Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Day Like No Other

The bad news about waking up at 3 or 4 AM is that it is 3 or 4 AM. The good news is that when it's the middle of the night here, it's the middle of the morning in London. So I can call across the pond and not risk waking someone up.

As it happens I can call my younger daughter, for instance. She was at work when I got her on the phone. "Isn't it pretty early there Mom?"

"Yes, but it's your birthday and I didn't want to forget it." This was in reference to the time I forgot her birthday several years ago. The very next day I got a message on my voicemail, "Not even a phone call, Mom?" And I burst into tears.

Good mothers do not forget their children's birthdays. That's probably the reason birthday parties were invented. Sending out those invites meant writing THE DATE again and again. Paying for a cake, hiring a magician, locating some ponies, and worrying about where to stash all the out of town relatives are diversionary tactics. They are merely ways to keep us from forgetting THE DATE.

At the time I forgot her birthday, we were well past the balloons and goody bag stage. Regardless, I was under the mistaken notion that things like children's birth dates would always be hardwired into memory.

But I was caught up in the life of a dying friend. He desperately needed me to help him with something or other, the exact details of which I do not remember because, in the end, they do not matter. What matters is that I ended up forgetting my daughter's birthday. With no one to blame but myself, I still made sure he died knowing that I had devoted so much of my time to caring about him that the needs of my own family were neglected.

"Do you realize that I was so worried about you that I forgot my own daughter's birthday?" I wasn't making an attempt to convey the depth and meaning of our forty year friendship. No, I was simply trying to reduce the burden of my own unbearable angst by spreading the guilt around. Because there are few parental omissions with more guilt attached to them than forgetting. Missing any milestone is always problematic. But not celebrating your kid's birthday -- the worst. And I don't mean with cards and gifts. I mean contact. Tracking them down wherever they are so they can hear you say, "Happy Birthday, Honey!! Do you still want me to keep that Trojan Horse diorama from fourth grade?"

Even though she forgave me long ago, I still get anxious the week before, knowing that if it happened once, it could happen again. So when I woke up this morning before dawn, I was glad I could call her then and not fret about trying to reach her later in the day.

"Mom, that was a long time ago." Yes, I know. But like her kindergarten handprint preserved in clay, her all conference soccer shoe I had bronzed, her high school student i.d. card, and the souvenir glass from Prom, some memories are forever.


Gem x said...

My neighbour sent his one son a birthday card this year, but forgot his other son; which wouldn't have been so bad, but they are twins!

Gem x

David said...

Oh, Lord. You're too hard on yourself. I can't remember my children's birthdays. That's what the scheduler in Outlook is for.

Although I did seem to forget her birthday even with the reminder. Maybe that's why people use "thoughtless" and "uncaring" to describe me more often than "sensitive" and "giving."

emmapeelDallas said...

There are so many things that our kids find impossible to understand until they become parents themselves...then things have a way of snapping into perspective. This is happiness you still have ahead of you...