I am not one for parties. I never have been. I’ve organized only two birthday parties of my own: my sixteenth and thirty-fifth, and I have to say they weren’t big by any measure. I have not had any big to-dos since. My older son is much like me. Every year, we celebrate his special day quietly, sometimes he’ll have a friend or two over, but that’s it. For his fourteenth, he asked for Tita Mae’s special sinigang and super adobo and I made sure he had a delicious chocolate cake. He wanted to invite our two other constant boys, but they were abroad. Just us, then. And it was grand.
This year, being his last before he moves to a different high school, he was encouraged by his father to have a party at last and invite friends over. He acceded and I only heard about it when they came home after the usual weekend with their dad, after having already given out the invitations. And that’s when all the earnest mealtime discussions between him and his little brother began. His classmates have younger siblings, and some assumed they were invited as well, though they apparently were not given invitations. I can’t blame them as it is a small school and some get-togethers in the past simply included everyone. My younger son, the party guy, invites more people and doesn’t mind so many people about.
My older boy is a little more circumspect. He worried when he found out cousins were invited as well. He didn’t want to leave anyone out, but he also didn’t want to have to be away from his classmates, or to have to divide his time. He was torn when asked if a good friend and his brother were invited, because he hadn’t planned on it. His focus was really to spend time with his classmates. He said he didn’t want to have to worry about other children. He wanted to just be with his band of friends for once, because it was the first and last birthday party outside of school with them before they all went their separate ways. I encouraged him to stand for what he truly wants. I told him it was his own celebration after all.
I am proud that he wants to be fair and that he doesn’t want to offend anyone, but I am more proud that so far he has held strong for what he wants. I don’t agree with our culture of inviting everyone and their mother to life milestones just because “nakakahiya” or “sasama ang loob”, because to me it takes away from the substance of the celebration. Celebrations are expressions of the soul and I want my children to be as authentic as they can about it, to feel empowered that they can keep things small, simple, and just the way they like it. I go against elaborate celebrations with people you don’t know who are there just because you couldn’t say no. I like my own family celebrations to be full of people I know, like and love. I want the same for my children.
I listened to many conversations between my sons as they threshed out the logistics of this little event, and I was proud that even my younger one understood exactly where his brother was coming from. I felt as though a whole new world was opening up, even for him. He was fully aware that his brother had a different set of needs for this celebration and seemed to have the utmost respect for it. He had one invite for a friend and he chose carefully, bearing in mind his own brother’s goals. I had to laugh inside when he then started asking me how so-and-so ended up at his last party when he didn’t even know them. I was happy to be able to say I had no idea. I don’t practice that at home and I make sure my kids’ celebrations have only their friends in it.
I feel this is a rite of passage for my son, and as his mother I look on with pride as he battles with issues of loyalty, the desire to please everyone, his own emotions, and the struggle to find clarity in his heart to go for what he feels is right. A man who can hold his own against the pressures of conformity is a man who can open the door to change, even as the rest of the world clings to the old. There is nothing I want more for both my sons.
It isn’t just a party after all, is it?