Make a Wish
"Can I have a birthday party?" I asked my mother a few days before I turned five.
"No. They're too much trouble," she replied and returned to her Readers Digest.
"Matthew had one when he turned five," I reasoned.
She looked at me over her magazine, "How do you remember that? You weren't even three?"
"I remember everything," I mumbled before retreating to my bedroom.
My brother's birthday party was the first time I suspected that he was receiving special treatment, and I ran away to the neighbour's house, hoping my parents would feel such terrible remorse that they'd see the error of their ways and beg me to come home. Instead, they had a BBQ and pretended not to notice me on the other side of the fence.
I clued in at an early age that my brother was always getting things that I was not; parties, praise, presents, it all came down to one thing – attention.
"Your brother almost died when he was born," my mother would tell me by way of shutting me up whenever I'd point out the obvious. Clearly, being born healthy and robust was a disadvantage, but I was not going to let it get the better of me. I was going to have a birthday party if it was the last thing I did.
Well before - If you build it, they will come - was a phrase or even a theory; I had a strong belief in my ability to get things done successfully on my own terms. As a child, this can be regarded as headstrong or even bossy.
"She's so stubborn," my kindergarten teacher wrote on my report card when I refused to carve a fish out of soap with a paring knife and chose instead to use a popsicle stick.
"I'll slice my finger," I objected.
"That's not the point," she said, "You must do as you're told."
"Well, my mother told me not to play with knives."
"In this room, you'll do as I say," she demanded.
"Then I'll take my soap home and carve it there."
I don't remember what happened next. She likely had to grab the first aid kit and practice CPR on a four-year-old.
My parents named me Lezlie Faith. As in "Faith is my middle name."
"What does it mean?" I asked my grandmother when she was babysitting me.
"Complete trust or confidence in someone or something," she explained.
That day as I retreated to my bedroom, I had complete trust that I would have a birthday party and complete confidence in my ability to pull it off.
The plan was simple, I would invite everyone I knew, making it impossible for my mother to say no. I made invitations out of old coloured paper with the date and time. I was sure to say that presents were optional although I was certain no one would dare arrive empty-handed.
"There will be cake and ice cream and party favours." I recited as I handed out my invitations, sparing no one. Since I had arrived at Kettleby Elementary only a month earlier, I had no particular friends to appease, so there was no reason to exclude anyone. I added grade two and even grade three students to my list. The more, the merrier, I thought to myself.
On the school bus ride home, I regaled my fellow travellers with the magnificence of my upcoming party. I might even have told someone that magicians and trained animals would be there. The details of my celebration grew with every passing day, becoming almost mythological. Kids smiled at me in the hallways as I experienced my first and only taste of popularity.
In truth, what I was banking on was my mother's vanity. I assumed that, rather than appear stingy or worse, to have given birth to a pathological liar, she would go through with the whole charade, give me the party I longed for, and then punish me afterwards. I was prepared to suffer the consequences as long as there was cake and presents. It struck me as obvious that a successful birthday party would reflect well on my mother, stupidly forgetting that she was not a member of her own tribe. I completely underestimated her disinterest in other people's opinions or that my stubborn streak was most likely inherited from her.
My birthday that year came on a Friday. I went to school that morning, reminding everyone that there would be pizza and cupcakes.
"See you at 6:00," I told the bus driver when he dropped me off. And skipped merrily home.
"You look happy," my mother remarked as I came in the door.
"Can I put on my party dress?" I asked her nonchalantly.
"As long as you don't get it dirty."
Our house at the time was a large white bungalow atop a hill in the middle of nowhere. We had just left the Fraser rental, and this was the Miller rental, and not long afterwards would be the Van Ostrand rental. French doors in my bedroom opened up to a meadow with nothing beyond it except wheat fields and cat grass. We hadn't lived there long when the furnace broke, and the four of us were forced to huddle together in the living room to stay warm. My mother made no bones about how much she hated living there. My father's bank transfer had uprooted her from a place she loved and people she cared about to live in a cow patch. Exhausted at the prospect of making new friends and apprehensive lest she succeed only to move again, her mood had darkened over the past few months.
"Can I make cupcakes?" I asked.
"What's up?" questioned my mother.
