Hey Hey, It’s Your Birthday!


May is my busiest month, what with it being the last month of school (meaning I have 30 days to get everything done before the kids are all over me and I can’t get shit done), Mothers’ Day on Sunday, Loony’s Birthday yesterday and Itchy’s birthday today.

Last year was a mess. Itchy is strange about his birthday (I wonder where he could have gotten it from) and insisted that I do absolutely nothing for his birthday. Nothing.

As a mother, this is harder than one could possibly imagine.

So I did what I considered to be the minimum. I made his favorite breakfast, sang him Happy Birthday, made his favorite dinner (mac and cheese casserole with roasted veggies) and a cherry pie, his favorite, natch.

He refused all of it.

I pretty much threw my hands up after dinner and he skulked off to his room.

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He’s getting so big so fast but he’s still figuring himself out.

Then Kitty arrived for the Pole Theater USA and I turned my attention to her. BTW, click the link and watch the promo video, she’s the first one featured.

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She ate the shit out of the mac and cheese he wouldn’t touch and put a good dent in the pie before I gave her a massage, during which I could hear Itchy banging around in my room.

I excused myself to have a talk with him.

Me: You are clearly upset. What’s bothering you?

Itchy: Silence and tears

Me: I’m here to talk to you. I want to help but you have to tell me what’s going on.

Itchy: Silence

repeat for about 5 minutes

Me: I don’t appreciate these head games. I’m here when you are ready to talk but I’m not going to participate in this manipulation. It’s unfair and it’s not how you treat people you care about.

Itchy: I told you I didn’t want you to do anything for my birthday.

Me: And I didn’t. We didn’t have a party or anything, just like you asked.

Itchy: BUT YOU MADE ME A CHERRY PIE AND MAC AND CHEESE AND I TOLD YOU I DIDN’T WANT YOU TO DO ANYTHING!

Me: I’m your mom. I’m going to make a nice meal and a pie. I don’t think that’s so bad.

Itchy: AND EVERYONE IS BEING SO MEAN TO ME AND IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!

Me: Mean as in what? Making you your favorite dinner and favorite pie? Singing Happy Birthday? Wanting to express our love for you?

Itchy: BUT I TOLD YOU I DIDN’T WANT YOU TO DO ANYTHING! AND NOW YOU ARE HANGING OUT WITH KITTY!

Me: But you said you didn’t want me to do anything so I’m attending to my guest. You told me to go away and I did. You can’t be mad about that.

Itchy: MY BIRTHDAY IS RUINED!

Me: You are ruining your own birthday.

Itchy: EVERYONE IS BEING SO MEAN TO ME ON MY SPECIAL DAY!

Me: (taking deep, cleansing breaths) You are being unreasonable. I am dying to celebrate you in any way you want and I would have made this day as special as humanly possible but you demanded I do nothing at all so I gave you the minimum I felt okay with. If you wanted more you should have taken the ample opportunities I gave you to speak your mind. If you are miserable, it is because of the choices you made. I refuse to feel bad about doing a few nice things for you and respecting your wishes. Next year you can choose something else.

That was last year. A week ago I could see us going down the same road with the sulkiness, the demands for no attention (which is in itself a demand for attention) etc. So I tried something different. I sat him down and told him to think long and hard about what he wants on this day and every day of his life.

“It is unfair and manipulative when you tell people one thing but mean something else and then punish them for not being able to read your mind. We aren’t doing that again.

“Here’s what I will do for you on your birthday. You can have a party with your friends if you like. You can go bowling, to a movie, have a sleepover, have pie or cake or ice cream. Or we can have a low-key family night. Whatever you want within reason, but you have to be clear and you have to own your choices.

“You are going to sign an agreement that this is indeed what you want, that you release me and your friends and family from doing anything but what you have specifically asked for, and you will agree to take responsibility for your feelings if you are unhappy with the result.”

I gave him the night to think about it and he came back to me with this, “What do you think is a good thing to do on my birthday?”

“Well,” I replied, “seeing as how you don’t want a party with friends, let’s do a family night. You pick dinner, we’ll see Captain America in the theater and get popcorn (we rarely go to the theater and never get popcorn so this is special) and after we can go to Glacier for sundaes or have cake or pie at home. Your choice.”

“I like that plan, mom. Let’s do that.”

Whew.

Personally, I think kids birthday parties are blown way out of proportion and this whole king-for-a-day stuff is unhealthy. You don’t get to be an asshole on your birthday. You don’t get to ask for the moon and then get it. It’s a special day but not a cosmic blank check. I’m relieved to be done with the $500 parties and excess and make birthdays be about family.

Wish me luck today.

So far, so good. I woke Itchy up by putting his new phone next to his head while he was asleep and then calling him. It’s just a flip phone for calls and texts, no data plan. The look on his face was priceless.

We had oatmeal pancakes for breakfast while he Facetime’d his grandparents and opened their gifts. He seemed genuinely happy to have Happy Birthday sung to him.

Today I’ll meet his class at the door on the way out of school with donut holes and then we’ll do dinner and a movie. This feels right to me and I really hope it feels good to him.

He’s eleven today. I want him to be happy and learn that emotional blackmail is not how you get what you want. Not on your birthday, not on any day. If he can learn how to ask for what he wants honestly and from his heart, he will have gotten the best gift of all.

Loony’s birthday was nice and low-key. I made him a morel omelet for breakfast which is a big deal because mushrooms are the one food that make me gag. Then I took him out to Pizzaria Locale for lunch, we went to a school event and then had dinner and cake on the porch.

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Opening Loony’s present, a bat house!

I’m almost through the hardest part of this month. After this should be smooth sailing except I have a hundred things on my to-do list and only one more week until school is over and everything gets a lot crazier.

But spring is gorgeous, everything is growing like crazy and I am filled with gratitude for my life.

2 thoughts on “Hey Hey, It’s Your Birthday!

  1. This one really resonates with me- I love your solution and love that you are teaching him to be an adult with solid character. And I hate mushrooms too. We have more in common than you ever thought;)

    • I wish it was easier. It seems pretty cut and dry in the blog but in real life it was messy. I didn’t want to reward him for being manipulative by giving him my attention, but I also had compassion for him given his young age, he doesn’t understand himself yet. I had to find a delicate balance and it came with lots of back and forth. I’m glad it all turned out alright.

Really? No way.

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