I thought of all the times that I'd felt left out. I could still feel that hollowness settling in my stomach and that heaviness pressing against my chest when I'd find out that friends were doing something I wasn't a part of.
My little guy stood with his nose pressed against the window in our dining room. I could see the breath marks on the glass appear and reappear as he breathed. Usually, I would have chastised him for getting the glass dirty but that day I just felt sorry for him.
There was a bounce house in the backyard next door and we could both hear the hum of the fan mixed with children's laughter. He gazed out our back window with a pout on his face.
I went through my cabinet of goodies and pulled out Play-Doh, puzzles, board games, anything that could steer his attention from the neighbor's backyard. They were throwing a birthday party for their child and my son wasn't invited.
"Why don't we build an airport out of Legos?" I said, trying to sound excited.
He huffed and looked at me, "Why wasn't I invited to the birthday party?" He furrowed his brow, dropped his chin, and I heard his voice tremble a little on "party."
I took his hand and guided him to the couch. It was the place where we have all of our discussions. He grabbed one of his diecast airplanes and twirled it around in his hands avoiding eye contact with me.
"I know you're upset that you're not invited to the neighbor's birthday party," I started.
He nodded, confirming my statement.
"But," I stopped trying to protect him with the exact right words, "there are going to be parties and playdates in your life that you will not be invited to."
He slumped over after hearing my harsh words. I messed up. I had always tried to be direct with him but this time, I realized, I was being too direct.
"But what we can do," I continued, "is get in the car and go to that park across town that has the spaceship. We can do something else that's fun." His eyes brightened and he ran to grab his shoes and sweatshirt.
On the way to the park, I thought of all the times that I'd felt left out. I could still feel that hollowness settling in my stomach and that heaviness pressing against my chest when I'd find out that friends were doing something I wasn't a part of. I was on a mission to include everyone in any celebration that my family hosted.
I made sure to send a birthday invite for my son's fifth birthday via email a month in advance. I knew summer was a time for travel and kids were having birthday parties almost every weekend. I was just as excited for my son to spend his special day with his friends as I was to host their parents, as many had become friends of mine.
I received a staggering influx of responses but one really stood out. One of the moms, who was also a friend, replied that she couldn't come because she and a couple of other moms I knew were taking a road trip.
I felt that old, familiar agony in my chest as my stomach dropped. I reread the reply three times and became fixated on it. For a moment, I forgot about all the enthusiastic "yes" replies that I'd just received. My world was reduced to this one "no."
I walked away from my computer, retreated into the backyard, and started to aggressively pull weeds from my garden. The birds were chirping and the sun was out but none of that mattered because it felt like there was a gray cloud over my head.
As I clenched each weed, my mind went round and round trying to figure out why I wasn't invited on the road trip. Was I annoying? Was I a bad friend? Did they even like me? What was it about me that they didn't want on their road trip?
When my husband came home, we discussed the situation. He listened intently and honored my feelings but as the conversation continued, my oldest son entered the room in his Paw Patrol pajamas clutching his baby blue blankie.
"What's wrong?" he inquired.
"Nothing," I responded defensively. "I mean, I'm fine."
He looked at me with a quizzical expression to let me know that I'm a terrible liar.
"I guess," I started. "My friends are doing something together and I wasn't invited."
My son started to smile like he knew the answer and screamed out, "Mom! Who cares? We'll have our own fun."
It took everything in me to not stomp my right foot, clench my fists and tell him that it wasn't fair. But then, I thought of how silly it was to feel insecure and anxious about something that didn't matter in the long run. Let them have their girls trip, I thought. I had a fun birthday party to plan for a wonderful boy.
"You're right," I replied. "We'll have our own fun."