Yesterday was, as I've posted for the past few days, my daughter's thirteenth birthday. It was a big deal for me, not just because she's my daughter, but because I had her on the actual day. Being the non-custodial parent, unless I have my kids when a special occasion happens to fall on the weekend they’re with me, my getting to celebrate something with them either happens just before or just after the day itself.
Sometimes I get to do all the stuff that leads up to a special day with my kids, even if I don't have them on the day itself. Hallowe'en is a great example. My wasband is, for reasons unknown to me, unenthusiastic when it comes to having fun with the kids. Cruising thrift stores and putting together Hallowe'en costumes does not rank on his list of make-time-for-it activities. It generally falls to me to make sure costumes, make-up, accessories, etc are assembled, although I have only once gotten to take them out trick or treating since we split up. Same as pumpkin carving. The only reason my kids have ever gotten to make their own jack-o-lanterns is because I buy a few pumpkins and let them each have a go. My wasband buys one, the kids make suggestions about what kind of face it should have, then he carves it for them. He doesn't think letting them handle knives is a good idea. I don’t think preventing them from handling knives will make them less likely to cut themselves, so I’d rather teach them how to use one. But, as I have been known to say, that’s a different tale for a different time.
Wasband never fails to buy the birthday kid a gift. This year was the year of the cell phone, finally, and I was genuinely happy for her. I make less than half of what wasband makes. It’s a gift that just wouldn't be in my budget. When we were together as a family and on a single income, for me it was more about the gift of my time. I was known for making elaborate cakes (hello, Bratz doll ballgown cake, complete with edible pearl and silver beads, and ropes of coloured marzipan ribbons on rolled fondant layered skirts) and indulging impossibly crazy birthday party ideas. (Dress like a rock star, decorate the basement like a club, download some karaoke songs and video tape all the “acts”, then burn them to DVDs as a souvenir for the loot bags? Done.) I know they’re older now, but the idea of celebrating birthdays, as opposed to giving a gift and letting the day pass, seems to remain with me – I’m not sure they even get a cake at their dad’s house.
So, this year, Maddie has talked for weeks about a Blue’s Clues birthday party theme, on the phone, on FB, on the past couple of weekends she's been in Toronto. She is obsessed. I printed millions of colouring pages for our trip to the cottage this past summer, and she asked for pictures of Blue and Magenta. Her Twitter handle is a variation on the name of the show. Her older sister, from her dad’s first marriage, lives in the basement apartment at their house, and just got Netflix; Maddie is glued to the original episodes. When she (hesitantly) broached the subject at school with one friend, a few others who were listening dove in proclaiming their love for the show, and it quickly became "OMG THAT'S AWESOME YOU SHOULD TOTALLY DO THAT". That solidified it for my daughter. And consequently, for me.
Stephen and I couldn't find Blue’s Clues party supplies anywhere. Six dollar stores. Two Walmarts. Two party stores. A Toys R’ Us. Nothing. Undaunted, we went with blue streamers and other party decorations. I made a round cake and four cupcakes, iced in light blue, to look like a pawprint. The four of us sang the song and did the birthday dance. Maddie adored it. Teared up, even.
All too soon, her birthday was over and I had to take them back to meet their dad at our Sunday pick-up/drop-off spot. Maddie was in the back seat, stuffing the last cupcake into her mouth and I mentioned to wasband that we’d had a Blue’s Clues birthday party. His reaction surprised me.
“What, are you trying to relive the days you were a stay-at-home mom by making her feel like she was six years old again?”
But that wasn't the worst of it.
The worst of it was my three kids and I looking at him, thinking, “How can you not know Maddie loves Blue’s Clues?”
I have gone through, if you will pardon the cliché, a roller coaster of emotions directed at my wasband in the four years I have not lived with my children. I have been angry. I have been bitter. I have been bewildered. And, for the first time in four years, yesterday I found it in my heart to feel sorry for him. As the primary custodial parent, who could know simply by talking to them the likes and moods of his children, and he actively chooses not to know?
You have my pity.
One day, I hope you’ll understand why.