURRAH before shit hit the fan. Maybe I wanted to try to inject some sunshine into everybody else’s shit storm and let them forget for a while.
I should have known better. But I wanted to try.
It started with a request. A simple request, as had been done every year before.
“Mom, I want a water balloon fight for my birthday.”
One year it was a cake. Just a simple chocolate cake with Neapolitan frosting colors. One year, she wanted a garden. I was so proud of my daughter for choosing unique gifts instead of bombarding me with requests for Tablets or Xbox One’s or Razor Scooters. Maybe not having cable in the house really did help.
It was still a huge deal to get ANYTHING for her birthday though since we used to be Jehovah’s Witness and thus eschewed any holiday traditions. What the kids didn’t know, they couldn’t miss and that’s the way it was. I did let them celebrate holidays at school since that was not at home. I refused to take them out of the classroom and let them believe they were being punished by not getting cupcakes. Ridiculous. Since we’ve cut ties with the good ol’ JW’s however, security had been lightened and I had no problem going back to my roots and getting my kid a small gift for the anniversary of her birth.
Water balloon fight. Cool. I can do that. It wouldn’t break the budget to get her a couple packs and maybe a little cake. She was all into Five Nights at Freddie’s so I knew the cake would have to be red and bloody and gory. It was a simple enough request so I got red and black frosting misters and a glittery red gel writer for the top.
That was it. That’s all that was supposed to happen. Then the texts started coming.
“What size clothes does she wear?” From my sister.
“What’s she into now?” From my cousin.
“Where are we having the party?” From my mom.
Wha…? Did I miss a memo somewhere? Since when was this a big ol’ thing? Okay, whatevs. I answered the first two no problem but as to the last… my house wasn’t big enough for lots of guests. I assumed from the texts that they weren’t just gonna drop off presents and bone out. So…a park.
This was right around the time that my brain shut off and my Debit card became an extension of my hand. People. Food. Decorations. Presents. PRESENTS! I couldn’t be the only adult to NOT get my kid something to unwrap! Toys ‘R’ Us. Hot Topic. Barnes and Nobles. Michael’s. WalMart for decorations. Target for wrapping paper and tape. Winco for food.
My god holidays are a media trap.
$400 later I was sequestered inside my laundry room for privacy, wrapping my first present in ten years thinking about whether I would be able to get a job fast enough to replace what I spent so we could make next month’s rent. Getting laid off was a bitch to deal with and humble pie tasted a lot like apple cider vinegar straight from the bottle.
But it would be fun, right? Worth it. Parties always were when I was growing up.
Mix one homeless and car-less sister who had suddenly become a single parent because of the death of her baby daddy with a depressed starving artist step dad, an over worked and under-appreciated mother and a hypochondriac cousin and see what you get.
Yeah. The tension was palatable. Yum.
On top of that, I was a terrible organizer. Or at least, this time I was. My plans had been blasted out of the water and I had to scramble to throw shit together. I over bought on just about everything. Way too much food for only 8 people. I didn’t even use the decorations because I didn’t get to the park in time to set up before people arrived and ran out of time to make the cake so I bought one instead, which was way bigger than it needed to be. Great start!
The park site we got was bug infested. Black biting gnats were everywhere and no one had thought to bring citronella candles or bug spray. The kids didn’t care though. They were outside with the promise of getting wet, which was the whole point. I silently listened to the group of conversations going on around the table while I mixed dip and laid out sandwich stuff.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do about the funeral. I can’t even give him a good casket…”
“I’m on Somas and Tramadol for my pain and my doctor said I should have any ibuprofen in the mean time because of what happened during my surgery…”
“At work they just fuck around and take extra long breaks. I have to lecture them every damn time and I’m getting ready to write them up and give them an ultimatum…”
I mixed a drink for myself. Fireball whiskey and RC cola. I hadn’t had soda in months due to the new healthy diet I was on. I was slowly trying to get myself off of sugar but I wasn’t sure I could deal with the negativity sober. Or at least without liquid happiness.
This was a bad idea.
I took the kids down to the creek and I plopped my jacket over my head to keep me from developing skin cancer. While they waded in and squealed over the moss collecting around their ankles I dipped my feet in the dirty silty creek shore and filled up the water guns one by one. I double-handed them and made the kids squeal louder with my squirting antics. So fun!
It’s all about the memories right? They’ll remember this for the rest of their life. The first time in a creek with the tadpoles and dirt and fish. I felt ashamed that this was the first time they’d been in a creek before. I practically learned how to swim in one as a kid, we were always camping and hiking. I was fearless.
We had a slew of visitors come and offer me drinks and conversation and snacks. I sat and tried not to think. This was supposed to be a bright spot in the middle of the craptacular month. I couldn’t add my woes to it so I smiled and drank and squirted until it was time to get things moving again. The bugs were getting too bad to tolerate for much longer and the sun was glaring relentlessly.
