When your children are small, birthdays are easy. There's a TV show or a movie that they're hooked into, so decorations and gifts are simple. There are a handful of friends that they like to play with, so you invite them, and --- WHAM --- happiness abounds.
As they get older, it gets a little trickier, because character decorations are NOT cool, and the 2 or 3 friends that they seem incapable of living without are easy company, because they spend the entire time they're together as far away from you as possible.
Now, I have adult children. And one of them has a birthday today. I've spent the last week, week and a half pleading with her to tell me what she wanted as gifts, if she wanted a cake, what she wanted to do. She didn't know, she didn't know, she didn't know. Maybe get some of her Atlanta friends together and go to Six Flags. But I never saw or heard her trying to get in touch with anyone.
Finally, she said that all she wanted was money. She told her friends via Facebook that she wanted cash. I knew this was going to be a bit of an issue with her brother, who never has any disposable cash, but I figured he'd somehow manage a card or something.
This morning, when I got up, I went to Starbucks and got her favorite coffee. I gave it to her when I got back, along with a check for a good chunk of change. We called her brother, told him to come on over, and we'd get the day started.
He came over grumpy and empty-handed. The discussion about where to eat went on FORever. People were out of sorts before we even got there, and, once seated, he said something (I didn't hear it) that had her threatening to go wait in the car. It was a quiet, tense meal.
Afterward, she decided she wanted a cake from Baskin Robbins, and on the drive over there, she started sobbing. "I only got one thing for my birthday. One thing. And it wasn't what I really wanted." What did she really want?
Barely able to breathe, she went through how empty she has felt since last October, when we lost Esmeralda. That she's tried to fill the hole with all sorts of things, and they didn't work. She just wanted a kitten.
My mother's cat, Riley, spends every waking moment following Hannah around, waiting for her to come back when she goes downstairs. I reminded her of that, but to no avail. We were at Baskin Robbins now, and she wouldn't even get out of the car. I just pulled a cake out of the freezer, paid for it, and we came home.
Where she started crying again. And Briton had heard enough, and got violently angry about how dirty the house is with the animals we have already, and that she'd better not bring another one in. She reminded him, forcefully, that he no longer lived here. He said he knew that, that he really wasn't even part of the family anymore.
I had to physically stop her from pouring a drink on his head, at one point she stood up on the coffee table to shout her position. . . It was just about as ugly as it's ever gotten around here. Now he has left, she has escaped to her room, and I'm left, as always, wondering where in the world I went wrong, what I can do to help either of them, or maybe if, since they are both now in their 20s, it's time for me to step off and let them hurt, trusting that the pain won't be permanent and that they have the tools to manage it.