Happy Birthday! Kleenex Please.

Some traditions develop accidentally - some a created out of necessity. Such is the case with the birthday streamers.

A few years ago my youngest son (now 9) was turning 4. He is the 5th of six children - oldest is now 18 - and as his birthday approached his dad and I felt pretty confident that we had the birthday "thing" under control. We had established a "tradition" of allowing our school aged kids to remain home "sick" on their big day. It seemed the schools in our neighborhood made great efforts to NOT acknowledge birthdays in class, so any form of celebration during school hours was strongly discouraged. As is the case in any big family, funds were always limited so our child could expect to have a cake, a present, and a round of applause - whoohoo! So to compensate, we gave the kids what they really wanted. A get of jail free card on the anniversary of their birth!

Typically the birthday child would taunt the siblings who had to go to school that day with reminders of the fact that the pinnacle of the festivities would occur when the king/queen for the day got to go out to lunch ALONE with mom & dad to their very favorite restaurant to be serenaded by hyperactive waitstaff and seduced with the complimentary cake/pie/pastry. It was of course, much too costly to take our blooming legacy all at once to eat out - and was getting to the point of requiring an advance reservation to accomodate our brood. The remaining offspring would grumble out the door lamenting their perceived misfortune, imagining their brother/sister being lavished with gifts, chocolate, and attention while they painfully toiled through the tasks of the day until the stroke of 3pm when they could once again taste the thrill of "freedom from the man".

On this particular day, we had planned to follow the steps of the ritual - although since he was only turning four he had yet to discover the priviledge of a day off from "skool". He would be dining with ma & pa at Red Robin (for whatever reason this outranked Chuck E. Cheese), and at 3:35pm would "party hardy" with the four older kids until clean up at 4pm when he would grin through his green-stained frosting teeth at his new Blue's Clues handy dandy notebook and action figures, fondling them with sticky fingers until bath time.

But ALAS! We were soon to discover that despite our best laid plans to realize his birthday dreams within our meager budget, he was entertaining an entirely different vision in his head.

We had awoken early for our daily coffee meeting and were happily congratulating ourselves on our thorough execution of the planned activites. We were on our game - and feeling much excitement in anticipation of his glee! At 4 he was finally old enough to realize that this was HIS special day, and we were eagerly and patiently waiting for him to wake so we could shower him with "happy birthdays" and "atta boys". Being number 5 we had seen this milestone before - and knew what to expect. OR SO WE THOUGHT...

Before long we heard the thump as he leaped out of bed and bounded down the stairs to the main level which opened into the dining room where we were sitting. We both slyly grinned at each other as we could hear his rapid footsteps decending, and with one final bonzai jump he hit the landing. We were glowing with preparation and ready to sing to give him a especially great start to his morning. He stopped mid air - eyes wide and mouth open ready to crack a gappy-toothed smile - and CRASHED to the floor on his knees exploding into a ear-piercing, gut-wrenching wail that woke all the neighbors for three houses in all directions.

No, he wasn't hurt physically. It seems that our angelic little boy, who hardly ever complained or put up a fuss (I figured this to be just reward for the agony of the previous four)had a vision in his head that we had failed to interpret. And in less than 10 seconds we, his unsuspecting and ill-informed parents, had crushed his dreams and left him traumatized for life. You see, he had arisen that day expecting to land in the dining room amid green balloons, streamers, noisemakers, applause, and fifty of his favorite cartoon superheroes hoisting him up on their shoulders while belting out "for he's a jolly good fellow". For some reason still unknown to us he was EXPECTING this - we had never had decorations or ballons or any of that hoopla on the morning of a birthday in the history of our child bearing - but for this kid, THAT was what a birthday was supposed to look like, and his DIDN'T.

He crumpled to the floor in a ball, sobbing and inconsolable. When he had finally stopped hyperventilating long enough to gasp out WHAT he was so upset about I did the ONLY thing a responsible mother could do. I PANICKED. HOW could I have overlooked this? WHERE were my mind-reading powers and x-ray vision? WHY had they failed me in my fragile and trusting son's time of need?

I promptly ordered his father to get him dressed and ready and take him to McDonald's for a "special Birthday breakfast" with dad to cheer him up. I shuffled the confused masses off to the elementary school, hopped in my mini-van, and drove at light speed to the nearest grocery store. I ripped through the aisles scooping up streamers and decorations - anything green my little eye could spy, blasted back to the bakery a bought every green and birthday balloon they had already inflated, threw them at the dazed checker who I still believe purposely took 5 times longer than necessary to ring them up, stuffed them in the car and raced back home.

With seconds to spare I unloaded the party into the house, taped, curled ribbons, released balloons, and wrapped streamers in every direction with the fervor and desperation of a swimmer battling the undertow. I no sooner let go of the last balloon string when my man and my boy walked in the door from their Egg McMuffin. Walla! INSTANT CURE! He was thrilled! Ecstatic! Even more important - he was HEALED! I made a solemn oath from that day forward that he would NEVER wake up disappointed on his birthday again.

The following year the siblings remembered being rudely awakened by his mournful screams and the oldest few decided to assist me by playing "birthday fairy". As soon as he went to bed they went to work diligently plastering the walls with paper spiderman cutouts (we had evolved from Blue's Clues). They did a fantastic job, he awoke to the birthday of his dreams (or close to it for $20). Every year since the oldest have done their best to outlast him the night before. Nobody has to ask them - the memory of that fateful day is motivation enough.

Last year it finally occured to them to extend their Santa-esque favor to their other siblings too. I am amazed at the work and detail they will go to creating a personalized environment for the birthday child. It seems now that the most exciting thing about the birthday is seeing what the others did while you were sleeping. The reflex has matured into a real, family tradition, and it is not lost on even our youngest.

TODAY the littlest one turns four. Again - a milestone. And NOW we're prepared. The team diligently stayed up late decorating the dining room with pink & orange streamers, white & silver curly ribbons, hand made colorful birthday signs personalized with her name and the number "4". It looks like New Year's on crack in there! And here she comes, chubby little toes stampeding down the hall to her "party" - get ready for a big "YAY" - wait for it - wait for it...

WHAT?????? Oh dear, get the kleenex. It seems we forgot the party hats.

No comments: