Claire turned nine a few days ago, and last night was her birthday party. She begged me for a sleepover. I relented because 1) it seemed easier than any other alternative and 2) right now I’m trying to let my kids have as much fun as they can.
I only let her invite a few kids and the night started out fine. Not perfect, because the unicorn pinata I bought was decapitated after one single hit to the head, but everyone seemed to be having fun otherwise. Very quickly, however, it became clear that this party was not going to be easy for me.
Take the cake. I had actually made a double layer chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and rainbow sprinkles and no one appreciated it. Granted, everyone who ate it was under the age of ten, but wow, I definitely could have gotten that cake at Giant instead. I’ve always made the birthday cakes from scratch. Do you know who always appreciated them? Shawn. Because he knew he’d get all the leftovers and they’d be amazing.
I also couldn’t really take photos during the party. I was running around the entire time serving food and cleaning up trash and organizing activities and well, I just didn’t get around to it. And in the one moment I wanted to take photos the most – when we sang happy birthday – it was impossible. I lit the candles on the cake and brought it over to Claire and started singing and then realized that I couldn’t take photos of her blowing out the candles when I was the only one who could hold the cake and lead the singing. So, I missed it. But I did see her sweet face, and it was joyful.
That moment was also the hardest part because I didn’t have anyone else watching her blow out those candles with me. To be fair, my dad came for that part, but he’s not Shawn and we both know that. So I guess it’s not that I didn’t have anyone next to me, but rather that I didn’t have the person I’d always had by my side sharing that moment we always shared.
My boys seemed to be able to feel this absence as well, because they both started crying and whining when I announced it was time to go upstairs with Grandpa Tom and allow me to run the remainder of Claire’s party in the basement. As usual, everyone needed me at the exact same time. I ran up and down the stairs, trying to do everything yet leaving everyone feeling like I wasn’t doing enough. Then one of Claire’s friends felt sick and I had to call her mom to come and get her.
It was 8 pm when the kid’s mom showed up and it felt like midnight. This mom sat down at my kitchen counter and we talked for a few minutes about nothing. She hadn’t been in our kitchen since we had remodeled it a year ago. She looked around and said to me, “I know it must be hard – being in this kitchen that you were supposed to be enjoying together.” I nodded, feeling that tight feeling in my throat.
“And throwing Claire’s birthday party by yourself,” she continued, “I bet that is so tough to do without Shawn.”
I cried. Well, it’s what I do. But it was also because she nailed my emotional state exactly. Yes, what she said might have really upset or annoyed me. But instead it validated exactly how I was feeling. The party felt impossible not because I was the only one to serve cake but because around every turn I was missing Shawn. He loved our kids’ birthday parties, and he was the one who made them so fun. Claire’s party made me feel like I was merely managing to keep everyone from hurting themselves.
Why is every single life event hard? The first time I do anything, from a holiday to a simple trip to Target, I feel like it’s impossible to be doing it alone. People tell me I should hire someone to help or that I can get a service to do the task at hand, but really, it’s not about having extra help. Sometimes that’s needed, but a lot of the time the reason that things are so hard is because I can’t have the one person there that I want. Everything feels monumentally difficult in those “first time” moments, and Shawn feels so horribly absent.
Because all I wanted last night was for him to be there again, singing happy birthday and seeing our daughter’s delight as she blew out the candles. I wanted that knowing glance afterwards that we always gave each other, the one that said, “she’s the cutest 9-year-old that’s ever lived.”
In the end, I made it through the party alone, and my daughter thought it was one of the best birthdays she’s ever had. At least it was a success on that end.
As I was picking up in the morning, I found the unicorn pinata. The girls had taken the separated head and used duct tape to attach it back on the body of the unicorn. Claire told me they had named it “Uni” and decided that she was magical. If there was some great metaphor for my life, I guess it would be that pinata. I feel about as broken as the decapitated unicorn, but I just keep re-applying duct tape to survive. Somehow, magically, I cobble through these “first time” moments that way.