The day before my son’s first birthday, me and my husband had a huge fight. Proven fact: even if you have lived in perfect peace before having kids, you will find many, many reasons to fight after… and this was one of those times.
Long story short, my son was being difficult, and my husband, exasperated by prolonged whining and resistance, lost his temper with the child, who immediately escalated into full-blown hysterics. I was working in our home office; terrified by the screams, I ran upstairs to check what was happening and was appalled when I saw the scene before me. Admittedly, I said (or rather screamed) something that wasn’t very nice to my husband’s face. Then I rescued the child, calmed him down as best I could and got him into bed for his nap, fuming all the time but trying not to show it to him at least. During the rest of the day, I tried to bring up the topic with my husband again several times, but it only led to more and more disagreement between us, because he — as it seemed to me — just didn’t realize how bad that incident was.
In the end, I had an emergency at work and ended up working late and well past my son’s bedtime, then dropped into bed myself, exhausted. Next morning, I woke up and realized it was my son’s birthday. Which I expected to be tomorrow. Because of the fight and working late, I mixed up the dates and the day was actually upon me.
I planned to do a cheesecake and decorate the whole apartment the night before, I specifically bought a set of flags and balloons to hang up. We didn’t invite any guests because our child was still too small and, well, because of the effing Covid-19. But we did plan to have a nice quiet birthday, with a great present and a home-made cake and…
I blew it.
I rushed into the kitchen and started throwing together a no-bake-cheesecake which went into the fridge, while I went to do the decorations, all with my husband giving me silent treatment and an evil eye and finally, reluctantly, lending a hand.
While my son was stuffing his face with my pathetic excuse for a cheesecake, happy as a clam and up to his ears in sweet cream, I was crying inside. I just felt so guilty.
I blew my son’s very first birthday. I failed him.
He was sitting there completely and blissfully unaware of that, having forgotten the day before as only happy children can, his plump hands sticky and clutching the fork which he unsuccessfully tried to use, helping himself with the whole palm of his hand when he failed.
Those hands were still almost as tiny as the day he was born — or so it seemed to me. I wondered briefly what it was with children’s hands — why they seemed to be so disproportional, so tiny? How long till they are no more baby-like? A lot of people seem to be obsessed with baby feet — but with my son, it was always those tiny, plump hands that did it for me.
Mother’s guilt is probably the first thing that comes to many women, even before they feel anything else for the baby. Am I doing it right? Am I hurting him? Did I dress him all wrong and now he’s too cold/warm? Do I have enough milk? Am I terrible that I want to sleep train and so let him cry?
The difference is, in those cases, there’s at least some doubt. But in my case, there was none. I forgot the date, because I was tired and frustrated. I was unprepared. I had to do a last-minute cake that was crap. (My son, who hardly tasted any sugar at all before, was nevertheless in seventh heaven — but guilt doesn’t take that into consideration).
However, in the end, you just have to let go.
Perhaps someday I will look at those pictures from the first birthday of my only child and only have happy memories. Or perhaps I’ll always feel this bitter taste of having failed. Of not being good enough for him.
But even when we fail, we can only pick up the pieces and move on. Because life does.