Sunday, June 16, 2013

Parents Day

Every 7 years Father's Day falls on my Mother's birthday and then, its time to celebrate Parents Day. I'm celebrating it this year with a short story about my parents who gave so much of themselves so that I could become the person God created me to be and also enjoy a fulfilling life.

"Is this how your birthday parties were?" he asked. We were sitting in the home of my cousin's family singing songs of praise and giving thanks to God as part of their son's graduation from high school. "I didn't have any birthday parties," I replied.  "What? No birthday parties?" He couldn't believe it. "Well, my English cousins had birthday parties when their mom was still with them. I remember celebrating a couple of those with party hats and firecrackers. But we didn't have any birthday parties," I replied. I could see the incredulity in his eyes. What kind of parents didn't celebrate their children's birthdays? He knew I didn't feel deprived and had enjoyed my childhood. I thought of all the American kids I knew whose parents put in a lot of thought, time, effort, and money to celebrate their children's birthdays every year. Often it didn't seem to matter to the kids. The kids still felt abandoned, alienated, isolated. How do I explain that there are better ways to raise a child than celebrating his or her birthday? What will convince the average American that an annual birthday celebration is unnecessary, an undreamed of and often unknown event for probably 5 billion, if not more, of the 7 billion people living on our planet?

I remembered the best birthday celebration I had ever enjoyed. It was not mine. It was the 16th or 17th birthday of a friend. He had invited 3 of his friends, one of whom was me, to come and have a slice of birthday cake, his treat, at the local bakery. It was an unusual birthday treat. We were in our final year of high school. Who knew what the future held? We would soon be entering college and I guess, he wanted to have a special celebration. Except, he and I did not know each other at all and had probably exchanged only a few words. In the last couple of years, we'd  noticed each other a lot, on the way to school and back from school. Often, we'd see each other waiting at the bus-stop at the same time but I was too shy to cross the small distance and talk even though he and my sisters did. Sometimes we'd even take the same bus. We always got off way before he did though since our private girl's school came first on the route. We were all kids from the same neighborhood, living within a mile radius of each other; in fact, the boys played ping pong (table tennis) and cricket in the clubhouse and grounds which were right across my home. Though my sisters were allowed to play there too, the club was forbidden territory to me. My mother was extremely protective of her oldest child and as a result I enjoyed much less freedom than any of my sisters, even the one who was just a year younger than I. An inveterate reader I quickly learned to find happiness in solitary activities. I loved biking and so off to the beach I would go on my bike every time I was allowed out. I had seen him on the beach on his bike too with his friend who lived much closer to the beach than he or I did. Once we had even raced each other with me victoriously winning that race and then, I'd chatted briefly with him too. This, though, was a momentous invitation. What had prompted him to invite me, a girl he barely knew? I was naive but I could dimly comprehend and I would have had to be a moron not to especially since I'd sensed the attraction myself. Besides my best friend had kept teasing me, "He likes you, he really does," she'd often say, "he keeps asking me about you all the time!" I'd brushed her teasing and the temptation aside as I could see the obstacles ahead so much more clearly than she. There was no future here, only heartbreak. Even at that young age I was a practical dreamer, more into lifelong happiness than momentary pleasure, needing my family's approval more than exploring or fulfilling my own needs, but I was also a kind teenager. I did not want to hurt his feelings. There were four of us there that day, my best friend, the birthday boy and his best friend, whom we'd nicknamed Egghead. I don't remember what kind of cake I had, how it tasted, what we talked or even if we had anything to drink with the cake. Still, the memory of that unique birthday celebration has not faded and to this day, I've never forgotten the love that prompted the gesture. I have tried to do the same myself upon occasion, not always successfully since this is so counter-cultural in the US.

I kept the whole thing a secret from my mother. She had already asked me not to talk to the boy or have anything to do with him. There had been shock and amazement in my mom's voice as she recounted how he'd come to our home one day. Apparently, he had just opened the compound gates, walked in and across the portico and stepped right up to the door and rung the bell one day. Mom had watched all this from the bedroom window. When the house-maid who answered the door told mother that he had asked for me, Mom had simply sent him away, saying I was not at home (even though I was). Mum was aghast by his temerity. "I don't want you to jave anything with that "bold boy," she said. I had simply nodded my head. He, though, had not given up. A few days later he telephoned. He had gotten my phone number from my best friend; her family and his were friends. As luck would have it, mummy picked up the phone but she didn't say no when he asked for me. She asked for his name and she handed the phone to me, saying, "tell him you are not allowed calls from him either." Anyway, I got to talk to him and receive the invitation. Naturally, I didn't tell my mom about accepting it. I wonder now what lie or excuse I made up. This is probably why I have such a poor memory of what we ate or talked also at the celebration itself. I was on high alert, watching out for who might see me with him and report back to my mother, besides worrying about how much trouble awaited me.

His birthday fell on a school day. I was allowed one hour of bike riding in the evening before I had to do my homework. I pretended I was going to the beach as usual and instead went for the birthday party at the local bakery. Later that evening I waited impatiently for my Dad to come home from work. When he did, I went running out to open the gates, running behind his car until he'd pulled into the garage. When Dad got out of the car, I confessed. Daddy simply said, "No harm done. Let's keep it our secret! Don't do it again." This, in a nutshell, captures my parents' love and care for me all through my childhood. Mummy the disciplinarian, fearing the worst would happen to me and trying to protect. Daddy dispensing grace, loving me despite my lies, deception, and inability to handle conflict or confrontation. You tried so very hard to be the best parents a girl could have and for that I will be eternally grateful, never feel abandoned or sad. Happy Father's Day, Dad. Happy Birthday, Mom!

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