Time to get the ball rolling. Get on with getting on with this sham of a party.
Cake time! I announced. We wrapped the kids in over-sized towels and sand “Happy Birthday” for the first time in my daughter’s life. Then we ate cake and I smushed cake in her face. Bad mama. Ohhh she loved it though. It was gluey and half melted with way too much frosting but we ate.
Then it was Time. PRESENTS!
I don’t know who was more excited, me or the kids. Brightly wrapped gifts (or in this case, black and red to match the FNAF theme). Boxes and bundles of surprises, of unknown pleasures waiting to be discovered. And for me, I get to experience the opposite side of the equation now. Instead of the anticipation of getting the presents, I get to experience the joy of giving them.
With the family primed for pictures, we started. I gave her something boring first, trying to confuse her and lead her up the “Big Present.”
“Paint mom? Really?”
“Yeahh!” I said, upbeat with a big smile. “It’ll make sense in a minute.”
Chartreuse eyes looked at me skeptically but eagerly surveyed the big box on the table in speculation. The next one was a little purse with matching sunglasses that I thought she would love. She had complained that she needed new sunglasses and they were brightly colored in pink and green, her favorite colors, so I thought she would at least be thrilled with this gift. I bit my cheek when I saw her lips turn down and say not a word. She moved on to the next. Clothes. An emoji shirt (which she’d been all into with her class that year) and some pink capri pants.
“These are boring,” she said. “Not what I wanted at all. They’re kind of stupid.”
There was an audible snap in my brain and my rage came pouring out like liquid hot magma.
“Don’t be a spoiled brat Kate. You should be grateful you’re getting anything at all,” I whispered fiercely, bending down to her level so she could see the fury in my face. “I can take every single present back to the store and you’ll have NOTHING. Is that what you want?”
But I wanted Five Nights and Freddie’s–”
“BE GRATEFUL FOR WHAT YOU GOT, BRAT!”
Yes, I realized later that my mother came out of my mouth just then. Her eye brows were in her hair, arched in surprise, looking at the intense scene. It’s not like she wouldn’t have done any less. Hell, she would have smacked mine and my sister’s mouths if we were ever ungrateful shits like that!
There was a hushed silence and Kate looked gobsmacked. I slammed her next present on the table in front of her, emphasizing my immense displeasure. It was a new drawing book with a beautiful pastel cover that I now figured she would probably never use and moved away from her before my fingers wrapped around her little white neck.
Somebody else took pictures. I stood back in my hateful little bubble and watched as she blew through the rest of her gifts. Clothes, drawing books, scented crayons for God’s sake! And the piece de resistance: an awesome “Spin Art” activity that my sister and I begged for as kids but we never got. It was seriously, the creme de la creme of presents in my mind. How happy I was to give her something I never got to have! And it was pushed aside without a second glance.
I was done.
I started picking up trash and packing things away, silently seething. How did I raise such an ungrateful little wretch like that? I’ve always taught her manners, to say please and thank you, to share and be generous. She painted her teacher a coffee mug when I took her to a ceramics place. She ALWAYS shares her after school snack with her sister. She loves baking cookies for her class mates and giving them out just to be a nice kid. So what happened? THIS level of nonchalance I didn’t understand. It was so out of character for her. I wanted to take everything back and teach her a lesson. Lucky for her most of the receipts were thrown away already.
My black mood seemed to be the straw the broke the camel’s back. While the kids entertained themselves with the promised water balloon fight, everyone else gathered their stuff and boned out. I got a quick kiss and some murmured advice.
“It’s just overwhelming for her. Don’t be too harsh.”
“Her first party. It was bound to happen. She’ll come around.”
Never again. This was the first and last party I would ever throw. I plunked everything in the car and drove home, trying to find room in my fridge for all the extra food no one ate and setting the half eaten cake on the counter. Fuck it. Fuck it all.
I stayed in my room like a grumpy adult child the rest of the day, barking out orders and losing myself to my own distractions. What they said was right. Kate had been overwhelmed with everything and I was willing to forgive her for that. She was still little and it was her first party ever. But this reminded me of the reason I never wanted to start celebrating in the first place, even after we left religion behind.
People make such a huge deal out of holidays, frantically running around trying to find the perfect gifts and decorations and food. They get anxious and spend way too much money and go into debt for one perfect day. Why? For what? It was too much to take in all in one day. Too much excitement, like having nothing but sugary treats all day long and then feeling hung over by the end of the night with an achy stomach and the world spinning.
I got it. I really did. But I was never ungrateful for the stuff I got.
The next day I sat Kate down and made her draw out and write Thank you cards to everyone with her new scented crayons. I still refused to look her in the eye but I did calmly explain why her reaction made me upset and that I would like a little more appreciation from her for the things she was given.
Because I was the adult. One of us had to be.
Adulting sucks. Don’t adult.