…to my mom, who turns 70 today! She is the most private person in the world and it would freak her out to know that I would blast her birthday wish out in cyberspace (not that she can quite put her finger on what “cyber” means), so I thought I’d compromise and embed the wishes within the post.
But I’m feeling guilt today because I feel I didn’t do enough.
I never know what to get my mother, because she insists she has everything. When I was growing up she criticized the gifts I gave if she felt they were a waste of my savings and would tell me to return them. Since then I have learned that the only gift she feels worth having is some cash, or, of course, a phone call.
I finally decided to order her some photos of Fred, but a botched printing job left me without photos and little time to come up with something else she would like equally as much. So on Sunday I had Fred draw a 9 x 12 birthday card on construction paper. He took advantage of some Chinese (my mother’s native tongue) characters he’d just learned at his Chinese language program, and on his own initiative and to my surprise, he wrote in Chinese, “I love Grandma.” The plan for later this evening is for him to call her and sing a Chinese poem that he recently learned.
On Monday I put Fred’s card and a gift card to her favorite department store into a Priority Mail envelope and had it shipped up the east coast for more than double what it would have cost had I planned better. On Tuesday as I was driving Fred home from school I prepped him mentally to make a phone call to Grandma today (because he hates talking on the phone). “It’s important, Fred, because” – and that’s when it hit me – “Grandma is celebrating a big birthday tomorrow. She’ll be turning 70.”
My friend C. and her brother had a family reunion in Honolulu for their father’s 70th birthday. My cousins in California had rented out an entire restaurant to throw a bash for their parent’s 70th, complete with microphones and gifts made of gold. Presentations were made and professional photographs were snapped. And then there’s me. All I did was send a card and a gift card. I should’ve planned better. I should’ve done more.
It isn’t like I wasn’t thinking of my mom. I have actually been on the phone with her and my dad these last several days, trying to help them iron out a last minute tax emergency they had run into. For my 10-page writing assignment that I submitted yesterday to my writing instructor I had written about my mother. She was definitely on my mind, and on the phone. Somehow, the fact that she was about to celebrate a major birthday milestone didn’t register deeply enough.
I know that part of this is the fact that we don’t make big deals out of birthday “milestones” in our family (aside from that very first one). Turning 16 or 21 or 40 is the same as turning 17 or 22 or 41. They’re – we’re – understated when it comes to celebrations and we have a small family. Part of it is because (and I know this may sound weird) we don’t truly know how old she really is. They didn’t keep birth records in her town in China, and up to now she’s been estimating her age. But her passport says 1940 and for the most part we go by that. But a big part, I know, is that I think I am just accustomed to receiving, as a daughter. It doesn’t help that we live several states apart. If they were even 50 miles away, we’d do dinner tonight. We’d visit in person and do something special. But when it’s my birthday, despite the distance, there will be a 10-lb package delivered to our door, three days in advance. It will contain items – clothing, food – that my mother has spent the last three months shopping for. My birthday is something she thinks about and begins working on months in advance. I do believe that, if she were my daughter, I’d do the same. Her birthday would be a big deal. It would be cause for celebration. Its planning would rank right up there with client work, housework, my personal writing.
And then I think…what would I expect for my birthday, from my child? Would I be looking for a spa weekend, or a bouquet of flowers, or a cashmere sweater? How happy I was this past birthday when Fred drew a card for me with his best handwriting, “I love you Mommy!” and when he got so giddy the morning of my birthday simply because it was my birthday. On that day I felt like the luckiest woman alive, to have the love of my two guys, to be blessed with such an incredible little boy. As a mother I never forget the gift of motherhood, and to me I already received the greatest gift I could ever get, 6 years ago in the delivery room.
Maybe this is what my mother meant when she told me to return those material gifts all those years and just pocket the money. As a fellow mom, I know she doesn’t expect anything from me except a phone call and to know that I remembered. But as her daughter, I just wish I had done more…not because I believe she needs another sweater or necklace but because I am equating attention with priority. My husband and my son are my central points of focus in life now, and I know I have given my mother a backseat, a supporting role in the background while I will always be her front and center. So, I wish I had done more…because I know that with each passing birthday, I will be getting fewer and fewer second chances.