Our Big Baby A recently turned nine this October. We wanted to have a fun and memorable birthday party for her, of course, and I just realized that I was the one who seemed to be the most excited about it! I couldn’t believe how many times I had changed plans for her birthday celebration already, trying to come up with a small-budget Disney Princess-like ball. By the time I thought things were already perfect, I’ve already done enough, and everyone’s happy with what I finally came up with, however, I started facing new dilemmas.
The first has something to do with the fact that she’s my daughter, my firstborn. That means I would love nothing than for her to enjoy her ninth birthday even if we didn’t have a budget for the kind of party we (or at least, I) wanted for her. I wanted so much of of what I had envisioned to become a reality and see her so happy! So when my husband pledged an amount for us to spend on her party, I immediately set to work, looking up both suppliers and DIY materials for the party.
Big Baby A wanted to celebrate her birthday either at her school or at a fast food restaurant, such as McDonald’s, with her whole class. However, when she started to get all wrapped up as well in planning her own party that she began to lose focus on her studies and became irritable toward her younger sister, my husband and I thought it best to set lay down some criteria (mainly good behavior plus good grades) for her to abide before she could have her party. It was an all or nothing deal and we made that clear to her.
Every day, I would remind her of our agreement. It was good that the school year’s second quarter was about to end then; report cards were to be issued a few days just before her birthday. She did not meet the minimum mark that we had set, but she must have prayed so hard that she was among the few who received an award for academic excellence for that grading period. I was pleasantly surprised, of course, but that somehow presented another dilemma.
You see, since we were rather tight on the budget, I thought we could use the extra money on more important things instead. I had already started to plan an alternative to the birthday celebration I originally had in mind, like dinner for three (my daughters and myself) at one of our favorite restaurants and shopping for the things that she needs, such as new clothes and shoes since most of her stuff no longer fit her well. On the other hand, because receiving an award for academic excellence is still an achievement, I wanted to involve more people in the birthday celebration that we’ve been planning.
In the end, my husband and I decided that we’d still throw a party for Big Baby A, i.e., with some guests; after all, we already have some money set aside for it. We had to make her understand, however, that it wouldn’t be the kind of party that she had anticipated; rather, it would be much simpler and would involve only the people closest to us, since she did not meet the marks we had agreed on. Thankfully, it wasn’t difficult for her to accept our decision. She didn’t resist at all and that made me really happy as a parent.
On Sunday before her birthday, we had a pool, pizza and ice cream party at my eldest brother’s place. We did not invite anyone outside our family circle. Since my nieces and nephews are now 14 to 26 years old, that made my daughters the only kids in that kiddie pool party. Nevertheless, they still enjoyed the day while my eldest brother, sister, and myself experimented with some seafood and kitchen gadgets in my brother’s condo’s tiny kitchen. Despite the simplicity, we had so much fun and we all went home that night exhausted yet happy.
Monday came, which was the day before Big Baby A’s birthday. I knew she was very happy with the party we threw for her and she was delighted with all the presents she received. However, it seemed like something’s amiss. Of course, she did not have a birthday cake at her pool party, I thought! So I bought her one in the afternoon, and early on Tuesday morning, her birthday, I prepared spaghetti too.
We had them for breakfast, thinking that would finally cheer her up, especially as she complained about having to go to school on her birthday. This was the first time we ever had a birthday celebration of some sort first thing in the morning, and I really wanted to see her all smiles. Since Little Baby Z was still too sleepy to sing, my husband (on Skype) and I were the only ones to sing her Happy Birthday. Hearing her father’s singing finally made her smile.
At that moment, I finally realized what’s missing. It was my husband. All the planning, the spending, even the fun activities I have orchestrated were somehow part of an attempt to mask my husband’s physical presence in our home. It wasn’t really all just about my daughter(s), and I knew deep inside that it’s the main reason I always tried to go out of my way to bring my daughters to places, meet other kids, and have them try new activities. True enough, as I asked my daughter why she seemed unhappy again before she left for school, she simply replied, “I wish Daddy’s home on my birthday. It was okay if I didn’t have a party or a birthday cake. All I wanted was for Daddy to be home.”
On occasions such as this, the fact that my husband is away from us, working abroad, becomes more glaring than ever. And to make the day more emotionally charged, my husband sent me a YouTube video of Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” in response to the video of our daughter blowing the candles on her cake that morning, which I emailed him after she left for school. Watching it instantly prompted me to shed a bucket of tears.
My daughter went home that day happier though. She recounted that as she entered the class, her classmates started singing her a birthday song. Some of her friends were very thoughtful to wrap small gifts for her and write her birthday wishes too.
As a family of an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker), our relatives and friends are a great source of strength to us. We decided to hold a simple post-birthday celebration then with some of our closest friends yesterday – this time, an hour of games at TimeZone. After attending church service at noon, we had late lunch and spent the whole afternoon at the mall with a fellow OFW family, who also happens to be Christians and our friends from the church we formerly attend.
While playing, my daughters would say, “I wish Daddy’s here!… We used to play this game together; he’d love this!” Only this time, they were smiling, knowing that things will be all right, and we’re no longer trying to mask our longing for someone. Moreover, we were with people who understand exactly what we’re going through, even when we didn’t say anything at all. ❤