I spend a lot of times thinking about the ways in which I have a failed as a parent. Hell, I’m writing a book about it.
But not today. Today I know that somehow, at some point, I’ve done something right.
Let’s rewind to Friday. While the rest of the country was celebrating Independence Day, our family was scrambling to find a way to make Jared’s 28th birthday not suck.
He had to work on the 4th, and while most adults find themselves working on their birthdays, when your birthday is on a National Holiday it seems especially offensive to be spending it at an office instead of celebrating with friends and family.
To add insult to injury, his wife is kind of a self centered wench.
Seriously. She was off on a weekend getaway to New York City the weekend before and had put absolutely no thought or planning into how to celebrate the big day. In fact, she had not even begun to think about buying a birthday gift, except to say “No, you’re not getting a Wii. Those things are ridiculously expensive. I’m not spending $400 on a stupid video game.”
And she might have said that over her iPhone while standing in front of her hotel in New York.
BUT THIS IS NOT ABOUT HIS CRAPPY WIFE! No!
This is about my fabulous children and how they are clearly a reflection of what type of mother I am.
By Thursday afternoon, it had occurred to me that it might not be appropriate to let Jared’s birthday go by unmentioned. It also occurred to me that this was an epiphany that would have been good to have weeks ago. It also occurred to me that the only thing that I could think of that the man wanted was a Wii.
Which basically meant – I was screwed. There was no way I was going to be able to come up with an extra $400 that wasn’t already earmarked for something AND a Wii that could be purchased locally by Friday.
(I swear at some point this ends up being about my children. Really.)
Thursday night I got home from work and checked the mail, bracing myself for the bills I’d surely been avoiding. But instead of bills, I found 3 unexpected checks. Three checks totaling well over $400.
Hmmm. Was it possible… maybe…
I got online and started searching the websites of every retail store I could think of. WalMart, Target, CircuitCity. Over and over again the buzz I’d been reading about on the Internet was confirmed: Sold Out. Out of Stock. Are You Fucking Crazy Lady? A Wii? In Stock? HAHAHAHAHAHA!
Jared came home from work and I began lobbying for the idea of a PlayStation. Or a new weed whacker. Or what about a puppy? Don’t you want a new puppy? Because honestly babe, wouldn’t that be just as good?
Apparently… no. And don’t worry about it. And it’s no big deal. And really, don’t worry about it.
The conversation was dropped and we both resigned ourselves to the fact that his birthday was going to suck. He got up the next morning and went to work and I got up to prepare for a day of grocery shopping and laundry. I hollered at the kids to get dressed and FIND YOUR DAMN SHOES! and sat down to check my email before we left.
And I thought… hmmm… maybe… just one more try…
Seriously Lady? A Wii? HAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHA
The websites continued to mock me. But I thought maybe… just maybe… and I picked up the phone.
Three WalMarts, two Targets, a CircuitCity and one Toys R’ Us later and… no. Nothing. Maybe try again Sunday. I hollered over my shoulder AGAIN and wondered HOW FREAKING HARD IS IT TO FIND A PAIR OF SHOES PEOPLE?!?! and picked up the phone for the last time. One more chance. One Best Buy 10 miles away was my last hope.
And the angels sang, my friends. And the song they were singing was “yeah, a couple in stock still.”
“Really? You have one left? Right now? In the store? Thanks!”
I hung up the phone and grabbed my purse. “GUYS!! Let’s go!” I took a deep breath and prepared to continue with the hollering and the sheparding and the empty threats that always accompany the three of us trying to leave the house.
But when I whirled around I found two children dressed, WITH THEIR SHOES ON, and clutching all the money they had in the world.
And here is where it becomes about my kids.
“You found one? They have it?” Devin’s eyes were as big as saucers and I realized that somehow he had picked up on my frantic search.
“Um, yeah buddy. I found a Wii for Dad. But we have to hurry.”
“Emma, let’s go! We have to get Daddy’s birthday present RIGHT NOW.” and the two of them ran for the car without so much as a single reminder from me or a GET OUTTA MY WAY aimed at each other.
Instead of listening to the radio as we zoomed down I-4 towards what was possibly THE ONLY WII LEFT IN THE CENTRAL FLORIDA AREA, I listened to the sound of two children squealing in the background. “We’re getting Daddy’s birfday! We’re getting Daddy’s birfday!” Their excitement was palpable.
We flew into the first open parking spot and literally ran into the store. Well, as close to “ran” as one is capable of with a three year old in tow. “They’re over here! They’re over here!” Devin shouted and pointed as he led me to the gaming section.
And there it was. One box. One singular solitary Nintendo Wii left.
I grabbed it off the shelf and pumped my fist in the air cheering, “We did it! We did it! Look at that guys! We did it!” I have no doubt in my mind I am blog flodder for some unsuspecting Best Buy customer today. But I didn’t give a damn about the scene we were making. The whooping and jumping had been hard fought and was, in our minds, completely deserved. We had saved Christmas! Er. Birthday. Whatever.
Moments later, as I was perusing the accessories and Guitar Hero options, all the while clutching my spoils to my chest, I noticed Devin leaning closer to the shelves.
“$249? $79? $59.99? Oh man…” his face fell as he read off the black numbers on each yellow tag.
“What’s the matter baby?” I couldn’t understand why he was standing there looking so defeated. We had won!
He held out his hand and unclenched his fist, releasing the wad of bills he’d been clinging to since we left the house.
