Kids / Parenting

Divorce Sucks: The Birthday Episode

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Act 1:

Normally, the breakfast table would be decorated by birthday balloons, a handmade banner, cards, a wrapped gift or two and a 60-page photo book telling the story of my son’s past year. Instead, it’s nearly midnight, and I’m writing “Happy 9th Birthday” on a piece of scratch paper, using one of those four-color Bic ballpoint pens because we just moved, and I have no idea where the markers are. I have no wrapping paper, which really doesn’t matter because I have no actual present to wrap. Instead, I’ve folded an origami ball, into which I will insert cash I happened to have in my wallet.

Divorce sucks.

For so many reasons, divorce sucks.

Tonight, I’m acutely aware of this particular element of divorce suckage: my kids no longer have the kind of mom they once had.

I used to have the time and energy to make birthdays extra special. I used to have the time and energy to invest deeply in my kids’ enrichment and entertainment. These days? Not so much. I can’t remember the last time we looked up an awesome science experiment and tried it out. I can’t remember the last time we busted out the craft supplies. I can’t even find the freakin’ craft supplies.

Tonight, I don’t even have energy to fall headlong into the guilt-fest that my new bare bones parenting style brings. It’s past midnight. I’m going to sleep.

Act 2:

At 6 a.m., I’m up and making birthday pancakes. At 6:30 a.m., the birthday boy rolls out of bed, asking “to start nine years old with a hug,” which I provide. At 6:45 a.m., my sons’ other mom arrives at the doorstep with, thank god, a birthday balloon, the only birthday décor we have. We pop a candle in a pancake and sing. The birthday boy is his typical dance-y, happy self, basking in the spotlight attention he seems always to crave. I have hidden his origami money ball in the dining room, under a pink flamingo hat. This happens to be the first place he looks, because “I just know your personality, Mom, so I knew you would hide it there.”

He seems not to notice that his birthday celebration sucks.

Act 3:

It’s nearly 11:00 p.m. on my newly minted nine-year-old’s birthday, which is the eve of my almost eleven-year-old’s birthday. In lieu of a gift for my older son, I’ve hidden the rest of the cash from my wallet in various places around the living room. I’m writing “Happy 11th Birthday” on scratch paper when I hear a whisper coming from the hallway.

“Mom. Mooooom!” My bedroom door opens and tomorrow’s birthday boy sticks his head in my room.

“What’s up, buddy? Too excited to sleep?” I ask.

“No, we forgot about my birthday treats for school. What are we going to bring?”

The cupcake baker I used to be exhales a sigh of defeat. “I can’t believe I forgot that,” I say, “I’m so glad you remembered. I’ll go to the store tomorrow. What would you like me to bring?”

He places his order, and before he leaves the room I say, “Buddy, I’m really sorry. I know things are different this year.”

“That’s okay, Mom,” he shrugs. “I know it won’t always be this way.”

“You’re right, kiddo,” I nod, and I silently add I hope.

 

Photo Credit: Cheryl Dumesnil

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6 Comments

  1. Loved this article Cheryl and totally relate (though the title would be Working Sucks…). Last year, I didn’t have a gift and ended up getting a wad of bills, standing over the birthday boys bed and raining the money on top of him. Sadly, he recalls this as one of the best moments of his life! My feeling is that you are one of the best, most present moms I’ve ever met and the boys are so lucky to have you.

    • Cheryl Dumesnil says:

      Oh, that’s sadly hilarious. In many ways, they don’t really NEED us to be the moms we used to be. (Well, does anyone really NEED an awesome birthday–no. This is privileged stuff for sure.) They’re older now, they’re more likely to entertain (and to want to entertain) themselves, they’d rather play with friends than moms, etc. But WE miss being the moms we used to be . . . Sometimes I think I miss less the things I used to DO and more the way I used to FEEL doing it–less stressed, more present, more joyful. That part, I’m guessing and hoping, will come back as the divorce slowly begins taking up less of my time and energy. Meanwhile, faking it ’til I make it . . . XO

      • Deborah Goldstein says:

        You know, aging is a really important part of this snapshot. You set a high bar — for little kids, but the budding men in your house are probably super happy with cash. I know our boys are.

        That said, I will confess that we bent over backwards for our just-turned-9-year-old. But after all the surprises and events and celebrating, his favorite part was the magnetic putty we threw in at the last minute.

        After reading your reply above, I had to acknowledge that all that fuss was really more for us than it was for him. We’re hanging on to the birthdays of our making until the eventual birthday when we wish him well as he heads out the door to spend time without his moms. Who knows what birthdays will look like as you settle in to this life, but I guarantee they’ll always know how much you love them.

        • You’re so right, Deborah. It’s more for me than them. I love surprising them, making them laugh, wowing them. (Though that last one gets harder as their “wow” factor is no longer “let’s go to that free magic event at the library” but “how about you buy me an Xbox?”) I was hanging out with a four-year-old a few weeks ago, and he looked at me like everything I did was amazing and hilarious. He fell for all my redirecting tricks, like getting him to take a much-needed shower by asking him if he could confirm for me that taking a shower actually feels like standing in the rain. Not so much with the nine- and eleven-year-olds. I’m learning to parent a new age range, and that alone changes things significantly. I mean, they’re actually not all that interested in going to some of their favorite places, unless we bring friends. What?! I’m the best playdate EVER! Who needs FRIENDS when you have MOM? I’m learning . . .

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