Yesterday was my mom’s birthday. And just like in years past, I failed miserably in the Card Giving department.
Normally, I’m a really good card picker-outer. I’m great with goodbyes, awesome at anniversaries, kick ass at Christmas, bedazzle with baby deliveries and bar mitzvahs, scintillate sentimentally with sympathies. But for some reason, I have this mental block when it comes to picking out birthday cards for my mom and dad. I mean, they seem perfectly fine when I’m in the store. I found this one for my mom that made me laugh out loud, so I bought it and put it away until it was time to sign it yesterday. But when I dragged it out again, I groaned and wondered what I’d been thinking, for it was neither funny nor sweet. It showed a guy on the front cover saying, You deserve the perfect gift every year. Then when you flip it open, the guy is pointing to himself and saying, That’s why you have me! Happy birthday, mom.
Way to make my mom’s birthday all about me! And I’m not conceited. I swear. Unfortunately, we were leaving for dinner at their house and only had five minutes to spare, so there was no time to return to the store and pick out a different card. The unfunny, unsentimental one had to do. Luckily, we had a bouquet of fresh flowers we’d picked up from the farmer’s market that morning. I hoped that it would divert attention away from the crappy card. Distract ’em with shiny objects, you know?
If this had been the first time I’d screwed up the card, I could be forgiven. But sadly, it’s an ongoing occurrence.
This all began on my dad’s birthday a few years ago. 2009, to be exact. That year I bought what I had deemed a clever, funny card. But the minute I walked in the door, he was all up in my face.
“Take a look at the great card your brother sent me,” my dad said, shoving it into my hands.
I could tell right away I’d made a mistake in my card choice. Scott had picked one of those sentimental, aww-shucks-you’re-swell-pop types of cards that is guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings, while I had opted for something humorous that came with a bottle opener taped to the inside. My card was more along the lines of ha-ha-you-really-dig-those-beers-don’tcha-dad. Oops. And then I opened the card, and saw what my brother had written.
To the greatest dad in the world, it began.
Oh shit, I thought.
“Umm, dad, can I have my card back?” I asked quickly, but it was too late – he was already tearing open the envelope. To make matters worse, not only had I opted for a funny card, but all I’d added to it was a hastily scribbled Have a happy birthday, dad! And it wasn’t even in cursive, because I can’t stand my handwriting. It’s not like I was competing with my brother over who would come up with the best card, it’s just that, in the face of a thoughtfully sentimental card with a straight-from-the-heart personalized message in a swirling cursive font, my bottle opener and second-grade print (with nary a message of my dad being the “best” anything) paled miserably in comparison.
Luckily, my dad’s birthday is in January and my mom’s is in May, so I vowed that evening to go all out in four months and get her the sappiest damn card this side of the Mason-Dixie line. I would even work on my cursive writing weeks in advance, so whatever gushy message I came up with would look like freakin’ calligraphy.
Fast-forward to her birthday that year, and I was ready with a fantastically sentimental card. It was flowery and the poetic verse (thanks to the scribes at American Greetings, but still) flowed beautifully. I love you, mom. You’re the best mom in the world. All that sappy junk that mothers just eat up. And she did, commenting on how nice it was. I smiled to myself, figuring this time around I had surely beat my brother handily. But then, just like dad had done back in January, she was foisting Scott’s card in my hand whilst oohing and ahhing over it and calling it “amazing.” Talk about deja vu. I was confused at first. It looked pretty plain from the outside – a standard card with a generic happy birthday greeting – but then it unfolded and opened into a birthday cake. It was like freakin’ origami.
That was the moment I realized I was in a full-scale war with my brother over greeting cards, and suffering heavy casualties. He was an unwitting participant in this birthday battle, unable to savor his hard-earned victories because he hadn’t the slightest idea we were locked in a competition.
Surprise, Scott. We are. And you continue to kick my ass to this day.
But maybe there’s hope this year. As lame as my card was, by the end of the day his card hadn’t yet arrived in the mail. A bad card trumps no card, right? This could be the turning point in the war, that decisive moment where the balance of power shifts to the opposing side. This could be my Tet Offensive. It could be my D-Day.
More likely, his card will show up in the mail tomorrow, perfect and wonderful as always.
I’m glad my parents only have one birthday apiece every year. I can’t handle the stress!