Friday, December 15, 2006

Family Conflicts and Birthday Blues

I’m a little frustrated right now at my mom, so this post will be more of a petty gripe fest than anything else. If you’re not in the mood to hear about my family issues, I understand. It always helps me to write about them though.

January is birthday month in my family. My sister’s is first, mine is 2 weeks later, then my grandmother’s is a week later. It has always sucked having them all so close together; plus I’ve had a lot of lousy birthdays, as I will explain.

This year, my sister’s b-day is the same weekend as my upcoming graduation. I thought about not walking at graduation, but I ultimately decided that it would bring me some much needed closure after all the work I did this year. The college is rather close to my parents/sister, but both are an hour and a half away from me. I knew having both events the same weekend was going to be very time consuming for me, because there would be no way my parents would let me get away with coming down just for my graduation and celebrating my sister’s b-day the same day, even though it’s a 3-hour round trip each time. Well, my sister’s b-day is on Friday and graduation is on Sunday. I didn’t assume that my sister would be coming to my graduation since her pregnancy has made her so sick, but my mom told me that she was planning on it. My mom starts in on me last night, saying she wants to go out to dinner with the family on Saturday night for D’s b-day, and H and I can spend the night if we want so we don’t have to drive back for my graduation the next day. Well, since D’s actual birthday is Friday, not Saturday, I (feeling cranky) decide to take a stand and say—“look, if we’re not going out on D’s actual birthday on Friday night, why can’t H and I just see her on Sunday?” My mom is immediately snarky with me. “I don’t want to combine celebrations” she says, overemphasizing the word combine. Ha! My sister must have said something to her about my strong opposition to a joint shower. I knew she would. Because my mom has absolutely nothing against combining (or downright ignoring) celebrations when it comes to me.

Since my birthday is sandwiched between my sister’s and my grandmother’s birthdays, several times in recent years we have celebrated both my and my sister’s birthday on her birthday due to schedule conflicts later in the month with my birthday. At first it bugged me a little and then I just stopped caring. The worst was the year of my 21st birthday. That year, my grandmother turned 80, and so my mom decided to throw my grandmother a huge, catered party for this milestone. Because she wanted my grandmother to be surprised, she decided to hold the party a week earlier, on the Saturday of my exact birthday. My birthday went completely ignored that day by my mom and the party guests. They didn’t even acknowledge it. We had a small dinner at home with just my parents/sister instead the day after. How crappy is that? It would have been nice for her to at least announce to everyone that I was also celebrating a big birthday on that very day; maybe give me a small cake of my own. I have always been bitter about her choosing my exact birthday for that party without even asking if it would bother me at all. But my birthdays growing up have almost always sucked, so it wasn’t a huge surprise. Most years, my dad would be out of town for them due to business (somehow he was always gone for my birthday but never once missed my sister’s.) I’d always be upset about it, but there’d be no consolation for it—no making it up to me. I’d spend the day at home, usually snowed in, with a take-out pizza as my birthday treat. I remember when my dad had to be out of town for my mom’s birthday for the first time just a few years ago. She was so upset. Visibly upset when she found out. He gave her a huge gift before and after the trip, and sent her roses on the actual day. He made sure my sister and I came down to take her out that day even though it was a weekday and I worked by then. How funny the difference in treatment. A 50-something woman gets treated like a baby, and I’m essentially told to suck it up as a 7, 8, and 9 year old.

One year when my dad was home for my birthday and it fell on a Saturday, I was so excited. I was about 12. I thought it would be great for sure. Maybe we’d see a movie that day or something. Nothing big—just go somewhere, anywhere. My dad informed me he and my mom just wanted to stay home and relax that day. He told me he’d take me to the library for a little bit because I had a school project due that week. And so that’s all we did. I worked on my project that day. My disappointment was just crushing. As a result, I’ve come to associate my birthday with disappointments and hurt feelings. It’s awful. Every year I anticipate a bad birthday. The best birthday I have ever had was the year it fell on my first business trip, and I got to go somewhere warm and sunny with H while the snow fell at home. It was such a liberating experience, not sticking around on my birthday for yet another letdown by my parents. The healing affects of that trip were short lived though. I find I’m still depressed as my birthday approaches each year and I recall all the painful family memories.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve always felt I’ve come in a distant second to my sister as far as my parent’s attention. My sister has not had the same birthday experience with my parents. Her birthday is a “must attend” event, even though it falls just after we’ve seen everybody countless time over Christmas week. I guess by the time they get to my birthday they are partied out, or too busy getting ready for my grandmother’s birthday. God forbid my sister should have to share her birthday celebration with my graduation. So, things got very strained with my mom on the phone last night as I explained I probably would only be coming down on Sunday to see everyone, and I would give D her b-day presents then. I said they should go ahead to dinner Saturday without me. It would be a different story if I lived close like they do, but I don’t. Since my b-day has always been an afterthought, why do I feel so guilty today? I feel so torn. I always end up caving and doing what they want me to. Yet nobody ever bends for me. Hence my many issues. I can assure you that my kids will have a very different birthday experience from mine.

When I first found out I’d be having May babies, I was so thrilled that they wouldn’t be born in January like so many in my family. But guess what—history is now repeating itself, only in May/June. My babies will be born first, followed by my mom’s b-day, then immediately followed by my sister’s baby’s birthday. The cycle continues? I hope not.


Anonymous said...

No, it won't continue. Just like you said - your kids will have a different experience. You will make it special for them - their Mother. The other relatives, while important, aren't nearly as important as you are and you will make it special. You are gonna be an awesome mother.

Jena said...

No, the cycle won't continue because YOU have the power to give your kids the birthday memories you always wanted. I think that a lot of people who have trouble standing up to their family for themselves are somehow able to do that for their kids - because after all, mothers are supposed to be fighters for their kids.

It does not matter at all if their cousin or their grandma is there for their party, it just matters that their parents are there and they're having fun.

Michelle said...

I think you've made the right choice here. If you don't want to make two trips, and your mom doesn't want to "combine celebrations," then you'll just miss your sister's birthday dinner. And everyone should be old and mature enough at this point that that's okay. Nobody will applaud your sacrifice if you schlepp yourselves there twice in one weekend, though, that's for sure - so I think you can only do what feels right for you, not what's right for everyone else.