My seven-year-old daughter, Blake, had a slip-n-slide birthday party. At Blake’s request, no other mums were allowed to stay. She said, “The mums are so annoying. With them here, you don’t pay attention to us.”
I got it. Her main objective was being the centre of attention, especially with me.
“Enjoy the break,” I said to the mums as they dropped their children off at our house. I’ve mastered the role of happy and cool mum even when I’m not feeling it. I reasoned, it’s only three hours.
Blake’s five favourite girlfriends came over in bathing suits and slid around for 45 minutes. The girls giggled, threw water from buckets, and blew bubbles. After slip-n-slide, the party moved inside where the girls coloured white T-shirts with fabric markers and sang along to “I Want to Build a Snowman.”
I served goldfish and pretzels and juice. I took pictures. Blake and her friends were having a great time. Mission accomplished. I looked at my watch. Ninety minutes to go.
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I have this bullshit birthday party every year. I spend a ton of money and a lot of time getting food and favours together, and balloons, bubbles, and a fun project to keep them busy. My house is a mess, so I spend a full day hiding papers and magazines and old mail, getting paint off the dining room table, magic erasing walls and picking things up off the floor.
Just as I was wondering what the girls would do next, there was a knock at the door.
It was the kids from across the street and their mum. Then my dad walked in with my boys; then his girlfriend appeared with her grandchild, then my cousin and her dog.
Who invited these people?
Within minutes, my house was destroyed. Chips and goldfish got ground into the rug; one kid broke a giant ceramic bowl full of pirate booty; another used my clean walls as a backboard for soccer practice. I ran around re-directing energy.
My neighbour was in the kitchen drinking my wine. Once the wine and beer came out, others asked for some too. Blake requested pizza and asked why everyone was at her party when she specifically said NO GROWNUPS.
“I’m sorry, baby. They just showed up.”
I had no idea how to get rid of my family and friends who came to drink my alcohol and eat my food. I defrosted more dough, made pizzas, busted out cheese and crackers, hummus, and guacamole. My aunt and uncle arrived just as the kids’ pizza came out of the oven. They walked right into the kitchen and helped themselves to a slice.
When everyone left, and the kids were asleep, I fell into bed exhausted. I stared at the ceiling thinking about why I hate this birthday. I hate the inconvenience, entertaining other people’s children, and spending money on food and alcohol.
But, I’d pay twice as much to move the party next door, so I could be alone, in peace, to cry. I know these people come to support me, confirm I’m ok. I’m not ok.
This birthday party reminds me that someone is missing. She would have been seven today too.
For the last six years, I have dreaded May 31st, the day they were born. The only day that’s worse is October 10th, the day I walked out of the hospital without my baby girl.
My girls were identical, gorgeous, and cranky. She was 16 months when it happened. If only we hadn’t gone to lunch that Sunday, the French fry hadn’t lodged in her throat, her brain hadn’t been without oxygen for 30 minutes.
She would have made it five more days…to Friday, October 10th and she would be here.
The surgery was already scheduled. “No big deal,” the paediatrician told me a week earlier. “The surgeon will snip the ring around her oesophagus and open her passageway. Good as new.”
It feels like I’m back there, in the hospital by her bedside waiting to see if her brain will recover. For five days, I sang songs, brought her favourite blankets, begging the powers that be to bring her back to me. The waiting room was full of my friends and people I’m not sure I even know. I saw their faces — the sadness, the fear, the need for me to assure them everything will be okay.
It wasn’t okay.
Just when my pillow was soaked with tears, my head pounding, and my nose wholly clogged, I remembered that the tooth fairy needed to leave a dollar and a note for the birthday girl. “Dear Bunky Blake,” it started. I got out of bed to type the letter on my computer, so my handwriting didn’t give me away.
"Your mother tells me you have lost yet another tooth. And on your birthday! By golly that is great! She also tells me you had a fabulous party with your girlfriends. Sorry about those boring relatives of yours and those nosey neighbours. I guess being loved isn’t the worst thing in the world. I know you might be missing your sweet angel sister today. I know your mummy is missing her too. In the morning, maybe you two could cuddle up and cry a little. I’ll be there with you, but you just won’t be able to see me. Kind of like how you can’t see your sister, but you always feel her with you. We fairies and angels know things about each other, and I know she misses you like crazy and sends a big wet juicy kiss."