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Birthday blunder


Not at all the gift he'd imagined.

I really blew it tonight. It’s the eve of Levi’s birthday. Tomorrow he will be 10 years old. I wanted so much to make it the perfect birthday. But instead, I reverted to being a 10 year old myself and almost ruined everything.

This is hard to write about. Most of the time I’m okay belittling myself. I make mistakes. I allow my emotions to get the best of me. I act, in numerous occasions, less like a parent and more like a tantrum-tossing toddler. But I always admit the error of my ways. And I usually manage to learn a good, heart-felt lesson from my less than perfect parenting. But tonight takes the cake.

Levi isn’t your typical kid. He’s never been into stuff the way other kids are. He’d honestly rather build castles in his imagination than an entire aerospace propulsion system out of legos. If you ask him what he wants for his birthday, he’ll tell you he’d like to go out to lunch with you and just talk about what’s going on in your life. He’s definitely what many would label, “an old soul.”

But this year, he told me he wanted some Harry Potter action figures for his birthday. I was excited. Finally he was acting like a normal kid which gave me the opportunity to act like a normal parent. Maybe for once I could get him some stuff that would make him happy, even if it was only a fleeting happiness. I told everyone what he wanted. I not only told everyone, I went ahead and ordered more than $300 worth of hard to find, collectible, Harry Potter action figures from several obscure toy websites on the internet.

When the box came, I offered the various figures to different relatives (at cost of course) so that they too could finally feel victorious by for once giving my son something he really wanted. I had no trouble selling the figures to friends and family. I even wrapped them all individually and made the cards so that no one had to lift a finger to make my boy happy this year. It was my pleasure and I was thrilled to be able to do it.

But as luck would have it, tonight when my mother gave him the first pre-birthday pack of Harry Potter and Serious Black action figures, there was the same dull apathy that always greeted our birthday selections. I was beside myself. After all, there were still $250 worth of figures wrapped up in my closet waiting to be opened tomorrow on his actual birthday. How could I have gotten this wrong.

Levi, I said, I thought you wanted these action figures.

I did, mom. But I wanted the small ones. These are kind of like Barbie size. They’re too big.

But the small ones are just cheap pieces of plastic. I ordered the rare, collectible versions with the hand-painted faces that cost four times as much.

“Oh well,” he tossed it off,”no biggie.”

“What do you mean?” I shouted after him. “Levi, I went to a lot of trouble to find these for you. I mean, that’s all I have for you — from everyone. I thought that’s what you wanted.” I was beginning to sound pathetic.

“Stop it,” my husband chastised. “You’re making him feel bad.”

“Well, I’m sorry,” I snorted as I became increasingly unglued. “I guess I just can’t do anything right, can I?”

“You are acting like a child,” my husband chided. .

“Yeah, well, maybe if he acted like a child once in a while I wouldn’t have to.”

This was ridiculous. I was fully aware of my idiotic behavior. But it was like I couldn’t stop. I kept imagining my son the following day, opening present after present and feeling more and more disappointment with each gift. I really screwed this up. I wanted to cry. Why is it so hard to make a 10 year old boy’s dreams come true?

Meanwhile, Levi was in his room sulking. Every once in a while he’d say something like “Mom, really. They’re fine. I’ll just keep them.” and I’d counter that no, we were sending them back, all of them and getting the shitty little plastic ones. After all, he could probably afford a whole town of those mini Harry Potter people in exchange for the ones I’d bought.

“Will you please stop it and go talk to him. He feels awful,” my husband pleaded.

I went into Levi’s room. We both had tears in our eyes. I sat down on the floor and said, “Levi, I am so sorry to be acting like this. I’m really having a hard time being a grown up right now. Here’s the thing, I so wanted to make your birthday perfect. I searched high and low for some of these figures. That’s pretty much all your getting from everyone. And when I saw that they weren’t the figures you wanted, I felt so horrible that I acted really badly. I want you to understand that I think you’re the greatest and I just wanted you to know how much I and everyone else loves you and wants to make you happy. That’s what this is about. You didn’t do anything wrong. This one’s all me, buddy. I hope you can forgive me for acting like a jerk.”

“Mom, all I care about is that you wanted my birthday to be perfect. The fact that you and all my family and friends tried really hard to get me what you thought I wanted is way more important than whatever the present is. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad.”

“No baby, you didn’t make me feel bad,” I countered almost instantaneously, “I made me feel bad. And I am ashamed of acting like that. Sometimes even mommies get overwhelmed with their emotions and do really dumb things. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Of course, mom,” he smiled and threw his arms around my neck. “But don’t worry about it. Nobody’s perfect. All we can do is try. Isn’t that what you always tell me?”

“Yeah, Leves, I guess it is,” I stammered, more amazed by him than ever. “I guess we both need to remember that lesson.”

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About gettrich

Debra Rich Gettleman is a professional actor, playwright and journalist living in Seattle, WA with her husband Mark and two amazing boys, Levi and Eli.

4 responses to “Birthday blunder

  1. Devorah ⋅

    I think we all got a gift on this birthday, a model for humility…and humanity. Plus we got Levi and he is a true present. I thank you for continually sharing the truth. You are a voice for so much and so many.

  2. Jennifer ⋅

    Wow! That really resonates with me! I often describe myself as “recovering perfectionist” and I totally understand the feeling of utter failure when something that you thought would be perfect turns out to have missed the mark–especially with someone that you love.

    “But don’t worry about it. Nobody’s perfect. All we can do is try. Isn’t that what you always tell me?” I don’t know why I can sincerely mean this advice when I give it to other people, but somehow I don’t quite believe it when I tell myself the same thing. Regardless, your boy is a gem!

  3. jojopant

    Though i wish to say a lot.. i’ll just say… u have a very mature son. Much more mature than some people double his age.

    As for u, it’s sweet of u to have done so much and everyone can share random stuff… it really takes a brave heart to share one’s goof-ups (though that’s not the word category i put this into.. i can’t seem to find a substitute)……..

    Take care.

  4. lona ⋅

    This blog struck me and brought tears to my eyes. Your son sounds excately like I was when I was a kid (I am from an overseas country so excuse the bad English). It can be quite hard if your parents don’t understand you. But you seem to understand and realise that he not the usual kid-type.

    But did you think about this:

    Your son is smarter than you – and more emotionally intelligent than you. Also from what you write, his skills in visualising (building imaginary castles) are highly developed. He’ll probably never act on the same level as other kids. I am telling you that he is brighter than you because the sooner you realise it, the better it will be for him. I was like this as a kid. But my parents didn’t realise it.

    By this discovery…you will never underestimate what he understands and sees in a given situation! Because he sees it all – and considers everyone elses feelings – not just his own.

    The best approach with a kid like that is honesty – always – because he will sense if you are not and that can be very hurtful.

    I think you did really great in this situation – where you explained your feelings to him and why you reacted why you did. Because…a smart kid like that always feels responsible for his loved ones and probably has a tendency to feel guilty if you are sad.

    It’s ok to be sad and show it. Just let the boy know that it is not his fault and why. Like you did.

    When he becomes a teenager, all of this emotional intellligence might become very overwhelming. It did for me. It was a turbulent time. But with a mother like you – he is in very safe hands.

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