“Oh, you, idiot… what were you thinking?”
I hadn’t thought that through, that was the problem. I was rushing because it was almost 3:00 p.m., time to pick up Mark. Once again, I was trying to score an “A” at the “celebrate snowflake’s birthday” test and be that great North American mother pictured in magazines.
As we all know, perfect is the enemy of good. I had just bought Mark’s cake—for his sake, I didn’t attempt to bake it—and, on the spur of the moment, I decided to pick up a few helium balloons to make his birthday perfect. Yes, “balloons” plural because after all, they were only $1.25 and I couldn’t make up my mind.
Tell you what—I even wanted to get five of them, because you know, five years old. Good thing I stopped at three, because as soon as I stepped out of the store, I realized that bringing them home was going to be a bit of a challenge.
Picture me, a cake box on my open left palm, my right hand clutching three strings attached to three large balloons threatening to fly away at any moment in the cold breeze.
I felt like Pennywise behind a wall of balloons.
On top of that, when you’re carrying birthday balloons, every single person you pass on the way shouts “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” Yep, Canadians are like this.
The cake, the balloons and I made it home safely. I checked the frosting—not messed up!—, put the dessert in the fridge and rushed to Mark’s room. I hung the “Happy Birthday” banner, then I tied one balloon to the door’s handle, tapped another one to a present and decided to bring the third one to school.
Second bad idea. The helium balloon was basically my air bag—good thing I wasn’t driving.
Mark deserves it, I rationalized. It’s his turn, his special day. He had been genuinely happy to celebrate Feng’s the day before—actually, almost too much.
“Mommy…” he had whispered to me the night before. “I’m so excited because it’s daddy’s birthday tomorrow! I’ll get up early and—”
“No, no! Seriously, daddy doesn’t want to get up early on his birthday. Trust me. We’ll celebrate in the evening.”
I made the same promise to Mark the night before his big day—we would celebrate after school.
To make his birthday memorable, I wanted to do something special together. After considering several activities, I decided on going to Build-A-Bear Workshop, a store where you create your own stuffed animal. We went there for his second birthday and he still sleeps with the dog he doesn’t remember stuffing.
We left the mall with a new best friend and Mark insisted he needed a stroller for him. “Yeah, it’s called karma, Mark. Do you have any idea how many times I had to carry you around in my arms at the mall because you didn’t want to sit in your stroller?” I reminded him.
We drove home and led Mark to his room. He was happy.
“Mommy… I’m still hungry…” Mark insisted later, after dinner. I really need to eat like… uh… something.”
“I think he wants his cake,” I whispered to Feng.
Following the tradition I started last year, I went outside with the cake, rang the doorbell and started singing when Mark opened the door. Candles were blown and vanilla cake was eaten—well, mostly the sickly-sweet icing.
It’s only later that night that I realized I had stressed out about the guy’s birthdays. I can’t explain why—both of them had fairly low expectations, after all. As long as there was cake and a gift (and these Western traditions are even optional for Feng), they were happy.
I’m not into parties and celebrations, both as a guest and as a host. Our wedding was just the two of us, I begged my friends to skip the baby shower for me (I was too superstitious for it, anyway), I never had a birthday party with friends and I’ve never hosted a dinner or thrown a party. I just don’t know how to entertain. I don’t know how to cook for guests. Hell, I can’t even pick wine! Is that normal?
My parents called to wish Mark a happy birthday. “Don’t forget to get high on helium after the party,” my dad advised when I told him about the balloon.
Maybe that’s how people survive “entertaining”.
Next up: Halloween. Such is the life of a North American parent!