You Can’t Compete With Origami

Yesterday was my mom’s birthday. And just like in years past, I failed miserably in the Card Giving department.

Normally, I’m a really good card picker-outer. I’m great with goodbyes, awesome at anniversaries, kick ass at Christmas, bedazzle with baby deliveries and bar mitzvahs, scintillate sentimentally with sympathies. But for some reason, I have this mental block when it comes to picking out birthday cards for my mom and dad. I mean, they seem perfectly fine when I’m in the store. I found this one for my mom that made me laugh out loud, so I bought it and put it away until it was time to sign it yesterday. But when I dragged it out again, I groaned and wondered what I’d been thinking, for it was neither funny nor sweet. It showed a guy on the front cover saying, You deserve the perfect gift every year. Then when you flip it open, the guy is pointing to himself and saying, That’s why you have me! Happy birthday, mom. 


Way to make my mom’s birthday all about me! And I’m not conceited. I swear. Unfortunately, we were leaving for dinner at their house and only had five minutes to spare, so there was no time to return to the store and pick out a different card. The unfunny, unsentimental one had to do. Luckily, we had a bouquet of fresh flowers we’d picked up from the farmer’s market that morning. I hoped that it would divert attention away from the crappy card. Distract ’em with shiny objects, you know?

If this had been the first time I’d screwed up the card, I could be forgiven. But sadly, it’s an ongoing occurrence.

This all began on my dad’s birthday a few years ago. 2009, to be exact. That year I bought what I had deemed a clever, funny card. But the minute I walked in the door, he was all up in my face.

“Take a look at the great card your brother sent me,” my dad said, shoving it into my hands.

I could tell right away I’d made a mistake in my card choice.  Scott had picked one of those sentimental, aww-shucks-you’re-swell-pop types of cards that is guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings, while I had opted for something humorous that came with a bottle opener taped to the inside.  My card was more along the lines of ha-ha-you-really-dig-those-beers-don’tcha-dad.  Oops.  And then I opened the card, and saw what my brother had written.

To the greatest dad in the world, it began.

Oh shit, I thought.

Calligraphy or not, I was still bested by my bro. (Courtesy of

“Umm, dad, can I have my card back?” I asked quickly, but it was too late – he was already tearing open the envelope. To make matters worse, not only had I opted for a funny card, but all I’d added to it was a hastily scribbled Have a happy birthday, dad! And it wasn’t even in cursive, because I can’t stand my handwriting. It’s not like I was competing with my brother over who would come up with the best card, it’s just that, in the face of a thoughtfully sentimental card with a straight-from-the-heart personalized message in a swirling cursive font, my bottle opener and second-grade print (with nary a message of my dad being the “best” anything) paled miserably in comparison.

Luckily, my dad’s birthday is in January and my mom’s is in May, so I vowed that evening to go all out in four months and get her the sappiest damn card this side of the Mason-Dixie line. I would even work on my cursive writing weeks in advance, so whatever gushy message I came up with would look like freakin’ calligraphy.

Fast-forward to her birthday that year, and I was ready with a fantastically sentimental card. It was flowery and the poetic verse (thanks to the scribes at American Greetings, but still) flowed beautifully. I love you, mom. You’re the best mom in the world. All that sappy junk that mothers just eat up. And she did, commenting on how nice it was. I smiled to myself, figuring this time around I had surely beat my brother handily. But then, just like dad had done back in January, she was foisting Scott’s card in my hand whilst oohing and ahhing over it and calling it “amazing.” Talk about deja vu. I was confused at first. It looked pretty plain from the outside – a standard card with a generic happy birthday greeting – but then it unfolded and opened into a birthday cake. It was like freakin’ origami.

That was the moment I realized I was in a full-scale war with my brother over greeting cards, and suffering heavy casualties. He was an unwitting participant in this birthday battle, unable to savor his hard-earned victories because he hadn’t the slightest idea we were locked in a competition.

Surprise, Scott. We are. And you continue to kick my ass to this day.

But maybe there’s hope this year. As lame as my card was, by the end of the day his card hadn’t yet arrived in the mail. A bad card trumps no card, right? This could be the turning point in the war, that decisive moment where the balance of power shifts to the opposing side. This could be my Tet Offensive. It could be my D-Day.

More likely, his card will show up in the mail tomorrow, perfect and wonderful as always.

I’m glad my parents only have one birthday apiece every year. I can’t handle the stress!


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

31 thoughts on “You Can’t Compete With Origami

  1. For my dad, the ONE requirement for his birthday is a funny card. Gifts are optional… sweet & sappy cards are forbidden… it’s something humorous or bust. In the card wars, yours would have been the “winner” with *my* dad. Oh well. Better luck next time. 🙂

    And happy belated birthday to your mom.


  2. LOL…this is just too funny!

    Makes me wonder if my kids do the same. Doubtful but it would be funny if they do. There was (and maybe still is) a small competition (not even a competition, per se) to see which one of us can make each other cry…this being between Tara and I. I do believe I have made her cry more than her me…but I have more years on her thus more experience. Or it could be, I just know my kids very well and know what tugs at their heartstrings.

    Either way, I can guarantee that your Mom loves all of your cards…humorous or sentimental. She does because she loves you! And your Dad feels pretty much the same!


