ED: This was originally transcribed on February 9, 2009. Due to a lack of internet bug going round my apartment, I was unable to post it. I also forgot to post it while I was at work on more than one occasion.
I usually take a pretty hard stance against the celebration, or even acknowledgment, of birthdays and other religious/popular holidays that are centered around family.
I can’t really honestly state that “birthdays aren’t that big of a deal in my family” without wincing from the sheer untruth of the statement. That’s not entirely the case.
Birthdays et. al are kind of a big deal, at least they were until I hit the age of about 8. That was around the time I realised that my parents’ separation was definitely not a “We’re just working through some issues so that we can be a family again”-thing and more of a “we’re laying claims on shit like it’s a game of Risk”-thing.
My parent’s relationship was so bad at that point that they weren’t even on speaking terms and I acutally cancelled my own birthday party because I couldn’t deal with the stress of picking just one house to host the event. Every little thing, not matter how inconsequential seemed to lead to another vicious, albeit hushed, verbal battle. I felt like more of a burden than anything.
I’m an only child, so there wasn’t really anyone to comiserate with, and at the time most of my friends’ parents were still happily married. It wasn’t until high school that the split between my friend with divorced parents and those without was about 50:50.
In the years that followed my parents were in a constant battle to best each other. I ended up with a lot of material posessions that I didn’t need or want, and I threw myself into my club basketball team – because it meant that I spent weekends out of the city and away from the drama. I was a busy kid, and I got so involved in basketball and track that I had a practice/game/or meetup scheduled every night of the week.
I became involved in Students’ Council and with all my IB classes, I hardly spent any time at home. I resented my parents equally at the time, but it gradually shifted to my mother exclusively over time for a variety of reasons that I won’t go into at this time.
I hate surprises, and birthdays and other traditional gift-giving holidays are fraught with them. I can’t not know what’s going to happen next, how I should react and being prepared for every possible situation. With my aunts and uncles, a simple list would take care of the element of surprise – not so with my parents, my mother especially.
I never quite know what she’s thinking, about who I am, or the person that she thinks I am. Our every interaction is a reminder that all that time I spent out of the house growing up stunted our relationship; she knew everything about me up until I hit the double digits.
I cancelled my birthday party and any mention of it thereafter because I was seriously concerned that if I didn’t, everyone would forget. I thought it best to control the situation, and remove myself from it rather than risk getting hurt – even at a young age, I was a manipulative piece of work.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my mom was (and had always been) seriously depressed. Depression runs in her family, her mother had it, and killed herself because of it when my mom was in middle school. It’s at its worst around January/February, something I also didn’t find out until years later.
After my parents separated, my mom moved to Toronto for work for a while and I got a lot closer to my dad. I sympathised with his situation and started to blame my mom for the breakdown of their marriage and I really started to loathe her. It was surprisingly easy to blame her whenever anything ever went wrong, or more specifically, didn’t go my way.
After her stint in Toronto, our relationship was more fragile than it had ever been, and I alternated between being so angry at her that we wouldn’t talk for weeks to just ignoring her out of spite – my mother is an attention whore, nothing tortures her more than not being the centre of attention. I was living with my father two weeks on, two weeks off as per the custody agreement.
Once I started high school, my mother started taking a few weeks vacation mid-January/early-February and she just started not being around on my birthday and the years slipped by. By the time I was nineteen, my mom actually got her act together and sent me (or had someone from her office) send me a gift that was to arrive on my birthday. I looked at the card, and she had gotten my age wrong in the inscription. She called me from Punta Cana or Cozumel to ensure that the package had arrived, and I confronted her about the mistake. She played it cool and avoided the question entirely. I think I was just trying to ascertain if she’d actually comissioned someone to take care of her motherly duties for her or if she’d actuallly picked something out for me herself.
That was the watershed moment in our relationship. I started viewing every emotional transaction with her with suspicious eyes, always looking for faults and evidence of deceit. She had cut me off financially on my birthday when I was seventeen, and emotionally over Easter, and I refused to take anything from her even after she’d gotten over all of that.
I want to say that I’m sad that I can’t really wholly enjoy my birthday or family holidays but I’m not. I kind of enjoy suffering in silence.