2 Big Lessons Learned on Mother’s Birthday

2 Big Lessons Learned on Mother’s Birthday

Remember the fabulous time I had a little over a week ago when I went to the theatre with my mother and a close friend to see “What I Learned in Paris” by Pearl Cleage?  I haven’t changed my mind about the play.  I’m still glad that I saw it, but I had no idea that my decision not to invite my sister along would lead to a series of events that ultimately led to arguments between me, my mother, and my sister.  Hopefully, this post won’t lead to another one 🙂

The Story

I have checked and rechecked my original motive.  My original thoughts (laced with expectation) were simple:  I think my mother would enjoy this play.  I should take her to see it for her birthday.

Thoughts swiftly became a decision to purchase the tickets and two calls—one to my mother and one to my friend—followed.  I asked them both if they’d like to see the play, but I provided no details.  I didn’t even bother to let either one know that the other would be present.  I knew my friend was flying in on the weekend of my mother’s birthday.  The airline ticket had already been purchased.  There was nothing I could do to change that.  At the time, I also knew that my mother had no plans for her birthday.  Somewhere between the calls and other considerations, I reflected on the fact that my friend and my sister did not get along.  In fact, as far as I knew, they really didn’t like each other at all.  The thought of inviting my sister along was dismissed right then, right there.  Putting them together just seemed like a bad idea.

After a short search for the best affordable seats, I purchased three tickets for the play on the day AFTER my mother’s birthday. I purposely chose not to purchase the tickets for a showing on her birthday.  I didn’t want to monopolize her time on her birthday.  I thought my father or sister might have other plans for her, but I didn’t ask either of them.  I just focused on what I was doing.  I did tell my mother and friend the date and time for the play, but not much more.  My mother still didn’t know my friend would be there.


Many days passed.  Nothing happened.

One week before the birthday, my sister called me to suggest a joint gift for the weekend after our mother’s birthday.  I agreed.  I didn’t mention the play.  I saw no reason to at the time.  I had my idea for a gift, and she had hers.  I was supporting hers.  Everyone’s happy.

Three days before the birthday, my sister called again to discuss details about our joint gift and to ask if I was still taking our mother to the play.  I was surprised that she knew, but I didn’t see a problem with this.  She asked a few more questions about it.  When I told her which play we were going to see, she expressed no interest—as expected.  It never occurred to me that she’d even want to see this play anyway, and the overall tone of the conversation seemed to confirm her lack of interest and concern.  I hung up the phone and thought nothing more about it, but I should’ve known better.


Things did not go as I planned it in my head.  I expected my mother to arrive on the morning of the play and to only be with me for the play and dinner.  Instead, she decided to come over on the day of her birthday, and she was packed to stay overnight.  I just went with it, but I should’ve known better.


We were standing between shoe racks at a department store in the mall.  I was already irritated, but the reasons are too involved and—well—I just don’t want to get into it.  The reasons are a few layers underneath this story.  We’d have to dig deep to get there, and there’s not enough time for that today.  I just think it’s important to know that I wasn’t in the best mood before my sister called our mother to give her the third degree.  One look at my mother’s face, and I knew that joy had left the building behind my back before I even knew what was really happening.  My mother turned to me and asked, “Why didn’t you invite your sister to the play?”

Boom!  Boom!

I got angry!  I refused to address the question in the middle of the store.  I basically had my version of a tantrum. My face contorted.  I didn’t have to see myself in a mirror to know this.  I could feel my strained facial muscles.  The light seemed to grow dark all around the edges of my vision and the situation.  My lips tightened and my voice became an urgent whisper.  I don’t remember what I said.  You’d have to ask my mother or my friend about that.  I do know that after I was done, I walked (okay, stomped) off in the opposite direction.  I couldn’t stop myself from acting out.  It wasn’t pretty or respectful, but it was.  I really hated to be questioned about the gift I chose to give (or anything really).  I wanted to scream.  My mother was on the phone with my sister.  My friend was calmly trying to remind me of the dynamics between mother, older sister (me), and much younger sister.  Please!  I didn’t want to hear any of it.  I had fallen into an emotional sinkhole.  If you had been there, you would’ve heard me shouting, “You can’t tell me what to do!  This was my gift to you!  I can do it any way I want to do it.  I don’t have to explain it or justify it to you or anyone!  What happened to thank you?”  As I said, it wasn’t pretty.

Days passed.  It was too quiet on my side of town.

I called my father.  He listened, but he really was out of the loop.  He cared, but he couldn’t help.  I called my grandmother.  I only wanted to know how she was doing.  I had no intention of mentioning what was going on.  But it didn’t matter because she already knew.  Figures, right?  She let me know that my sister had called her.  Later, my mother called me to revisit the same question I refused to address in the middle of the department store.  The next day, my sister called me…

Lessons Learned

  1. Too much time went by without a genuine attempt at resolution.  Too many conversations took place about me, without me…without my mother…without my sister.  At any point, if all three of us had talked, I’d like to think that concerns would’ve been addressed and opportunities for adjusting the birthday plans could’ve been discussed.  I’d like communication between me, my mother, and my sister to improve.  I am committed to trying.
  2. Too many expectations can kill the joy of the experience.  In hindsight, it’s clear to me that we all had different expectations for my mother’s birthday.  I think if I hadn’t been so focused on what I wanted and expected, this might not have happened.  I know in my heart that my motive was pure, but I do believe that my own expectations got in the way.  I have to learn to be more flexible.  I am committed to trying.

What’s happening now?

At the time of this posting, my sister and I are getting ready to spend the day together and plans are underway for a mother/daughter day for all three of us next month.


4 thoughts on “2 Big Lessons Learned on Mother’s Birthday

  1. Wow, this brings to mind the old saying “no good deed goes unpunished”I I am not trying to take sides, but why should you have to explain your birthday gift to your mother? It is indeed YOUR gift! Or, have you and your sister agreed to always to have joint birthday gifts for your parents? You can only be the BEST PERSON that you can be, and don’t let anyone including your sister, stop you from doing the right thing. Good to know that you guys are communicating…….. It is always the key!

    1. I appreciate your comments and your objectivity. Not taking sides is tough sometimes. Anyway, no, my sister and I didn’t have an agreement to always do a joint gift. But I think this experience has shown me that both my mother and sister prefer joint activities for events such as birthdays. I didn’t realize it before now. LOL…Yes, we are all talking again. So I’m pretty happy about that. I’m just taking it one day at a time.

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