It was Addison's birthday, and I was hugely pregnant with Morgan. The entire house was blown to bits for the kitchen renovation and my world was in sawdusty, broken pieces. The one good thing that I thought I had gotten right that day...turns out...was all wrong.
I let Addison down, and I could never forgive myself.
Earlier that day, after dropping three kids off at three different schools, I raced to the grocery store. (Okay fine, I was 9 months pregnant...I waddled to the grocery store.) I had promised Addison that I would get her some chocolate cupcakes to take to class to celebrate her birthday. I had no kitchen at home in which to bake them, but I figured with allergies etc, it would be better anyway to buy something with a specific ingredient label.
I was exhausted and overwhelmed and did I mention exhausted? I didn't have time or energy for an extra stop, but I HAD to do it because I had it all pictured in my head....
Addison would pass out cupcakes to each of her classmates, beaming with happiness. They would all sing "Happy birthday" and smile at her. She would dance around a center of a circle while they all ate their chocolate cupcakes in her honor. Happiness fireworks would explode around the classroom. The lights would shine brighter. The air would be clearer. Each face would hold a huge, chocolatey smile as they celebrated the day Addison was born.
By bringing chocolate cupcakes, I would make her birthday a happy one. I would make her happy. I could picture the glow on her face. (And the chocolate smudge around her mouth.) It would be a perfect school birthday moment in which she would share something she loves with the people that she loves.
In all my masterful planning and imaginings, I forgot to take one thing into consideration.
At the beginning of the school year (August), a memo went out stating that no food items were to be brought in for birthdays. It was now February. I had lost a lot of brain cells between August and February (pregnant with fourth child). I had forgotten that I ever read those words.
I had so completely forgotten about it that when I went to meet Addison at the end of the day, smiling with the picture still in my head of how her day went, I looked down, saw the entire bag full of untouched cupcakes, and I couldn't breathe.
Why didn't they pass out her cupcakes? They were nut free! And labeled! They lined up with all the school food rules. What did I do wrong? I couldn't figure it out.
All I could picture was Addison, sitting in the middle of her birthday circle, but because her mom brought the wrong ingredients, she was DENIED birthday time. I pictured fat tears falling furiously down her cheeks. I pictured her sweet mouth slightly open, wanting cupcakes, not allowed cupcakes. I pictured sadness.
I pictured a ruined birthday. A ruined birthday by a child who couldn't communicate such emotions. A ruined birthday for a girl with delays and did she understand why she didn't have cupcakes? Was she crushed? Did she sit huddled in the corner, cupcakeless, joyless, crushed soul?
And so after I buckled Addison into her carseat, knowing that Addison couldn't answer any of these questions for me (and I was far too embarrassed to call and ask)...I put a bag full of cupcakes on the seat next to me. I lumbered up into the driver's seat...buckled myself in...turned the car on....
...and I lost it.
Tears streamed down my face, dripping onto my swollen belly. My shoulders shook (I really want to say slender shoulders but I cannot tell a lie). I couldn't get this picture out of my head, and it broke me. I couldn't drive for several minutes because I was crying so hard.
Worst, cupcake-less birthday ever. And it was all my fault. Clearly, I somehow broke an allergy rule. (Still hadn't remembered the no food memo.)
Fast forward an entire year.
I went into a parent teacher conference, not even remembering this moment.
And I heard what actually happened. Her new teacher brought it up totally unprompted because it had made such an impact on him.
On that birthday, Addison didn't expect cupcakes because no one in class ever brings birthday cupcakes.
Instead, there is this special dance and ceremony and hand clap celebration that they do for every student. It's a rather complicated dance and everyone's mouths dropped when Addison jumped up for HER BIRTHDAY and with a world-brightening smile and rolling giggles, she performed EVERY step of this ceremony and dance and hand clap PERFECTLY.
She had memorized it, watching everyone else in the class who had birthdays before her and had been anxiously been awaiting her day.
The scene that was described to me included the happiness fireworks and clearer air and brightened spirits. The teacher's face was beaming as he recalled this day almost a year after it actually happened. He hadn't forgotten a single detail.
The look on Addison's face. Her laugh. The class' response. Her epic dance moves. The moment so full of awesome and perfection that people ran in from the hallway to witness it.
My mouth dropped open. I remembered that day, sobbing in my car, feeling like the worst mother ever.
Turns out the picture in my head was completely wrong. Completely.
Cupcakes were not needed for her celebration to be amazing. And yet, the picture in my head had convinced me that they were. I remember that specific feeling of failure as a mom. I remember those tears. I even remember thinking that I would never get this right. That Addison deserved a much better mom.
And yet the reality was...the day was a huge success. All I had to do was have her there...clothed...fed...ready to do school. I did all of that. I didn't fail at all.
(Also...lesson learned...now for birthdays I remember to send a non-food item...stickers!)
I've thought a lot about this since. Almost two years later. I can't let go of the concept of how the picture in my head....wasn't even close to reality.
And how that's okay.
In fact, I would venture to say that reality is way better. It just looks different. (Addison spent that entire weekend eating cupcakes. She got the best of both worlds.)
This reminds me a lot of the crying I did after the 20 week ultrasound that revealed something "wrong" with my first baby. I did a lot of crying in those weeks of our diagnosis revelation. Not because anything was "wrong" with Addison, but because of the picture I had built up in my head that told me what having a child with Down syndrome would look like.
My picture was wrong. So, so wrong.
The reality of having a child with Down syndrome is nothing like that picture that made me cry bitter tears. The reality leaves me with gratitude and happiness for the little girl who blesses us on a daily basis.
I'm learning to lose the idealized picture of motherhood in my head and instead, embrace what is. Loving what is right in front of me.
The mess. The sticky. The hugs. The love.
Erasing what I think my kids' personalities should be...and accepting and delighting in who they are.
Pushing aside the perfect vision of how each day should go, and finding the beauty in the imperfections that play out in front of me.
The picture in my head, turns out, is quite the drama queen (in case you didn't get that already). I am learning to abandon expectations at the door...walk into my house...and find joy in the moment that greets me there.
Four kids fling themselves at me. They probably will be slightly sticky. They will probably fight over who gets to hug me first. I will have dirty dishes in the sink. And a pile of laundry on the floor in the bathroom. I will probably get sticky kisses. I will get warm hugs. I will hear repeated, "Mommy!!!"
This moment is perfection.
Whenever I'm tempted to lose it over broken parenting expectations. I remember the cupcakes.
I remember that the only reason I'm upset is because of my expectations. I'm upset over things that DIDN'T EVEN HAPPEN. Or didn't even need to happen in order for happiness to be found. Or are just plain WRONG. They are only the picture in my head. If I erase my expectations, I can erase disappointment and find joy in whatever the day may bring.
Even the sticky, messy, cupcake-less days. There is so much beauty there, and I don't want to miss it.