"Well, I doubt I'll get a birthday cake, so I thought I'd make cupcakes. Remember. It's my birthday?"
"I remember," she said. "Put on an apron."
I hummed merrily to myself as I turned on the electric mixer and then poured the batter into greased tins.
"Do we have any glue?"
"Oh, just a school project," I said.
"Second drawer by the sink."
In my bedroom, I began cutting daisy chains out of newspaper to hang in the parlour. (That's what I called the TV room. I'd heard it in a movie, and it sounded much better.)
"I'm just going outside," I said and ran down the driveway to attach a balloon to the mailbox.
I was out in the yard humming merrily to myself, completely delusional, when I heard the phone ring.
"Hello," my mother said.
"Hi," came an unknown voice from the other end, "This is Mrs. Clark. I was just wondering if I could get your address?"
"My address?" my mother repeated. "I'm sorry, but for what reason?"
"Why, the birthday party, of course. We know the time, but just not the address."
"I'll have to get back to you," my mother said and hung up.
"Lezlie!!!" she shouted from the front door. "What have you done?"
Behind her, I could hear the phone continue to ring.
The driveway seemed very long as I walked slowly toward her. Arms crossed, she had that look on her face that said, "You are in big trouble, missy."
"Explain," she demanded, her eyes going past me to the balloon bouncing merrily on the mailbox.
"You're always telling me that I have to learn how to do things myself, "I said, "So I decided to throw myself a party. Please!!!!!" I begged.
My father arrived home about this time.
"I just had the strangest conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Daw. Apparently, we are throwing a birthday party?"
"No," my mother said, "We are not."
"But Mom," I pleaded, "I'll be humiliated."
"You should have thought of that before you invited half the school. Let this be a lesson." And she abruptly turned to answer the phone.
Learning lessons were big in our family. If I talked back to adults, I needed to learn a lesson. If I cheated playing a game, I needed to learn a lesson. If I lied, I needed to learn a lesson. It seemed as though everything I did was educational.
My father looked at me sympathetically. "Sorry, kiddo," he said and went inside to help mitigate the damage.
There was no way I was ever going into that house again. I sat down on a rock, arms folded, storm clouds brewing over my head and thought about how I would never be five again. The humiliation that awaited me at school on Monday was nothing compared to the white-hot anger that possessed me. This is one of those moments in life when I wonder, what did I do before swear words? Fart face and piss ant didn't do justice to how I felt.
"Get off that rock," my mother yelled from the kitchen window. "You'll ruin your dress."
"Who cares," I mumbled
"I heard that." She said, "You have the count of ten to come inside. One…"
My brother was looking out his bedroom window gleefully awaiting the start of WWlll.
It's my birthday, I thought; what's the worst she can do?
I shifted uncomfortably on my rock.
I nonchalantly picked apart a Zinnia growing beside me.
My father came to the door and silently beckoned me to come in.
No way I could weaken now.
I dug in my patent leather, Mary Janes.
This was turning out to be the worst birthday ever, which, considering I'd only had five, was saying something.
I girded my loins and prepared for the worse.
"Ten. That's it. Get inside this instant!"
The phone rang. She picked it up. "There's no birthday party!" she said with exasperation, "Pass it on."
She turned to me. "I'm afraid you have to be punished," she said, which in those days often meant a spanking.
"Go ahead," I replied defiantly, "I'm going to sing through it." And I began:
I wanna make mud pies,
In fact, I'd like to be a mess.
I wanna make mud pies,
I know that I'd find happiness.
If I got jam on my fingers,
Chocolate on my face,
And molasses all over my dress.
My mother cracked the smallest of smiles, then promptly sent me to my room, more miserable than I'd ever been in my entire life.
After about an hour, there was a knock on my door, and my Dad entered. "We're going out for dinner to celebrate your birthday. What do you say?"
I was starving. "I guess," I sniffled.
From off, I heard my Mother and Matthew singing Happy Birthday, and seconds later, they entered my room with candles on a beautifully iced cake. "I know you like pink frosting," my mother said. "Now, make a wish."
I didn't need to think about it. I blew out my candles, knowing precisely what I wanted, but I didn't get a birthday party the following year either.