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And many more….

November 25, 2009

Last year, when we were still separated but not divorced, I took the kids over to their dad’s house and decorated it with streamers and a banner on his birthday.  It was an old habit, born of the fact that I love to be fussed over on my birthday (and seldom am) and he does not particularly care to be fussed over on his (but was, relentlessly, during his marriage to me).  I baked a cake from scratch.  The kids cut up a bunch of old National Geographics (the younger one snuck a picture of a naked baby’s ass in among the camels and iguanas, and wrote “Ha!  Ha!  Ha!” next to it) to make huge posters, which we hung in the entryway to the dining room.  There were balloons.  And presents, though I don’t remember what mine was.  A book, perhaps.  Probably a book.

A couple of months later, the night before my birthday, my older son called his father to ask for help getting my present.  A few minutes after the phone call, I got an email.  “Oh, hey, I forgot it’s your birthday tomorrow,” it said.  “I can take the kids if you want to go out or something.”

There’s a frisson of pure delight when a pending ex does something boneheaded like forget your birthday after a million years together, especially if you spend most of your time feeling hideously guilty for leaving him. Still, I made excuses in my head. He’s absent-minded. I always kept track of birthdays when we were together. And besides, the year before, we separated two days before I turned forty, so perhaps he had a mental block. This is an advanced and not very charitable form of having it both ways: because I am loath to give up my prerogative both to resent and to forgive, I manage to take the high and low roads simultaneously.

This year, on the high road, I made sure the kids had presents and cards ready, and I baked another cake. I did not decorate his house–ever since our ancient dog’s deeply symbolic demise (she was a wedding present), I don’t go over there unless I have to. Instead, I set up a little table near my front door with the cake and the kids’ gifts and cards all propped around, so he’d see it first thing when he came to pick them up.

And I bought him a book. But the inscription defeated me. I got as far as “To X, on his birthday” and then sat there, pen in hand. Inscriptions in books are, to me, a big deal. I love when people write in books they give me, and I think carefully about what I write in books I give away. The hardest thing about removing my ex-husband’s books from our mutual bookcase was rereading the inscriptions I’d written over the years on his birthday, at Christmas, on our various anniversaries, and remembering what it felt like to mean them.

In the end I wrote “with affection and admiration, always.” And signed it with love. What the hell.

The low road? Though he hugged me awkwardly, and seemed genuinely pleased with his little table of presents, including mine, and texted me later to say that he and the kids were just finishing the cake, which was delicious, he wrote me an all-business email first thing the next morning, in which he mentioned nothing and didn’t thank me. And I noticed, and was miffed. Just typing that makes me cringe. No one likes the low road–least of all the petty, uncharitable person who persists in taking it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 13, 2010 9:40 pm

    I got a chuckle out of this post, only because I endured something similar this past summer with my birthday, and my ex-husband. He had committed to coming to town and picking up our daughters the day after my birthday, at which point he would keep them for his annual week long summer visit. The day after my birthday came and went, and he never appeared, and the girls were devastated that they’d been stood up.

    When I finally got ahold of him, he had the nerve to be mad, and then say to me “your birthday is August 28th!” my response: “No, my birthday is August 27th, August 28th was the wedding date with your first wife, butthead”

    Can’t live with him…. but if I shoot him, no more child support. LOL!

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