Idiot forgot her mom's birthday. Now what?
September 16, 2010 7:58 AM   Subscribe

I am a terrible person. I completely forgot my mother's birthday. My family takes this stuff seriously. What can I do now?

I literally just looked at the calendar and remembered that my mother's birthday was Saturday. I have absolutely zero excuse that I forgot. I just forgot.

I have it written in calendars, it doesn't ever escape me that my mother's birthday is 9/11 - in fact, while she now walks around saying "I don't have a birthday any more" I have made it a point since 2003, at least, to make sure her birthday is commemorated.

I didn't even call. I didn't call because I just didn't remember.

This is not a minor deal, this is a huge deal. It is probably a bigger deal than it should be, but these are the rules my family plays by.

I am going to call her at work and apologize right now, but I need to come up with something big I can do. I am taking them out to brunch next weekend since my dad's birthday is also this month (I had planned specifically to celebrate them both at once so I didn't have to make two trips) but I gotta make up for the lack of call.

I have sent flowers. I have bought jewelry. I have taken her to afternoon tea. I have purchased theater tickets. She is 70 years old, she doesn't really need much.

I need something that really says "I am a terrible daughter".

I also need the gesture to be sufficient in my father's eyes. Because he will be a complete and total bastard (more than he already is right now) because it will bother him more than her that I forgot.

Please do not tell me that birthdays are stupid, or so you forgot one time. I do not need help remembering. I just need some advice on grand gestures that will show my contrition. I can't take her on a trip or anything like that due to her health at the moment.

I just don't even know what happened.
posted by micawber to Human Relations (13 answers total)
Fruit basket, chocolates, liqueurs, more flowers, bigger jewelry, and a private performance of her favorite songs by a string quartet!
posted by Ahab at 8:02 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think a handwritten note of full apology with no excuses and heartfelt remorse might be in order. But this really is more for your dad's sake so there is written "evidence" of true contrition. Any big gift would be appreciated by your mom.

FYI-I understand your enormous guilt as my family of origin could be this way, but in reality world, you are not a "terrible daughter".
posted by murrey at 8:07 AM on September 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Is she at work? Would it be good to make the apology a big splash by sending a bunch of balloons or flowers or an ape with a telegram that everyone else sees too? This might bring her coworkers around to say "wow, my kids never remember and they wouldn't do this" and remind her that you do usually remember?

Aside from birthday-specific, is there something else you can do that she would really appreciate? Perhaps offer to through old photos with her and really get (and record in writing or on tape) the history of relatives she remembers so that she knows their stories will remain through you?
posted by Sukey Says at 8:07 AM on September 16, 2010

Best answer: Singing telegram! It's ridiculous and silly, which would lighten the mood. Maybe they even have songs about being a terrible daughter!

And then flowers or dinner or brunch whatever you want to actually do for her birthday.

Recognition of birthdays is a BIG DEAL in my family, too. I don't use an online calendar for anything except family birthdays; even if I only get one email alert a year, it's worth it. But it will be ok, don't be so hard on yourself. Do something to apologize, yes, grovel at her feet if necessary, yes, but this, too, shall pass.
posted by phunniemee at 8:14 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

We have a rule in my family which I am going to donate to your family, and that is, birthdays never expire. They do not have to be celebrated when they happen; you can celebrate them at any time, as long as you celebrate them eventually. You might say that it should always be possible at least to phone to wish someone a happy birthday on their actual birthday, but people cannot always be reached by phone. They could be out celebrating their birthday (and we don't all carry around cell phones so that we can be reached at any time - personally, I don't even own one).

My own peculiar sense of humor suggests having a birthday cake baked into the shape of the Two Towers, for a 9/11 birthday. Or, who knows, a cake in the shape of a stereotypical bomb (alternatively, you can just buy the type of cake known as a bombe), with an insciption "from Osama". A little edgy, I admit. Your mother's sense of humor is probably not like mine.

