“Happy birthday, sweet boy.”
I whispered these words quietly in my son’s ear as I kissed him gently on his still baby-like pudgy cheek while waking him early this morning, the morning of his ninth birthday. It was a perfect scene.
In my mind.
Instead, my voice cracked as I over-enunciated each syllable while yelling the words from down the hall in my bedroom, next ordering him directly into the shower without passing Go. I scrambled to quickly dress so I could accomplish all of the birthday party preparation I formerly did weeks in advance, now two hours prior.
Birthday parties used to be my forte, my pièce de résistance. As a mother of three, I have probably planned well over 40 birthday parties since my first child was born nearly 14 years ago. Invitations were always sent weeks in advance with the etiquette expected of a wedding or other comparable formal event. Favors were personalized and thoughtfully conceived. Party rooms were thematically decorated and indulgently filled with colorful balloons and an overabundance of treats.
Not this year.
Since my separation, my ability to focus on small details, those elements one might condescendingly describe as minutia, has sharply waned. Whereas my former self reveled in the opportunity to throw parties and flaunt my skill as the quintessential stay-at-home mom, I no longer engage wholeheartedly in such endeavors. In fact, I don’t even try.
From afar, an onlooker might argue my newfound apathy implies depression. That I no longer reap satisfaction in buying color coordinated paper plates, napkins, and cups surely a public outcry of my obvious despondency.
In fact, the exact opposite is true.
Undeniably, a dark cloud hovers above our house, menacingly, in the form of a broken home and an absentee father. But I am not sad. Not anymore. I am happy. Deliberately. I must be, for the sake of my children.
Make no mistake. I am not a hero.
I am simply a mother who loves her kids. As parents, we know there exists no worse pain than watching our children suffer. For a week my son lamented, cried, that his father would be absent on his birthday. Again. Here I am helpless, unable to change that particular outcome. But I am not powerless. Through example, I can lead. No matter how difficult, I strive to remain positive, even when negative thoughts fight to direct me elsewhere.
I no longer focus on details. Distractions, as I like to think of them. I am only interested in overall perceptions, in how we ultimately survey our landscape and what lies beyond the horizon.
Today was a glorious morning in its banality. Fifteen third-graders, all school friends, played baseball together at an indoor sports facility. Together they ran, they batted, and they fielded. They laughed and spent time celebrating their friend, my son. And with good reason, too, because his birthday, his young life with all of its innocent splendor and future promise, is an unequivocal reason to celebrate.
No, my son’s father was not there to partake in the festivities, to hold the video camera as he used to only a few years ago, and to support his son. But for an hour-and-a-half, my child had fun and forgot his disappointment. For a few fleeting moments, all was right with the world.
So, when I served the pizza and realized I forgot to bring napkins, I shrugged it off. I didn’t chastise myself. I didn’t turn a small mistake into a symbol of all my failings and those I absorb on behalf of others.
Too many days have already been marred by sadness because of my divorce, circumstances well beyond any child’s control. As a single mom, I understand the onus is on me to make sure my son’s special day, and every other day, is wonderfully memorable in its apparent ordinariness, in its potential to be pleasantly forgotten, at least for the time being.
Today, along with good friends and close family, I, we, helped to do just that. No day is perfect. But this one came pretty close simply because it was not.
Because of that, I am happy.