The Watering Hole Blog

Birthday Card Karma – Righting a Wrong

Birthday Card Karma – Can a Past Wrong be Made Right?


Mom in tiara on chair at 80th birthday
Momma Pope on her 80th birthday, Dec 3rd, 2005

A second chance doesn’t always mean a happy ending. Sometimes it’s a chance to end things right.”


Have you ever dug your heels in over something silly with someone – and then later realized how ridiculous the whole thing was?

I have.

My Mom’s birthday was December 3rd. Now, as it would turn out, her last birthday (her 88th) was on December 3rd, 2013. She passed away in March 2014 🙁

Looking back now, I’m not quite sure what bee I had in my bonnet about her birthday card that year but I sure had one. For whatever reason, I hadn’t got around to sending her a birthday card. But instead of sending her a belated one, I just called her on Dec 3rd and wished her a Happy Birthday.

“Thank you,” she said, over the phone. Then she added, “But I’m rather surprised not to have received a card from you.”

Now, what I should have said was, “Sorry, Mom, I’m running behind this year – but it’s in the mail.” And then got my sorry self to the nearest store, bought a REALLY nice birthday card and mailed it off. Problem solved, crisis averted.

But no, what did I do? I dug in my heels and decided not to send her one.

Bad idea.

Several days later, she called me again, asking about her birthday card.

Instead of answering her, I heard myself say, “Do you know what I’ve been reading about this morning, Mother?”

“What?” was her equally cool response.

“I have been reading about the work of the Stephen Lewis Foundation in Africa. As you may or may not be aware, Stephen Lewis is extremely concerned about the fact that an entire generation of mothers and fathers have been wiped out due to AIDS. And because of this, grandmothers are having to raise all those orphaned children.”

I paused a moment, for effect, then continued. “So frankly, my dear, that seems to be a hell of a lot more of an important thing to be worrying about than your damn birthday card.”

And then, just in case I hadn’t done enough damage (and believe me, I had), I finished with: “And besides, you’re 88 years old…haven’t you received enough birthday cards by now?”

Okay, that was over the top. Who knew I could be so mean?

As perhaps you can imagine (particularly if you happen to have known my Mom), this did NOT go over well. I may have had a bee in my bonnet – but I’d just poked a hornet’s nest with big fat stick.

She was livid. And in the days to follow, she proceeded to tell every single member of our family (plus her friends, caregivers, most of the people in her apartment building and probably half of Calgary) what a dreadfully rude, ungrateful and insolent daughter I was.


Now, since my Mom’s hearing was pretty bad by that point, she hadn’t actually heard the “Stephen Lewis” part of my rant. Somehow she’d heard “Nelson Mandela” (who had just passed away so that was in the news), so not only did everyone have to listen to what a horrible person I was, they also got a slightly skewed version of our actual conversation.

Let’s just say I was on the receiving end of multiple phone calls from family members asking me what Nelson Mandela had to do with the missing birthday card.

But that’s beside the point.

In hindsight, I feel really badly for being so stubborn about a stupid birthday card. But at the time, the angrier she got, the more determined I became NOT to give her what she not only expected but demanded.

And every day for the next couple of weeks, whenever one of my brothers or sister-in-laws went to visit her, they would rather gleefully (for it was my turn to be in Momma Pope’s doghouse, which meant they weren’t) report: “Just checked the mailbox…still no card from Maryanne!”

Needless to say, by the time my Mom came out to my place to visit me in Sidney for two weeks over Christmas, she was not only good and mad, she was ready to get even…and the Universe was lining up beautifully to help her out. Serves me right!

If you haven’t read my blog from that crazy Christmas, you can check out The Christmas the Wheels Came Off.

In fact, so much real life drama happened over that two-week period, I’m writing a play about it. More importantly, however, those two weeks gave my Mom and I chance to get back on track after the birthday card incident. So when she passed away suddenly 3 months later, I knew she wasn’t still holding a grudge.

At least, I’m pretty sure I’d been forgiven.

But just to be on the safe side, in honour of my Mom’s birthday this year, I made a special card that I’ve sent out to all my family:

Mom on couch with birthday balloon

Wherever my Mom is now, I bet she’s smiling…even though it is two years late 🙂

Interestingly, the day I started to write this blog, I went to the mailbox and guess what was in there? A postcard from the Stephen Lewis Foundation, in honour of World AIDS Day on December 1st.

On the front was a photo of Ugandan grandmothers marching at a national gathering. On the back was a heartfelt message from Stephen Lewis himself, frankly stating that they simply don’t have enough funds to help the thousands of women and children struggling to survive on a daily basis.

And so, also in honour of my Mom’s birthday, I have put my money where my mouth is and made a small donation to the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

For silly squabbles aside, I am very grateful to have had a mother…and a damn good one at that, even if she was a little demanding at times.

If you would like to help the Stephen Lewis Foundation turn the tide of AIDS in Africa, here is the link to donate. Thank you.

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and the Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive Maryanne’s weekly blog, please sign up here.


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7 thoughts on “Birthday Card Karma – Righting a Wrong”

  1. Maryanne. I had so many smiles reading this and I can totally relate. However, I usually give in. Butane moms 79 th birthday,
    I planned a dinner, had a card and present. But she remember the 1 line that I said that she didn’t appreciate. So I told her to let it go and think about the whole evening. She was quiet and thought about it. That was the first time I told her what I really thought. It’s all about them at this age and I guess they are surprised when we act differently. We love them and they love us, anyway. Thanks for sharing. I can be stubborn too. Hugs.
    Take Care.

  2. There was a laugh out loud/half gasp at the ‘haven’t you had enough birthday cards by now’ comment, when I was reading this. I can just imagine you both digging your heals in. Yes your mother could be demanding at times but she was also equally giving! I’m so glad I got to see her in the fall of 2013. She cracked me up that she just had to have a picture of me with Buster. Did she ever get that roll developed before she passed away? Our time with her at the casino also really cracked me up. I have some nice pictures of us there! (That I meant to send to you after her passing. You can turn Mamma Pope on me and berate me about it….lol)

  3. Hi Jac! I think I did see a photo of you & Buster 🙂 when I went through my Mom’s photos. So when I go through MY box of photos, I will for sure send you a copy. I do have some great ones of all of us at the casino!

  4. Hi Joyce! It sounds like that one comment you made to your mother-in-law about appreciation had an impact. You are right, though…despite all the relationship ins & outs, the love is there 🙂

    Take care,

  5. Not sure why I laughed so much, but I had a tear rolling down my face. Partially it’s your brutal honesty and it hits close to home. Maybe Dec born Mamma’s are high maintenance.

  6. This neat comment came in via e-mail:

    “Really enjoyed today’s WWOW. I got hooked on the Foundation a couple of years ago and now serve on the board of our local Grandmothers to Grandmothers group. Also took on putting together the newsletter each month, with plenty of help. Not good at crafts but love to write!

    The seed was planted for me about ten years ago when the Globe and Mail carried ongoing coverage of Africa by Stephanie Nolen. She turned it into a terrific book, 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa (2007): one story for every one million people living, dying or affected by AIDS in 2007.

    Nolen mentioned Stephen Lewis several times in the Globe and again in the book so when I was looking at giving my time in Calgary, this group group fit the bill.

    Since 2006, our local Grandmothers have raised over $700,000 for the Foundation’s Africa projects! One of the women featured in the book even spoke at our AGM.”
    CS, Calgary, AB

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