By Tim Kalinowski
This week my niece and nephew both celebrated their birthdays. These are siblings born a few years apart but only a few days apart on the calendar. Every year I struggle with the decision of what to give them and how to properly celebrate another year of their beautiful and adorable lives. They have two parties within a few days of each other. They have two birthday cakes. It also just so happens this pair live in Medicine Hat close by.
I am an extremely busy guy in my job as a newspaperman. It is difficult to dedicate two different days to both of them. And to be completely fair, I have two other nephews who live in Saskatoon and another niece that lives in Ottawa. I can’t get to their parties every year or give them a personal birthday gift. (I usually make up for it at Christmas with more expensive gifts then.) Therefore I struggle with what is the right thing to do in this situation and usually end up half-assing it somehow.
Family politics is a tough game. Unlike most frlends who accept your situation relative to their situation, family members keep score.
“You bought Rider and Sasha a birthday gift but you didn’t buy one for Luke and Everett.” “You go to Saskatoon and Medicine Hat all the time but you never come to Ottawa.” “They had Christmas last year, so we should get it this year.”
These are all common refrains and criticisms you hear when you are in a multi-family situation within a broader clan of interests.
I can honestly say I despise family politics, and therefore tend to stay clear during inter-family disputes until the air clears. Unless they are, of course, somehow coming after me for reasons I cannot begin to comprehend. I have no kids. I live my life in my own way without impacting any of theirs and staying as neutral as possible. Being the bachelor uncle who is not as financially secure as the others I go where and when my more limited resources take me. I would love to go to Ottawa every year, but it is simply not financially feasible for me. Sometimes I get blindsided by these inter-family squabbles and the strange turns they take.
So what to do about my niece and nephew’s birthdays this week? These kinds of decisions always cause me stress. I can stare a politician right in the eye and call him or her out when they are obfuscating on an issue. I can drive into a wildfire without blinking if that’s what I need to do to get the story. I can travel to the farthest corner of the world carrying little more than a knapsack and a passport and do just fine.
My point is I do not scare or intimidate easily. But confront me with two sets of hazel eyes and two cute blond heads, the thought of disappointing them, and all the family politics behind a simple birthday gift, I can feel my nerves jangling.
So what to do about my niece and nephew’s birthdays? Maybe I am making it all more complicated than it needs to be. Maybe. Possibly. Why do I need to buy them any gifts at all? Can I just be practical and rational? I should just refuse to be a slave to the expectations of others. Teach these kids to learn to accept whatever I have to give and nothing more. Goshdarnit that’s what I need to do!
Two sets of hazel eyes looking up at me expectantly.
I wonder if that toy store is still open after 5 p.m.?