The birthday lunch is almost ready.
I am waiting impatiently for the last part of the meal to be done. “Ding” The microwave timer tells me now the final part of our meal is done. I get the food out, and place it carefully on top of the rest of our lunch. The only thing left to do is take the cake to the table. “Should I get it now, or wait until after we have finished eating our lunch?” I wonder. I decide to wait. After all, the line at the vending machine might be shorter after we eat.
I take the heated-up sandwiches, small bags of chips, chocolate milk, and cans of pop back to my 2 little boys and my husband. They are sitting around the small table in the middle of the prison visiting room. I see the mixture of excitement and pain in my son’s eyes as he sees me coming with the food. He is so excited to be celebrating his birthday with his daddy; but so sad to have another birthday party in a prison visiting room. “Happy Birthday, baby boy!” I say as warmly as I can muster before dropping a kiss on his forehead and depositing the food onto the table.
The memories are bittersweet
I vividly remember every birthday we celebrated in prison visiting rooms. Fifty-seven birthday parties in prison visiting rooms in the 15 years Ron was in prison. Truthfully, 1 is too many. The memories are bittersweet. We did our best to create a special time for each other on “Birthday Visits.”
Hostess cupcakes, soda pop, and the first choice of the vending machine food were all a part of the festivities around the little table. We sang Happy Birthday and talked about what we wanted, or what we had received. I don’t remember the gifts each year, but I will never forget the parties. As painful as it was, we did our very best to make them true celebrations. We focused on the blessings of being able to be together, how much the boys were growing and what amazing boys they were. for more about planning your prison visit, read this.
Celebrate your children, no matter what
It was always hard to leave after the Birthday Visits. As our boys grew, they saw each birthday as another marker of time they had lost with their father. Birthdays got harder and harder for them—so it got more and more important to us to make sure we celebrated THEM. It could not be about what we were missing, but it had to be about what we had.
Every Prison Has Its Own Rules
Prison makes birthdays a completely different experience. It doesn’t matter whose birthday it is, everyone in the family is affected when another birthday is spent in prison. The good news is that there are things you can do to build positive experiences – and great memories–for your children in spite of the prison setting. For more on what to bring to a birthday visit, read this article.
We are so used to just picking up the phone and making a call to whoever we want to talk with whenever we want to hear their voice. With technology today, we are used to having instant and inexpensive access to people 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When someone goes to prison, all of that changes abruptly!
Are simple gifts best?
Here are some simple things you can do to create an extra special birthday experience for your children during a prison visit with Dad:
Here is a list of meaningful gifts you can send to someone in prison:
- Dress up as if you are going to a fancy restaurant – You can pretend that you are at the finest restaurant, eating the best food together as a family
- Surprise them with a special gift from Dad—This requires a LOT of advance planning. Most institutions will allow prisoners to send things home with their family as long as pemission is granted ahead of time. It might be a handwritten card, a picture, a craft Dad made, or a special candy they can get out of the machine. The important thing here is that the child takes something from Dad home.
- Sing Happy Birthday out loud to your child together. The memory of you and Dad singing to them together drowns out the noise in the visiting room.
- Adjust your own attitude. Don’t be a “Moaning Mama” and complain. Instead, focus on the positive side and share the things you are grateful for with your child.
- Spend some time sharing positive things about the Birthday Boy or Girl. These can be current things or memories. This helps your child connect to Dad as he shares his favorite memories. It also helps Dad connect to their children as he learns more about his child by hearing your memories, too.
- Don’t cry. Cry before, cry after—but don’t cry at your child’s birthday party. Decide you are going to focus on celebrating and then do it.
- Let your child have as much time with Dad on their Birthday Visit as they want. If they take up the entire visit talking about baseball, then let them! They need to feel special with Dad.
There are a lot of ways to celebrate birthdays inside of a prison. Get creative and do what your family loves to do—just stay committed to making sure it is a celebration of life, love, and learning more about each other. You are going to get through this.
I am rooting for you-