One of my biggest struggles when I first became a parent was to try and figure out how I was going to spread out the attention, affection, love and understanding to my children. I was young when we had our first child, in my mid-20’s. That doesn’t mean we were bad parents but it certainly means you still have some maturity to gain. That being the case, when my first child was born we seemed like we were ready. I had to come to terms with the fact that my wife was no longer the only center of affection it had to be shared. That wasn’t hard and it was immediately clear we both felt the same way about this and we were happy to be parents.
Each successive pregnancy, though, I was more and more worried about it. My concern was that with another child . . . then twins . . . I wouldn’t be able to be fair in everything we did. You come to terms, very quickly, with the fact that you give attention as it’s needed and when the kids ask for it. If you try to keep track and give equal amounts all the time you drive yourself insane because you never keep track.
The best case in point is with the kids’ birthdays.
My oldest had gigantic birthday parties. My wife, Andrea, made birthday parties a priority. Her first birthday we rented out the community building at our apartment complex. One year we had a “mystery” party at our house that also included a fancy cake, presents, a bounce house . . . and cost us a ton of money. The birthday before Andrea passed away we took my daughter to one of those dinner mystery/theater places with a bunch of her high school friends.
My middle daughter varied. Some of that was her choice . . . one year it was just a couple friends. Others it was her entire class at the Laser Tag facility or going to the amusement park.
For my sons, though, those parties have been hit and miss. One year we went to the city’s “Fairytale Town” and they had cake inside King Arthur’s Castle and their friends came. It was our first year in California. Another year, as a shared day for all the kids we went to Six Flags in Vallejo. But for the most part, the majority of birthdays in their now eleven years were just family events.
My sons had the worst time three years ago, their 8th birthday. Their Mom, my wife, passed away at the end of March. Their birthday is two weeks into April. So in the depths of realizing their mother wasn’t here they had to sit through their birthday, then Easter, then Mother’s Day just weeks after losing her. It wasn’t pretty. I had family over, both sets of grandparents, and it all went off. I made a cake, though I don’t remember what kind.
This year I wanted to let them have something different. I don’t know why, but it just seemed like they should. This year they were doing the movies.
I called the theater chain and they were able to invite a few friends, though only two came due to the proximity to Easter. We showed up and the theater took their candy orders, they each got a hot dog, and then gave us all a tour of the projection rooms. The kids saw what it takes to change a projector bulb, even.
Then they took us to reserved seats in the theater.
We watched Captain America. I had gotten the boys each shirts – one with Cap’n’s shield, the other with the Avengers . . . and they wore them proudly. We watched the movie, went out, thanked their friends, then went home and had cake and ice-cream. They opened their presents . . . and my parents were in town for them, too. When they heard that morning that their grandparents were coming they said, in unison: “that’s the best present we get today!”
I don’t normally worry about sharing the wealth and the attention. It happens as it needs to happen. But this day, just for one day, I felt like I’d finally evened things out. They finally got they day they deserved to have a few years ago. No, it wasn’t fancy, it wasn’t expensive, even. (It was cheaper than it would have been to do it at home and there was no cleanup!)
It wasn’t about the stuff. It’s never been about the stuff. It’s not about love or affection, either. It was about me wanting to make sure I did something for the boys because, to be honest, they deserved it.
And when the day was over they thanked me, sincerely and lovingly . . . and that was all I needed, really.