Happy Birthday to Who??

http://gty.im/508548475  Our daughter’s second birthday party was a major undertaking. The guest list quickly went up to forty people with friends, family and kids.  Ten more humans and you’ve got a small wedding.  ‘Just have the kids at some party place and you’re done,’ mom said. I promised myself before she was born that I wouldn’t do a lot of things I’ve ended up doing, but I will fight using THOSE PLACES as long as possible. We could do a party with family and one with kids. My problem was I only had the funds and the energy for one big production per customer.

Do I rent a local hall like we did for her first birthday?  The two weekends after her birthday were booked which could have pushed me into the next month. Neurotic me forgot – our girl was too young to know the difference!  Could we stop fretting and just chill out?  Of course not, don’t be silly.  My in-laws hadn’t seen our house.  Considering we moved four years ago, this was as good a time as any to have everyone over. (With all of this agony over just getting out the invites, those party places can be appealing.)  Now we get to turn our attention to the house.  How many people are coming?  Whose bright idea was this?  Oh yeah, mine.

Throwing a birthday party for our little princess would have been enough work if that was all we had going on.  The trouble began with a soggy summer which found its way into our basement.  After several episodes with buckets, shop vacs, and words I can’t say around my daughter, we called a contractor.

We discovered that our basement needed to be waterproofed.  This meant that roughly, a small apartment’s worth of crap (aka the entire basement) had to be emptied.  What wasn’t thrown out or donated was piled into one half of our garage. Once that work was completed, what came up must go back down – and before the party.  We were planning to set up the tables, chairs, and buffet out there.  When it was clear that we were short on time and long on work to do, not knowing any better, I asked my mother to help.  Mom, not knowing any better, agreed.

“Help” from my mom is frequently painful. Thus began a project that became as much fun as a root canal. We started to work and suddenly, I became my dad.  “You guys have too much stuff.” “You need to go through everything and make sure you want what you’re putting back.”  I thought the ‘No S**t, Sherlock ’ was implied, so I kept quiet, slowly boiling, just like dad.     You’d think I’d be used to my mother’s condescending behavior when it comes to my housekeeping by now. It was the re-cleaning of things and needless rearranging that wasted time, and it was all done with the air of ‘you don’t know how to throw a party’. Talk about maddening.

She looked at the living room, which my spouse and I had reasonably cleaned up and said “This is ok with you??”.  This was followed by other remarks like ‘I want to be proud when people come here.’ (Glad to see I’m an embarrassment.)  My husband didn’t have to ask if I had a bad day with mom, he could see how much wine was gone when he got home.

This masochism continued until the garage was emptied and went right on through to the actual birthday party prep.  Why not just say ‘screw this’ and go to a party place?  I felt that paying someone else for bad pizza and a balloon or two is, in a sense, admitting defeat (and a rip-off).  ‘What’s wrong?’, my ego would say, ‘Couldn’t get the house together?’.  My inner critic, along with my mother, needed to put a sock in it.   For a preschooler’s party, the only ones who would know the difference are mommy and daddy – and daddy, wisely, doesn’t care!

All the guests were going to be in the garage and maybe the kitchen.  My spouse scrubbed the garage floor, vacuumed the upstairs, and shampooed the downstairs rugs?!  My mother objected and called scrubbing the garage floor a ‘waste of time’. Marriage has taught me to never stop a man from voluntarily cleaning anything.    Like any party that takes a huge amount of preparation, it was over in a heartbeat.  Funny thing about my guests, after all the cleaning mom and I did, the one complement I got was on how clean our garage floor was!

I probably offended some people by not stopping to chat with everyone. I expected to hear about that from mom. I heard nothing, and for the first week, I enjoyed it. I needed a vacation from my mom and she probably felt the same. The aftermath was probably a letdown for our daughter but for me, it was a relief. Mom’s refusal to return my phone calls after her vacation was tiring.  Like my daughter’s tantrums, I try not to pay attention to the drama since that only makes things worse.  She and her mom-mom have a lot in common.

Mom really worked hard and did a great job. Feeling grateful, however, was like trying to hug a porcupine. Mom didn’t see that the endless barrage of criticism of me and my house made me feel powerless in my own home.  It really obscured my view of her as a well meaning person – which she is.     I did get a gift I hadn’t planned on.  Mom and I finally had a chat.  I told her that our daughter is accepted for who she is as she is, and I wished I was, too.  This got mom thinking – Wow!  Criticism and non-acceptance, who’d have thought they were related?

This is just another unbuffered attempt of us trying to deal with each other since my sister’s passing.   We agreed to disagree on some things and we’d both try to work on others.  I explained that our priorities are different for a reason.  While I understand that she’s ‘trying to help’, spending time with her grandchild is way more important to me than emptying my God damned dish strainer.  Soon enough, our girl will get her own buddies and we’ll all become embarrassments to her.   I don’t think mom knew how her “help” was really stressing me out. I don’t rearrange her house to my liking and it’s not appreciated here. I have no idea why it was so hard for me to remind my mother this was not her house and that I do, in fact, clean it.

What is it about parent-adult child relationships that makes boundaries so horribly awkward?  I was really glad we talked, not screamed at, each other.  These chats are never easy but always worth it.  My mom is a library of family memories and my daughter’s best buddy.  Who wants to waste that?   For those who are still lucky  – and I still mean that – lucky enough to have a parent still alive, treasure them; maybe even throw them a birthday party – at their house.

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