The Birthday

The Birthday

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

The Birthday

Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent ages as much as 20 years.
~Author Unknown

After my brother and I began school, my mother got the first full-time job she’d had since getting married. It was important to her to regain some independence and meet some new people. Yet, somehow, she also managed to find the time and energy to keep our home looking immaculate and to make sure we always ate healthy, delicious meals.

Of course, having to live with three men wasn’t easy. My father worked long hours and also spent time with his friends at the pub and the local bowls club. My brother and I liked to bicker and argue over every little thing. On top of that, there was the usual mess associated with a household of men—wet towels on the bathroom floor, clothes and toys scattered like confetti in our bedrooms and the tell-tale signs across a freshly washed floor that someone hadn’t wiped their feet before coming inside.

“I didn’t do it,” I’d say.

“Well, I didn’t do it, either,” my brother would echo.

Mum wouldn’t even bother asking Dad.

“It looks like it was Mr. Nobody again,” she’d say with a sigh.

To my shame, my brother and I would sometimes be so aggravating that we would bring our mother close to tears, and I think we even succeeded a couple of times. Fresh arguments would then ensue.

“Look what you’ve done now!” I’d snap.

“You did it, not me,” he’d counter.

“Will you two just SHUT UP!” my mother would scream, nearly going out of her mind.

“You two must really hate me,” she said once.

“No I don’t,” we’d chorus, pointing at each other. “I hate him!”

It seemed my mother could never win, and no matter what she tried, peaceful times in our house never lasted for very long.

In my fourteenth year, Mum developed an interest in her origins and began researching our family tree. I don’t know how many hours she put in writing letters to distant family members scattered all over Australia and around the world. We didn’t have a computer then, so everything was at the mercy of the postal system.

And still on top of this, she kept a perfect home, cooked wonderful and interesting meals and put up with a moody teenager and a husband who spent even more time away from home.

Around this same time, I developed a modicum of maturity. I could appreciate how hard Mum worked for us and how difficult it sometimes was for her to live with all the tension that pervaded our house. It was then I decided to do something really special for her upcoming birthday. I wanted to show her how much I really loved her.

My grandparents lived across town and one day after school I rode my bike over to ask them a favor.

“It’s Mum’s birthday soon,” I began, “and I was thinking of having a surprise party for her.”

“What a fantastic idea,” said Nan.

“I was wondering if I could have it here?” I asked.

Nan looked at Granddad and I knew from their expressions that I hadn’t quite won them over yet.

“It’s just an afternoon tea, but with a cake and presents. And I’ll pay for everything,” I said.

I meant it, too. I’d been working at the local supermarket for six months and had accumulated a few dollars, which would just about cover the goodies we’d need for the party. I wouldn’t have much left over, but Mum was worth it.

Nan smiled. “Of course you can,” she replied. “Just tell us what to do.”

Feeling as pleased as punch that my plans could now go ahead, I began to make a mental list of all the things I’d have to do. The first thing was to invite my guests. I rode my bike all over town, paying a visit to each of my mother’s three best friends to give them the details. Then, over the following week, I bought supplies for the party, sneaking them around to my grandparents’ house for them to keep until they were needed.

“But how do we get Mum over here without her suspecting anything?” I asked Nan.

Not much ever got past my mother. Her knowledge of the things that went on behind her back was astounding, sometimes baffling.

“I know,” said Nan. “We’ll tell her that a relative from the east is popping in to visit us and that they have some information for her family tree.”

At that moment, I thought my Nan was the cleverest person in the world.

“That’s fantastic, Nan!” I gushed. “That is just so... fantastic!”

The following day, Nan rang my mother to tell her the news. Finally, Saturday came.

“I’m going to hang out with Michael,” I told my mother after lunch.

She didn’t notice I was wearing my next-to-best clothes.

I raced around to my grandparents’ house and found that Nan and Granddad had already set out the coffee cups, plates, snacks and had even bought a couple of bottles of wine for the occasion. The cake looked amazing with a ring of unlit candles standing up in the whipped cream. I blew up a few balloons to add to the party atmosphere.

One by one, the guests rolled up with their presents, but I was so full of anticipation that I didn’t perform my duties as host very well. I paid more attention to the front window, waiting for my mother to arrive, than I did to the people I’d invited to help celebrate her birthday.

“Here she is,” I shouted, as I watched her walking down the path toward the house, her arm cradling a stack of files, notepads and photos. I could tell she didn’t suspect a thing.

The doorbell rang.

Nan answered.

“Sorry I’m a bit late,” I heard my mother say. She always said that even though she was never late.

Footsteps. Footsteps coming down the short hallway toward the kitchen. Then she appeared.

“Surprise!” we all shouted.

The look on my mother’s face was worth a million dollars. Her mouth was agape and her eyes watered.

We started singing “Happy Birthday” as Mum choked back her tears. The smile on her face was wider than I had ever seen it before.

“It was all his idea,” said my granddad.

I think I blushed.

“Happy Birthday, Mum,” I said, giving her a big hug. “I love you.”

~Wayne Summers

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners