It was May of 1962, when I began looking forward to the end of the school year and summer break. It meant no more reading, writing or math and NO MORE HOMEWORK! It meant playing outside until the streetlights came on and not having to go to bed early. It meant picnics at the park, swimming at the beach, going to visit our grandparents in Louisiana and other fun trips and outings. But best of all it meant my birthday was coming!
It was a big deal to be invited to a birthday party because you got a chance to go visit and have fun at someone else’s house. It was exciting to receive a party invitation because it gave us something to look forward to and made you feel included. The unspoken rules were, you always dressed up for a party and you always took a gift and a birthday card.
Now, it was time for my birthday and I did something that I had never done before….I asked my mother, who we called Madea, if I could have a birthday party and invite the kids from my class at school. My hesitation stemmed from the fact that my mother was a single parent raising seven children on her own. She worked two and sometimes three jobs to provide for us and still had trouble making ends meet. We learned at a very young age that most of the time there wasn’t extra money for parties or birthday gifts, but whenever she could my mom would do something special for us and to my surprise and delight, she said yes. My sisters Diane and Deborah(who everyone called “The Twins”) and I squealed with joy and right away we started planning the party! My little sister Millie, who was about 4 years old, was happy but didn’t quite understand what was going on.
The first thing was to purchase party invitations and get them passed out at school before summer break which would begin in a few short weeks. Madea took me to the Five and Dime store and we carefully picked out two packs of party invitations. The Twins helped me fill out the invitations and I gave one to every child in my third grade class on the last day of school.
After weeks of excited anticipation, the day of my birthday party finally arrived. I barely slept the night before and was the first one up that morning. I woke up The Twins and we started putting up decorations before we ate breakfast. We put up brightly colored streamers and hung the Happy Birthday banner on the wall high above the food table, with the help of my older brother Eric. After breakfast we did our chores and gave the house a good cleaning, it smelled so fresh. We then helped Madea prepare the food which consisted of hot dogs, popcorn, potato chips, hot chocolate, Kool-Aid and, of course, my birthday cake which Madea baked herself and we decorated!
Madea then pressed and curled my hair, styling it into two perfect ponytails tied with pretty yellow ribbons and a curly bang. After putting on my favorite yellow party/church dress, yellow socks with a ruffle at the ankles and my dressy patent-leather shoes, I was ready for my party to begin. I was very excited and couldn’t wait for my friends to arrive so that we could dance, play games, eat and open birthday presents. Madea and my two oldest brothers Freddie and Edward were all huge music fans, so we had a great selection of 50’s and 60’s music to dance to including the Watusi, which was not only a song but a very popular dance! But I was the most excited about getting my birthday presents!
The party was set to start at two o’clock and as the time neared, I nervously walked back and forth checking the house to make sure that everything was just perfect. It was an overcast day, but I was full of enough energy and sunshine to light it up. The Twins were finished getting dressed and we all sat down in the living room anxiously waiting for guests to arrive.
At two o’clock exactly, there was a knock at the door and the first guest arrived. It was a girl from class, Rose and her mother Mrs. Hickson. Rose was not only a classmate, she was also a playmate to me and my sisters. She was a very shy and quiet girl who could best be described as a wallflower. She was only allowed to play with my sisters and me because her mother was my mother’s good friend. So now I, The Twins and Rose sat on the plastic covered sofa and chairs to continue waiting and the living room began to look dark and gloomy.
Time ticked away and I anxiously paced from my seat to the window looking for any sign of people coming to the party; perhaps they were lost and looking for our apartment building. After a very long time, I walked to the kitchen where Madea and Mrs. Hickson were chatting and she could see the look of worry on my face. I had an unsettling feeling in my stomach as I wondered, “Where are my party guests?” Both Madea and Mrs. Hickson tried to assure me that it was still early and people would come, “just be patient”, they said.
Well, I was as patient as any 10 year old child could be, but it soon became apparent that no one was coming to my party. I broke down and cried my little heart out as that reality hit me. Everyone tried their best to console me and after a while, I calmed down. Madea suggested that we start eating the food so it wouldn’t go to waste; so we ate and then had birthday cake and ice cream. There were no presents to open; Rose had given me a birthday card which had $2 inside. What started out as and should’ve been, the most wonderful day of my life turned into a child’s worst nightmare! “Why didn’t anyone come to my party”? That question turned over and over in my mind; and each time that thought came, it opened up the wound in my heart anew and I’d cry.
The summer waned away and I finally got through the devastation of my birthday party fiasco. I buried it deep inside, but I never forgot it and I never, ever asked for another birthday party; even to this day I’ve never had a birthday party. Time passed, I grew up, and I remember attending a few birthday parties, but I never allowed myself the thought of having a birthday party got myself. I promised myself that I would never go through that kind of rejection and humiliation again, besides it just confirmed in my mind that people didn’t really care much about me.
When no one came to my birthday party, I was deeply disappointed and felt very unimportant. I unknowingly carried these feelings into my adult life and I now see how they adversely affected my personal relationships and my self-esteem. I was never able to completely trust that people in my life really cared about me and I felt very insignificant. I resented people who celebrated their birthdays, but was very good about hiding my feelings and I was always sure to give a really great gift that was perfectly wrapped. It was as if I was the one receiving the gift and being celebrated.
“As an adult, you’ve probably realized that disappointment is a fact of life. However, children who have fewer experiences with disappointment may not brush disappointment off as easily. Furthermore, disappointments that adults may see as minor may seem like major crises to children whose perspective is limited.” 
“The development of self-esteem begins in the early years. Self-esteem is the opinion each person has of himself and his value as a person. Self-esteem is established over the course of a person’s life, but during childhood a number of situations can negatively affect a child’s self-esteem. Poor self-esteem in childhood carries over into the teenage years and adulthood, and can lead to poor choices such as alcohol use, drug abuse and bad relationships.” 
I experienced most if not all of the problems described by these researchers. If only we could know how to overcome the effects of these blows to our ego and move on. I now understand that children process life experiences very differently than adults and I was no different. I had such high expectations and anticipation for my birthday party; I looked forward to finally knowing the pleasure of having that experience. But it didn’t happen and it completely broke my heart and blew my self-esteem; I thought that it was because of me, I wasn’t cool enough, I wasn’t pretty, we were poor.
I had no idea of the many extenuating factors that kept all but one of the children I had invited not to be able to come to my party. I didn’t realize that, most if not all, of the children in my class were living in poverty and having the same struggles as my own mother, even those who had two parents in the home; In those days, parents were ashamed to send their child to a birthday party without being able to dress them up and send a birthday gift or card. So they kept their children home.
I’m thankful that I overcame this experience which occurred all those years ago and “The Birthday Party” has no power to hurt me anymore. Once I understood that what happened had nothing to do with me, I was able to move past that experience and concentrate on all of the wonderful, friends, family and life experiences that I now have. I’m thankful for writing this personal essay , because it has given me the courage to give myself a birthday party!
Works Cited Page
(1) Helping Kids Cope With Disappointment
By Miranda Morley, eHow Contributor
(2) What Are the Causes of Low Self Esteem in Children?
By Jayden M. Nichols, eHow Contributor