When I turned 6 years old, they made me go to school even though I thought a birthday girl should be free to miss classes. I did not think that was fair. I was grumpy. But during lunchtime, my Papi came to my classroom with a pretty chocolate cake for me and all my classmates. It was an Entenmann’s chocolate on chocolate, my favorite!

Most of the time, I was in trouble at school. That means, I was often in time-out. So, the kids that I most wanted to play with, well, they didn’t want to play with the class “crybaby.” This was not like most days, though. I was everyone’s friend while that cake was on the table before us all, and my Papi was there. It was the best day ever!

I got home after school that evening, and my entire family was waiting for me there. They yelled, “Surprise!” I was happier than I had been in class. There was a huge, multi-tiered cake on the table, and it was pretty! The cake had my name on it. I wanted to eat it right away!

They made me wait and first play party games. We popped balloons with a pin and then followed the instructions written inside each one. I got to hop like a bunny. My cousin stood on her head and said something about a pirate ship while holding her tongue. (If you know that game, it’s not for little kids, but such is life.)

Later, the cake was lit up with candles and everyone sang “Happy Birthday!” Finally, they cut the cake, and I was about to get to bit into all that deliciousness! Inside, the cake was white with pineapple filling. I instantly dissolved into tears. I hated pineapple! It felt stringy in my teeth, and I hated that texture with a venomous passion. Why, on my birthday, did my Mami order the one type of cake I hated? I began shouting and pretty much had one of the biggest meltdowns ever.

Papi took me out into the hallway. He reminded me of the chocolate Entenmann’s cake that I got to eat that day in school. He told me that he knew that I didn’t like pineapple filling. He had done all that to make up for the fact that Mami would invariably buy pineapple filling for every single party no matter what our personal preferences were. It was the expected thing to do when you got a cake at that bakery, and she always did things the conventional way. I hugged him, and then he told me the bad news. I needed to go inside and apologize to Mami. I don’t know if I apologized, but I think I probably did. What I knew, however, was that I had a strong sense of shame for crying and screaming that way. I was sorry for making my good Papi sad.

I never had a big party like that again until I was 16, and my cousin Denise did pretty much all the masterminding and preparation for that one. The whole family came that time, too. I behaved much better, though I wasn’t blameless. It seems like during what should have been many of the biggest, most delightful moments of my life, I’ve managed to behave badly. Isn’t that awful?

One day, my daughter told me off. Now, this is the child who is usually very kind to me. She is always the sweetest thing, but on this day, she said, “Please don’t ruin today by arguing with Daddy. We always have a hard time when he tries to take us out to have any fun.” I was floored. What! I was certain that he persecuted me when we went out as a family. It was all his fault, wasn’t it?

That moment was a turning point to me. And I’m still walking through this process. I’m still learning how not to let my emotional responses cause a rift in the atmosphere that completely ruins the fun of the experience for everyone. You see, I’m quick and explosive. I blow up instantly, and then I’m just fine. But not everyone around me feels the same way about my meltdowns. They get tired of it. And I’m learning. It’s important to keep the peace. Even when my first instinct is to react angrily. Today, think about it. You’re full of experiences that can teach you something. Is there an area of your personality that’s taking over the atmosphere in your home and making things tense among your family? It’s time to make some changes. I’m doing it, (painstakingly slowly at times, but still doing it), and so can you!

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