Rather than more jewelry, you might want to get a jewelry box to store it in. Those are nice too.
posted by grizzled at 8:17 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

A good offense is the best defense. Don't be on the defensive. Call up, apologize in one or two sentences and then start talking about your plans for the joint celebration next week. Making a grand gesture just blows it up worse. You fucked up (in your family's eyes, not as much mine) and you are sorry.

"Hello mom? Oh my I am so sorry!!"
"Sorry for what?"
"You know mom. I didn't call on Saturday for your birthday. I am sick to my stomach over it."
"It's ok, you don't have to say you're sorry."
"But I am sorry. I am sick over it, but I am so looking forward to our joint celebration this week. I heard there is this new brunch place (alternatively -- I can't wait to go back to favorite restaurant) in town and I want to treat you and Father to brunch there."
"That would be swell, dear. I will let your father know. He was so disappointed."
"I know that is why my stomach is in knots. See you next week. I love you. Gotta go, buy."
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:21 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm wondering if your parents are more the type to appreciate practical things or sentimental things. That's actually pretty important. Once I gave my mom a very old, beautiful copy of her favorite book from childhood and she sort of just blinked at it. She was much more excited about the Bed, Bath and Beyond gift card I threw in the bag as an afterthought.

If they like sentimental things, I think a very long letter to your mother explaining just how much she means to you, with specific examples of times you spent together, would be something she would treasure for years to come. You could hand write it on beautiful, fancy stationary. And don't mention your failure to call her for her birthday in the letter because that's not the sort of thing she'll want to read in future years. It sounds like your dad will be a jerk no matter what but at least your mom will know how you feel about her.

As far as practical things go, I don't know. That's not my strong suit. Good luck, though!
posted by smirkyfodder at 8:32 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd book some time for the two of you together at a spa if possible and get pedicures together, or plan a day trip for the two of you. Time spent together is likely to go much farther than a physical gift by itself at this point- especially in everyone else's eyes- and does not have to be as tied to the actual birthdate.
posted by questionsandanchors at 9:05 AM on September 16, 2010

My answer is that you should out your foot down with your parents (particularly your father), and inform them in no uncertain terms that their hypersensitive attitude is Not Acceptable.

And, also, do whatever kind of belated-birthday thing that normal people would do.
posted by Citrus at 10:59 AM on September 16, 2010

Response by poster: Yeah, putting your foot down with 70 year olds is not exactly going to fly. They are who they are. This is not the hill I'm going to die on.

I called her at work. I could not have been more genuinely contrite. I sent flowers to the house which will arrive tomorrow (no point in sending them to work since tomorrow is Friday).
Mom can't really travel right now, even a day trip, and she's not much of a spa together gal. I would very much like to take her to the theater and I'll talk to her about whether or not she thinks she's up to going when I see them next week.

Thanks, everyone.
posted by micawber at 11:41 AM on September 16, 2010

Find a Mexican restaurant with a mariachi band which has at least an OK grasp of English. Contact the band in advance and pay them to compose or modigy a song in your mother's honor, maybe including some phrases about what an unworthy child you are or how her birthday deserves to be made a national holiday to cheer people up or something. Take your mother to dinner at the restaurant before or after the show, or better, on another occasion with your father along as audience, and have them sing the song to her, maybe during the special dessert flan course.

Mariachi birthday is pretty cool, no matter how old you are. It also makes a great statement that might give the story a more cheerful spin when your Dad recounts it for the next ten years.
posted by amtho at 12:52 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

modigy -> modify
posted by amtho at 12:53 PM on September 16, 2010

For next time, if you are afraid this could happen again....find a florist you like and go ahead and make arrangements as far ahead as you like to send flowers/a gift basket/balloons/whatever for the next birthday. Where I work sometimes if someone deploys they will schedule deliveries once a month for the entire time they will be gone to save themselves some effort.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:05 PM on September 16, 2010

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