Do you do that thing where you pretend that birthday presents don’t matter to you – do you even convince yourself it’s not important, but then, when it comes to it, you feel really hurt if nobody’s bothered to get you one? Or is that just me?
Birthday season has just ended in our family. We have two clusters of birthdays a year, and this time it’s my second son’s birthday followed two weeks later by my third son’s. My birthday (or payback time as I like to call it) falls right in the middle.
When my children were little, birthday celebrations took such a lot of time and energy I was tempted to forget mine, thus tapping in to that rich vein of martyrdom I usually try to suppress. I was tempted to say ‘oh don’t worry about me. I’m ok. I don’t need anything. Really’, but as I share my birthday with my twin sister it was impossible to actually forget it. And she had children who bought her proper birthday presents.
I’m glad now that this fact (call it competition if you like) spurred me to make sure that my birthday was celebrated properly in my family.
I realised the importance of honestly stating what I want when my second son, in his first year of secondary school, returned from a school trip to the Christmas markets somewhere in Germany bearing gifts for every member of the family except me. It mattered. I didn’t want to be a martyr, but neither did I want to be manipulative and make him feel really really guilty, so I waited for the immense hurt and anger to die down first, and confronted him a week later… I simply said ‘I was a bit hurt that I was the only one you didn’t bring back a present for actually…’
He was mortified (good!!) and explained that he had searched and searched the markets for something special but couldn’t find anything he thought I would like, so he ended up getting nothing.
I said ‘Well I don’t want that either. I want you to think of me, but not that much. Tell you what, wherever you go in the world, I’m really happy to get a sample of the local chocolate’. My son was so happy and relieved I wondered whether he had been carrying around a huge burden of unspoken guilt and awkwardness for a week. I realised that my kids would rather know, and get it right.
On my birthday I don’t have to spell it out anymore. They all know that basically I want to be shown some care and attention and they give that in different ways. In the teenage years when they’re broke it’s enough that they give up time with friends to do something with me that they really wouldn’t choose to do, like going for a walk. Someone always bakes me a cake. Someone makes birthday tea. My oldest son this year came out with me for an evening in the pub with friends. I even get occasional ‘proper’ birthday presents. And my second son still says it with chocolate.