Today is our oldest daughter’s 17th birthday. She would tell you that, historically, her birthdays have not been good days for her. Yes, she has had many good birthday parties through the years, but to a 17 year old, memories are fleeting and the latest happenings are how you define your life.
To me, her 17th birthday is a milestone I will treasure, because her birthdays have seen more than their fair share of heartache and disappointment.
Starting with when she was born. I was alone in the hospital, no baby daddy, no parents, no family. We left the hospital to go to my mother’s house, who was out of town for the weekend. It was the end of May, which meant 100 degree weather, and the AC went out. We spent countless hours walking the aisles of Kmart trying to cool off. She was 5 days old before her dad would meet her.
Fast forward through years of birthdays that were mostly good, whether her dad was sober or not for the actual day varied by year, to her 9th or 10th birthday (years run together sometimes). We were separated at the time, but he promised he would be at her party, with the one thing she wanted most, a skateboard. We waited. Waited to cut the cake, waited to open gifts. Finally, we couldn’t wait any longer. No daddy. But, I told her, he left his gift with me, just in case he couldn’t make it. The skateboard. The one I had bought, just in case. The one I had wrapped in different wrapping paper from the other gifts that were from me. Because, you see, the most important thing was for my daughter to never doubt that her daddy loved her more than anything and would give her the world, if only he knew how.
After that, she stopped expecting him at her birthdays. If he was there, it was great, if not, the biggest gift was always from him. I have to stop right now and say, if you are in the middle of this struggle, do whatever it takes to never say a harsh word about your child’s other parent. They know that you are doing this all alone. They know that the card from “daddy” is in your handwriting. And they know that you love them enough to do that for them. And that you care about their hearts enough to know that no matter what you may feel about the other parent, they love that person unconditionally.
Our daughter would tell you that this is the first good birthday she’s had in recent years. On her 15th birthday, we were rear-ended on our way to get breakfast and it rained all day.
Her 16th birthday party was great. Family came in from all over the country and we had a wonderful weekend together. But work called me out of town for her actual birthday and she was left home with a dad who had just had a major relapse and two sisters to take care of. She was left alone to deal with a drunk father, grandparents who didn’t believe he was drinking again, and two little sisters to protect from the reality of a relapse. She was left alone to deal with my husband’s anger when I called him and told him the girls were going to stay with an aunt. She was left alone to figure out how to come home long enough to pack clothes for herself and her sisters without waking her passed out dad. She was left. Alone. I did that.
Yes, we had amazing aunts and cousins who stepped in to help. But her mom left her alone… right in the middle of her world falling apart. On her 16th birthday.
But I’m losing focus (and maybe your attention)…because today is about a milestone in my girl’s life. Today is about her 17th birthday. A day that she spent with her boyfriend and friends. And her family. And I was here. And my husband was here. And he is sober. And he is engaged. And he is present. And I’m not apologizing for what she’s having to go through. And I’m not having to make excuses for her dad.
No child should have to live through life with an addicted parent. My heart has broken for our girls so many times over the years. Because there are days in your child’s life that you can never give them back. Days that alcohol or drugs or abuse will steal forever. Life events that should be happy occassions that will forever be ruined. I don’t minimize or speak lightly of the other 16 birthdays my girl has lived through when I say this, but I do say this…
Today, on her 17th birthday, her daddy is sober. He is here. He hugged her. He told her how much he loves her and how proud he is of her. He posted pictures on Facebook of them together. He joked and laughed with her. And that is all he can do. Because he can never make up for those other birthdays. He can’t erase those memories. But what he can do…what he is doing…is replacing those memories with new ones. With loving ones. With memories of the two of them sharing an inside joke. With memories of a birthday dinner where no one had to worry if daddy had too much to drink. He is living his ammends. Today. And everyday.
And that may seem small looking from the outside in. But it’s not small. It’s huge. And it’s enough.