Never feel self-pity, the most destructive emotion there is. How awful to be caught up in the terrible squirrel cage of self. ~ Millicent Fenwick
Last week I was caught up in the terrible squirrel cage of self, and it poured from my mouth in a torrent of excoriation (look it up) and blatant disregard for feelings of others. In short, I was an emotional stick of dynamite, lit and ready to explode.
On the eve of my @@##!! birthday, a milestone in every woman’s life, I was in a pretty darn sour mood. My thoughts ran to decades past, to countless birthday celebrations I’d arranged for my kids, countered by the countless years I’d heard: sorry mom, broke this year, just thought a phone call would do, haha. I understood, I did. Still do. But for whatever reason, this year, I’d had enough. I was tired of a phone call maybe two days after the fact. Tired of kids who’d put a nice post on FB, but not have the forethought to put a card in the mail with some actual handwriting on it. Tired of a husband who, at the very last minute, would rush out and buy some wilting roses from Food Lion and a card and hastily scrawl, Love you honey!
I know, I know. Totally a pity party. Pity. Party.
Whatever. I’m not exactly defending it, but I am claiming the right to be human once in a while instead of superwoman all the time. For once, I let it all hang out. My irritation. My hurt for the times they’d forgotten, or overlooked or figured I would understand. And while I was ranting to my daughters and oldest son on the phone, there’d been curious silence. I pictured raised eyebrows and hands over mouths in astonishment. Maybe a bit of remorse, or concern, or revelation. I don’t know, I just forged ahead, letting my feelings lead (ALWAYS a bad idea) and letting the chips fall where they may.
Something in me kind of melted down the week before my birthday, then blazed red-hot the day before, and bubbled up and out like a long-festering volcano. After all I’d given of myself over the years, I felt it was time for a little give back. Okay, so it was an ungodly and horrible thing to think. But there it is. The human part of me.
To be fair, my kids and husband usually remember my birthday in some way or another, but this year, I wanted it to be special. I felt a party was in order. I wished for one, but I knew, of course, we’d only lived here three years, didn’t have that many friends yet, not gonna happen. And I was okay with it. Still I wished, though.
After the eruption, I’d felt remorse and repented to the loved ones I’d melted on most dramatically; but I’d also felt relief. Like a wound had at least been aired out so it could heal. I no longer felt angry, mad, resentful. I felt okay.
The day of my birthday arrived, and was particularly delightful. On the actual day, I got cards, flowers, gifts. My husband (of course this was post-rant) bought me a gorgeous and expensive necklace that I really liked and will wear. That night, at my womens’ group, everyone wished me a hearty, healthy birthday (I thought they’d seen it on FB, but later I found out this had NOT been the case) and I felt loved and enjoyed. As I shared about my week to the group, including the pity party and ranting to my kids and husband, they had all stared at me with blank expressions. I thought, wow, my comments must have been really profound.
The next day, after I’d met my husband after work for a quick glass of wine, I was feeling all happy and floaty inside. Maybe this decade of life wouldn’t be so bad after all, I’d convinced myself. The pity party was on the back burner, forgotten and hopefully, forgiven.
We pulled into the carport. Got out of the car. I opened the door and walked in. I was chattering to my husband, thinking about sitting on the deck awhile and watching the birds. He didn’t answer. I stepped one step, then two, down into the kitchen. The screams penetrated my brain like exploding shrapnel.
SURPRISE! HAPPY BIRTHDAY! SURPRISE!!!
They tell me I screamed for 15 full seconds, then started sobbing. Never had I been so shocked and overwhelmed. Several women from my group ran up to pat me on the shoulder, laughing, trying to get me to stop crying. I told them I was crying because kindness always makes me cry, and group-kindness totally puts me over the edge. Then I sobbed some more. Then I saw my oldest daughter’s family smirking in the den, watching. Then I saw all the women – yes that’s right, the women with whom I’d ranted about the lack of a party on this birthday – smiling and laughing with knowing expressions on their faces. Then I saw boatloads of gifts and flowers.
Over the course of the evening, I pieced it together. My oldest daughter had been the first recipient of my totally-out-of-character rant and had called my husband, concerned. Thus the plotting began. My daughter, son and husband invited everyone even remotely within our orbit, and I’d not had the slightest suspicion. It was one of the most memorable and lovely experiences of my life.
I have to admit though, without my pity party, it would’ve never happened.