It’s 10:38 p.m. Friday, and I’m sitting on my bed listening to my kids outside my bedroom door. They are decorating the house for my birthday tomorrow, and they are not exactly doing it stealthily. There is a lot of muttering and “shhhhhh!”-ing and scraping of dining room chairs against hardwood floors.
It is making me cry the good kind of tears, even as I listen to them argue about where things should go and how much tape the little one is wasting.
It is the second time I’ve cried tonight. Just a few hours ago we were sitting at dinner reminiscing about the time I ate a chocolate-covered ant at a Bug Show we went to in town. When that turned into them dreaming up disgusting chocolate-covered things and asking me if I’d eat them, I finally said, “The only way I’d eat that stuff is if your lives depended on it.” That shocked them, and Kostyn said, “But what if you died eating it?”
That was a bit more morbid than I’d anticipated for pre-birthday dinner conversation, so I breezily said, “Well as long as you guys were alive that would be OK. I’d do anything to save you.” Then I smiled, eager to lighten the moment. “I hope you’d miss me.” That’s when my sweet 6-year-old, in all innocent seriousness, said half-apologetically, “Actually, Mommy, if you died I probably would forget you. Because I’d be with Daddy all the time.” I stared at him. I tried to keep my smile frozen as I envisioned my heart splintering jaggedly down the middle like a cartoon character’s might.
“But I would try to remember you,” he said while popping another raspberry into his mouth, not having any idea what he’d just done to me. I mumbled a few sentences to turn the conversation in a different direction, then excused myself to the bathroom before my heart splattered all over the table.
A half-hour later, eager to shake off the heartbreak and enjoy the only night they’d be with me this weekend, I suggested a special pre-birthday dance party, which typically involves lots of glow sticks and very loud music. In the middle of the second song, Evan jumped up and smacked my face with his head. Blood gushed from my nose, and we reluctantly had to cut the dancing short.
But I still had brownie sundaes coming! I’d looked forward to them all day, and after filling their special sundae bowls with exactly the kinds of toppings each one wanted (“Two cherries for me!” “Only the green sprinkles, Mommy!”), I made my masterpiece – a warmed homemade brownie topped with ice cream, hot caramel sauce, Hershey’s syrup and a candle. I picked it up and promptly dropped it, upside down, all over the stove and kitchen floor.
It will not surprise anyone to know that after I made a second sundae, joined the boys and lit the candle, I inadvertently blew it out right before they started singing to me.
It was, by all accounts, not the night I had envisioned. And then, as I tucked them in, Evan asked out of nowhere, “Where do you keep the streamers?” I smiled in the dark.
“Honey, you don’t have to decorate for me, you can just come into my room in the morning and snuggle with me and wish me happy birthday, that would make me so happy.”
“But you do that for us,” Kostyn said from under his covers. “On our birthdays you stay up in the middle of the night and decorate so when we wake up there are banners and streamers and balloons everywhere.”
I tried to explain how that’s different, that I’m their parent, that I want their birthdays to be special in big ways like that and that mine is special just because they’re here. They were not having it. After a few minutes of arguing about whether I would agree to wake them up when I was going to sleep, I finally let them get out of bed and decorate tonight.
My laptop clock now says 11:17 p.m. It is way, way past their bedtime. I can tell they are trying mightily to hang streamers from the top of my bedroom door frame, so that I might walk through them tomorrow morning, on the 43rd anniversary of the day I entered the world.
“My tip-toes are hurting like crazy,” Kostyn says quietly, and I feel the urge to go out there and hoist him up so he can easily reach it. But I know they want to do this on their own. And I want them to.
“That’s what Mommy always does on our door, so we need to do it to her door,” I hear Evan whisper encouragingly, and I sigh and breathe in the best birthday message the universe could send: There is no forgetting a mother’s love.