A mother's disappointment

When your family forgets your birthday ...
When your family forgets your birthday ... Photo: Getty Images

I started to cry in the car on the way to school. Big, fat tears rolled down my face, smudging my mascara, making it hard to see the road. "Are you okay, Mummy?" my 11-year-old asked fretfully. I wiped my eyes. I hated crying in front of her.

"I'm fine," I said. "Honestly. Don't worry about it." But the tears kept leaking out. My daughter looked unhappy.

"I'm sorry you're so sad!" she told me, and I knew she meant it. My daughter is very kind.

"I feel like I deserve one special day per year" … Kerri Sackville.
"I feel like I deserve one special day per year" … Kerri Sackville. Photo: Damian Bennett

"It's okay," I replied, and I tried to pull myself together. My god, I was being ridiculous! It wasn't as if something calamitous had occurred. I was being stupid and childish. And yet I couldn't stop weeping.

"You sad because we didn't do your birthday?" my five-year-old girl chirped from the back seat.

And then the tears came in earnest. "No one cares!" I bawled, still clutching the steering wheel. "I look after all of you kids and Daddy and no one even brought me a cup of tea this morning! I didn't even get a card!"

"But I don't know how to make tea," said my five-year-old, reasonably.

"That's not the point!" I cried. "Daddy knows how to make tea!"

"So you sad because Daddy didn't make you a cup of tea?" she asked.

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"No! I don't want tea! I don't even feel like tea!"

"Then why you so sad, Mummy?"

"Because you all forgot my birthday!" I sobbed. And then we arrived at school.

I knew that my birthday wasn't going to be a big deal this year. After all, I turned 44, which is hardly what you'd call a "milestone" birthday. (Forty is significant, but then each subsequent birthday is just another year closer to a seniors card.) Still, I did expect some kind of acknowledgment of my 45th year on earth. A card. A cupcake. A cappuccino. An a cappella rendition of Happy Birthday. An interpretive dance. A bunch of flowers. Anything to make me feel just a tiny bit pampered.

I'm a big believer in celebrations, in whatever form they come. I have wept at weddings where I've never even met the bride. I get goosebumps watching the graduations of students I don't know. I join in singing Happy Birthday for complete strangers in restaurants. Even socially constructed occasions like Mother's Day and Father's Day are worthy of a card.

I am passionate about celebrations, not because I am a fluff-and-bubbles kind of girl – far from it. I have found life to be difficult, and full of suffering much of the time. And it is this that leads me to seek out joy whenever I can. Whether it's a birthday or wedding, a new baby or an anniversary, if there is an excuse for a celebration, I want to take it and flog it for all it's worth.

What's more, I feel like I deserve one special day per year. I work hard looking after my family and I give and give and give. And for one day only, I would like to be on the receiving end of all that devotion.

Now please don't get me wrong – it is not about the gifts. There is nothing at all that I actually need. I mean, a handbag would be nice, or a vintage typewriter, or some new shoes. (A pair of baby-pink ugg boots would be particularly awesome.) But they're just things, and I can live without more things. What I really want is to feel valued as a person. What I really want is to be cared for by the people I love.

I cried in the car because I felt nobody cared. It wasn't specifically the cup of tea I wanted. What I wanted was what that cup of tea would have represented - an effort on my family's part to make me feel happy.

After a few hours of feeling tragic, I calmed myself down. I met my parents for breakfast, then met a friend and ate chocolate cake. Later, at home, I was comforted by Facebook messages and texts. And by evening, my family had redeemed themselves, as I had known deep down they eventually would.

My daughter greeted me after school with a massive hug, and helped me around the house all afternoon. My son enlisted his grandfather to help him buy flowers, and was considerate and obliging until bedtime. My five-year-old sang me a delightful song, and then thoughtfully offered to eat all of my leftover cake. And my husband phoned me three times during the day, and arrived home with chocolates and a gift.

So I felt much better, and just a little ashamed. Why did I make such a fuss about a date on a calendar? I was 44 years old, not 14. Weren't there far more important things to worry about?

Well, yes and no. On the one hand, my kids are healthy, I have friends and family who love me, and I have everything material I need. Neglected birthdays are absolutely a first-world problem and I am lucky to be in a position where they matter.

But life is so short, and we never know what's around the corner. I want to celebrate the good stuff when I can. And besides, birthdays still come but once a year. A cup of tea and a card isn't all that much to ask for.

Follow Kerri Sackville on Twitter: @KerriSackville.

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