I know it’s not easy. I know you woke up and started doing whatever it is you needed to do to steel yourself for the day—that extra breath, that roll of the shoulders, that thing that helps you stand a little taller because today will be a day that will try and break you down.
I know you met your first challenge in the parking lot. Two kids, the birthday boy and his sister, needed to be safely walked across the parking lot while you juggled your purse and the juice boxes, the ice cream cake and the bag filled with goodie bags that you stayed up late packing the night before. But you managed, because juggling has become second nature. You told your kids not to run ahead, to stay so close to you in the busy parking lot, and then you looked both ways and summoned all your strength to carry everything in one trip because you didn’t want to leave them standing and waiting—your mind knows that tragedy can happen in the moments you blink, the world can turn upside down in the split second that you look away.
I know opening the door wasn’t easy. It was a pull, not push, and your hands were just too full. You asked the kids for help and they tried. They tried so hard because they want to help you and they pulled with fevered concentration, but the door was too heavy; it moved just an inch. But you’ve learned that sometimes all you need is an inch of space, just a little give. You asked them to pull again and as they did, you stuck the toe of your shoe into that inch of space and jolted the door open. You caught the door with your hip—boxes and bags and purses precariously wobbling—and pressed the door open the rest of the way. You held the door with your body and let the kids file in and noted their mounting excitement as they—and you—were assaulted by the sound of children screaming with joy and top 40 music blaring over the speaker system and video games chiming and beeping and trilling. Your son lit up—his birthday party has officially begun.
I know you saw the way the party assistant glanced at the door, expecting your fourth. I know you stood a little taller to fill that empty space beside you, but you’re not sure you’re ever quite enough to fill that void. The party assistant led you past the other party rooms, past the proud parents—in duos—posing behind a cake with the birthday boy or girl, and I know you took a breath and hoped your kids didn’t see the same visual, but you know they did. They don’t miss a thing. You hope only when they tuck that jagged edged little heartbreak into their souls it’s surrounded by softness and memories and love.
I know you panicked a little as the guests filed into the party room, and the parents, one foot already out the door, asked what time they should return for pick up. Facing 20 eight-year old boys feels so much harder without your partner, and I know you had to work so hard to fight away the memories of other birthday parties—the parties when you were part of a parenting team, the parties when he was too sick to be part of the team but at least he was there, the party when you realized he might not be there at the next one—because you want your son, the birthday boy, to see you smiling so he knows it’s okay to smile, too.
I know you tried and summoned the version of yourself that was once a camp counselor, and you tried to keep count of the kids so no one was lost on your watch. But after the third trip to the bathroom and second piece of cake, you were too overwhelmed, too alone. The kids were let loose in the arcade and the best you could do was watch the front door to make sure no one decided to walk out—at least they were all contained in the room. You were doing your best, and I know it was all you could do.
I know that when later the parents arrived for pick up, you took your first full breath in 90 minutes. You handed out goodie bags and slowly the party room emptied of all kids but your own again. You saw the next group, the two parents with the children, patiently waiting with mounting excitement, for their turn in the party room. You found your purse, and you stacked the cake box on top of the leftover pizza box, and you grabbed the bag of presents and you made sure your kids were beside you again. You settled the bill and tipped the party assistant, because without her there would have been no way you could have managed all those kids and all that pizza on your own.
I know when you walked out, the video games were still chiming and beeping and trilling, but the door was a push this time, and you didn’t need help to escape. You pressed it open with your hip and held the boxes high as your kids passed beneath. The parking lot was blissfully quiet and your nervous system began to calm as the sensory overload vanished. You all walked to the car, and this time, your kids stayed beside you without reminder because maybe they were tired, maybe they were crashing from their respective sugar highs, or maybe they also noticed how the next group to file in had a proud dad carrying in all awkward boxes and the mom’s hands were free to hold.
I know you packed the car again and herded the kids inside. And I know, for a moment, you paused before you opened your door. You listened to the silence. The weight you’d been fighting back settled onto your chest and you had to admit, if only to yourself—that was hard, that was tiring in a way that made your soul ache, and the day isn’t over yet.
Quiet music from the radio filtered through the speakers and it was the song that always makes you think of the man who should have been there beside you, helping you. And you realize, maybe you weren’t as alone as you thought—or you hope you weren’t, anyway.
I know when you get home, to your empty house, your son, the birthday boy who all this was for, stops at the front steps and looks at you and says thank you. You asked if he had fun and you see him nod enthusiastically, and you know that the physical and mental and emotional exhaustion was worth it. He had fun. And I know that was because of you. Because you carried all the things and stood tall to fill in all the empty spaces and managed to press away the memories that would make it too hard to smile for him on his big day, for his big party.
I know the afternoon, the day, took every bit of you. I know you feel depleted and not enough. But I know you did it, and you’ll be able to do it again. I know you have a heart and a soul and a love that is capable of incredible things. I know you are remarkable, even if you don’t. Because I know you are enough.