For years, I have been dogged by this vague memory of a kid’s birthday that didn’t go well. I couldn’t remember which kid it was or which year it was; just that it was something I didn’t want to revisit.
We mothers work hard at keeping our less-than-stellar moments locked in the dark, but sometimes they have a way of slithering into the light.
We were looking at photo albums and came across first birthday parties. The oldest had a great party in the backyard with blue skies, lots of family friends and a giraffe cake. The second one had an adorable clown-themed party with a pink elephant cake with a licorice tail. The third one discovered she had been ripped off.
It was the bad memory I had worked to forget.
The four photos (considerably fewer than the two dozen documenting the other parties) show us in the kitchen with no balloons, no decorations, nothing, just a couple of beat-up Happy Meal boxes sitting on the counter in the background.
Our youngest said, “So it’s true, the last one really does get the shaft!”
The husband offered that we must have had a party for her at a later time.
“No,” I said, “that was it.”
“Where are all our friends?” she asked.
“We didn’t have any. We’d just moved 2,500 miles and were still getting to know people.”
“But where’s all the family?”
“Living out of town,” I said.
It was coming back to me with painful clarity. It had not been a great day. The 3-year-old had one of her epic breakdowns due to the upheaval of moving and the 5-year-old had jerked my chain one too many times. When the husband came home, I asked him to take the kids to McDonald’s. Since that was something we rarely did, I remember telling the oldest two they didn’t deserve a treat, so they’d better not enjoy it.
In the 40 minutes I had to myself, I picked up the house, whipped up a cake and threw it in the oven.
“So the cake is that blob on my high chair?” our youngest asked, looking at the snapshots.
“Yeah, that mound with a candle shoved in it,” I said.
“What’s all the goo?”
“I had to frost it while it was still warm.”
“Did I have gifts?”
“Yep. They’re in that brown grocery bag.”
Mothers like to create the illusion that they are always on top of things. The last thing they want to do is admit that something didn’t go well. But, pure and simple, some days are a train wreck. Some days you do what you can with what you have and tell yourself that tomorrow will be better. Those days may seem like failures, but if you don’t quit and keep going, they are successes.
I told the kid that didn’t get much of a first birthday party that we could take her to Chuck E. Cheese’s for her birthday this year if she still felt ripped off. She just turned 28.
She’s still laughing.
Lori Borgman is the author of “My Memory is Shot, All I Retain Now is Water.” Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.