“I only have $12.”
Tears welled up in his eyes and my heart twisted and jerked behind my ribs. I dropped to my knees in the aisle at Best Buy, immediately forgetting the triumph of a few minutes ago. I assured him everything was OK. Mommy knew how much everything would be and we would be fine. It’s all going to be fine, baby.
“If I hadn’t bought those stupid Pokemon cards… I wanted to get Dad a birthday present. I can’t even get him a game with $12.”
Jerk. Twist. Thud.
“Sweetheart, you have nothing to worry about. Mommy will get this and it will be from all of us. We’re going to get everything Daddy needs. I promise.”
He didn’t budge. “But he’s my Dad. He should get something from me.”
I couldn’t argue with his logic, and I was hesitant to try to convince him that it didn’t matter. The best I could do was promise him we’d figure out something. Having appeased him temporarily, we tracked down a cart and loaded it up with a game that came with another controller and Guitar Hero III. $417 later, we checked out and headed for WalMart to get groceries.
We were walking through the WalMart parking lot when Devin came up with his own solution.
“Dad’s going to need a cake. Do you think I could get a cake for $12?”
An hour later as we unloaded the groceries in the checkout line, Devin carefully picked through the cart to gather his purchases. One personally selected birthday card. One box of Funfetti cake batter. One can of ready-to-spread chocolate frosting. And one package of edible sprinkles. Because Dad really likes stuff like sprinkles on cakes.
Without a word, he set his items up on the conveyor belt behind the rest of our groceries and slid the plastic divider between the two piles.
I ignored the nasty looks from the cashier and the people waiting in line behind us. They had no idea what they were witnessing, but it was so much more than the extra 3 minutes they were all going to have to wait for OMG A SEPARATE PURCHASE.
$5.14 and one very proud little boy later, we floated out of WalMart.
My heart swelled to see his joy. He was just so damned pleased with the idea of being able to give. I thought about all the times I had chided him to be nice to his sister and lectured him about thinking of other people and reminded him, ever so gently that, yes you DO HAVE TO PUT ALL THE DISHES IN THE DISHWASHER EVEN IF YOU DIDN’T USE ALL OF THEM. And I thought maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t screwing up this whole motherhood thing completely.
And while I am tempted to end this post here because I know it is already painfully long, I can’t. I can’t not tell you about what came next.
Because next, we went home and took naps. Ha! But then after that next, we got up and those two kids baked that FunFetti Cake with chocolate ready-to-spread frosting and rainbow colored sprinkles. And they waited to lick the spoons and the bowls until they were absolutely sure that Dad’s Birthday Cake That Was Especially From Devin was going to be Perfect.
And then they colored on cards, wrote their names on envelopes, and insisted on holding down wrapping paper and carefully applying scotch tape in almost exactly the spots where I told them to.
And then they plotted and schemed and scouted out hiding places.
“Why are you hiding?” I asked.
“Because you have to jump out and yell SURPRISE! when it’s a birthday!” they explained.
“But he knows that you’re here,” I reasoned.
“But it’s a BIRTHDAY! and you have to have SURPRISE! on a BIRTHDAY!” they insisted. And then they exchanged the look from the Secret Sibling Code that I am confident I recognized as the Moms Are So Dumb look.
And then they waited. And waited. And as the hours ticked by and Jared did not come home from work, I used every mothering trick I know to keep their spirits buoyed.
“He’s not coming is he?”
“Not yet. But he will.”
“Is it going to be dark? Will we be in bed?”
“I don’t know,” I whispered, torn between lying to them or crushing them. “Let’s set up the presents and figure out where to hide the cake,” and then we won’t have to think about whether or not this will all be for nothing just yet.
And then, finally, the call came.
“He’s on his way!”
They screamed and danced and promptly forgot all their carefully laid plans. “He’s coming! He’s coming!” Emma shook like a puppy with a too big for its body tail. “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! What do we do?! What do we DO?!” Devin raced around the house in a desperate search for his head.
“Hide! Hide!” It was hard not to get swept up in their plan.
They shoved me out the door and ordered me to stand in the driveway so that I could give them a sign when his truck turned onto the street. And so I stood in that driveway by myself watching the corner intently for a full twenty minutes and didn’t care one bit that my neighbors surely thought I was a crazy person.
And then finally, I saw it. The tip of his ladder came around the corner, quickly followed by the black front of his truck. And in that instant I was three and I was eight and I turned around and ran up that driveway and flew through the front door.
“He’s here! He’s here!” All notions of a surprise being silly when he knew we were home were forgotten by everyone. Because it’s not a BIRTHDAY! without a SURPRISE!, silly.
The three of us huddled behind the couch and tried desperately to silence our nervous energy. Devin shifted and reshifted the cake in his hands and Emma finally threw herself face first on the floor exclaiming, “I can’t take it anymore!”
I swear it took that man three days to get out of his truck.
And then beep, the alarm, and he was there. We grabbed one another’s arms and whispered, “now? now?” before finally hearing a deep voice call out.
“Hello? Is anyone here?”
“SURPRISE! SURPRISE!” and we exploded from behind that couch with the best damn surprise that the world has ever seen.
And as the birthday song rang out and the sight of my husband disappeared underneath a pile of tiny arms and legs and blond heads, I knew he had been wrong. We had both been wrong.
It was a big deal. It was a very, very big deal.