Last month we celebrated the birth of my husband. He got presents and we went out to lunch and we had cake. It was a good day, if exhausting, because toddler.
The night before his birthday, when we were talking about tomorrow being my husband’s birthday, our son (2.5 yo) starting talking about how he wanted presents too. We of course explained that no it’s daddy’s birthday and only daddy gets presents on his birthday. Our son was having none of this. He was pissed and he wanted presents.
When I was growing up, my maternal grandmother would make sure there were gifts for all three of us girls (myself, my sister and our mother) on all our birthdays. Usually the birthday person got two gifts and the other two got one. I’m not sure when this “tradition” started, but I have a feeling it began when I was around two and it was probably my mother’s birthday and I wanted presents and sweet jesus where were my presents and there was much screaming and raging from toddler me.
(I say this because my mother was an only child so it wasn’t a tradition from her childhood and my grandmother had nine or ten siblings and I am deeply doubtful that my great-grandmother make sure everyone had gifts on all the birthdays. Also, I was the only child of my parents for six years and the only grandchild on both sides for six years too. So, to say I got my way a LOT is probably a bit of an understatement.)
I related the story of everyone getting gifts when I was young to my son as I was changing his diaper that night. He, of course, thought this was a GREAT idea. And I did my best to explain to him why it wasn’t.
Because when it was *my* birthday, even though the cake was for me and I got two gifts instead of one, it didn’t really feel special. And my guess is this is probably true for my sister and was true for my mother too.
And because, it is important for those we love to feel special, at least one day of the year. That on one day of the year, the day is about them and what they want to to do. This is also still something I’m trying to teach our daughter as she tried to plan the entire day for my husband.
And the real truth is, for the first six years of my life, while also a lot of super shitty and traumatic things happened, I was also the center of the universe and really got almost anything I wanted when I wanted it.
This didn’t help me out very much when my younger sister was born. I had had zero preparation for not being the center of attention at all times. And honestly, this impacted our relationship for a very long time because suddenly I had to share and this was something I’d never really had to do before.
This is only one of the ways my family failed to teach me resilience. And it is a lesson that I am taking to heart for my own kids.
Because not matter how pissed my little guy was that my husband’s birthday is not about two year old him (and he declared several times that it was HIS birthday too and he needs presents too), he also needs to learn that not every moment of every day is about him. And he perhaps especially needs to learn this because he is a white male.
And the same is true for our daughter. She may want to do this or that to celebrate my husbands (or my) birthday, but the day isn’t about her. And if he (or I) don’t want to do what she thinks we should do, she needs to learn to be okay with that. I know that her planning is coming from a good place and I know that it is her way of giving, and still, the world will not end if a person says “no thank you.”
I feel like these are lessons a lot of us still need to learn: that it isn’t all about us and that we will survive if someone tells us “no thank you.” I’m still unraveling it all in myself, and there is nothing quite like being a 45-year old woman and feeling a temper tantrum coming on because I’m not getting my way. Thankfully, I have the frontal lobe connection and capacity to catch it and analyze it and learn from it. And it took a lot of work for me to get here.
All this to say, I believe we all (and I do include me in this) have a lot of work to do. And some of that work may show up as we teach our kids resilience. And some of it may show up as we fight for civil and reproductive rights and social justice. Because all of this is uncomfortable and challenging and even sometimes hard. And I believe we can do it and that we will make lots of mistakes along the way and we can learn from those mistakes if we allow ourselves to.
I’m stumbling right along side you. And I believe together we will figure it out.
If you’d like to be in circle with other women exploring the ideas and intersections of resilience and consent and boundaries, I invite to join Isabel Abbott and myself in our six month circle Body of Consent. We will begin on March 1 and we’d love to have you join us. You can learn more and register right here.
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