    1. Hmm. I’ve seen both of you shed tears…hard to say who the “winner” is. But thank you for reminding me that it isn’t the card that matters so much as the sentiment. 🙂


  3. For parents it has to be the mushy kind with flowers and sentimental junk written inside. The more yucky sentimental the better and they are so happy with the thoughts. Guess what. I did not compose any of it. Hallmark did. Several times I bought a present and no card and all holy crap hit the fan. “We don’t want a present we want a card” And then a lecture on that. “How could I be so insensitive ?” Hey, doesn’t the giver choose what to do? And isn’t the receiver supposed to just graciously accept ? And thank God the dollar store has cards. Last one for Mother’s Day was $7.50. Wouldn’t it make more sense to apply that money toward a gift instead of a piece of cardboard with flowers in the front and dopey sentimentality written inside ? And if the relationship was , well let’s say less than optimum, the junk written inside is all a lie in the first place because I don’t feel that way at all. Mother took my bunny rabbit stuffed animal away when I was 4 and never felt close to her since then and is probably why I became an alcoholic by age 10.


    1. $7.50 for a card?! Where exactly do you shop, Carl? I’m pretty sure you can find them cheaper. I rolled my eyes over the $4 I spent on such a lame card…

      Did you ever get your stuffed bunny rabbit back? I’m dying to know.


      1. No. They lied . There is no bunny hospital. And they lied about Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Sand Man and that cheap witch the Tooth Fairy ( I never got more than 40 cents). I do not trust anyone over 7 years old. Got the card at Walgreens.


  4. I’m gonna totally save your ass next year, Mark. I was considering doing post on making hand-made birthday cards. Now, this post motivates me further. I can’t do origami, really, but I can make a killer card. Another thought–next time, let Tara pick out the card!


    1. LOL. For what it’s worth, I sent Tara several “I miss you” and “thinking of you” cards when we were dating long distance, and THOSE were perfect. I think next year I will bring her along to help guide me along so I can BEAT MY BROTHER!!


  5. “You deserve the perfect gift every year. Then when you flip it open, the guy is pointing to himself and saying, That’s why you have me! Happy birthday, mom.”


    Actually, Mark, I think that card was faaaaaaaabulous!!!!

    I have the same trouble as you when it comes to picking out cards (especially for my mother) because either the card LOOKS beautiful, but the inside sentiment is just AWFUL, or the cards looks AWFUL, and the inside sentiment is beautiful.

    “A bad card trumps no card, right? This could be the turning point in the war, that decisive moment where the balance of power shifts to the opposing side. This could be my Tet Offensive.”

    Bwhahahahahahaha! You GO, boy!

    And speaking of cards, can you believe my mother has not gotten her Mother’s Day card that I mailed to Florida a WEEK before Mother’s Day??? I called her last night and she hasn’t gotten it. She’ll probably get it right before I get there at the end of June!

    Hope you and Tara had a super weekend!


    1. I get that Florida’s a laid-back place, but sheesh – a week late with the mail is ridiculous. Hope your mom gets your card soon!

      And I’m glad I’m not the only one who has trouble picking cards out. I swear, I spent a good fifteen minutes combing the aisles, and STILL came up with a shitty card. I’m taking Kathy’s advice and bringing Tara along next time!


  6. Hilarious Mark! I didn’t know you were in competition with your brother over card picking and it will please you to know that I have a secret jealousy over his card picking ability too!! Every year on my birthday he makes me cry when I get a card from him…they’re always “perfect”. Grr.


  7. Good, fun post!

    In my household, cards are darn near forbidden. (Well. a no-special-occasion-card-that-made-me-think-of-you is okay.) I hate holidays. (Except for Halloween. Come to think of it, I even like Halloween cards.) When my kids were little, I went all out for special events, but that stressed me out beyond belief. (Why? Money, schedules and crabby, always-on-the-verge-of-divorce family members.) Even choosing a card for someone in my extended family is too challenging … because those relationships are too complex. (Think minefield.)

    After the kids were mostly grown, I gave up. I also let my kids off the hook for the rest of their lives. This year, for mother’s day, my daughter posted on my FB page and my son wished me a happy day right around 8-9 o’clock in the evening. That’s it. Which is good. They know that I don’t like a fuss about holidays and that I prefer spontaneous expressions of affection, and they give me those on a daily basis.


  8. Poor guy. I feel your pain. I always opt for the funniest/ most ridiculous card I can find. For the most part people smile and laugh and have some fun with it. Things got tricky when I met Tom. He leans towards the sweet/ flowery love metaphors/ sappy greeting cards. So every year we share those precious, awkward moments as I read his poem to me about my love soaring like a dove over mountains and rainbows. Meanwhile, he’s reading the latest poop joke/ inappropriate photo of old woman in bikini creation I bought for him 🙂


  9. I had to comment. While I am not in a war of cards, I am dealing with a tough birthday situation. My mom’s birthday is this week and usually it’s been like fighting tooth and nail to coordinate with my brother to do something special. Last year bombed. This year it’s been better. But I swear to god I just realized he is trying to compete with me. It’s so crazy. He has this idea in his head that when he is home Friday he will make the house look nice and give our mom her gift a day early. I’ll be gone Friday, but I offered to pitch in for the gift card (I don’t have a lot of money lately but I can afford that.) and he damn near said no. He wanted the gift and surprise to be just from him, I know it. And now I am trapped. Friday I won’t be home til the afternoon, but when I come our mom will be pleased and surprised and he has set up a situation where he will take all the credit and be the better gift giver. And now I officially hate birthdays. But this might be all in my head, I know. Right? It’s in my head? It’s in my head right? :X


  10. If it’s any consulation, I love every card you have given me. And yes, I will help you pick out her card next year, even though I suck at mom/dad cards too.


  11. It’s tough to win in the card competition category. We always experienced the same kind of thing – particularly with my husband’s parents. There were times when we would physically make the trip for a birthday or other holiday, and we’d always have to admire the prominently displayed mushy sentimental card from a sibling from far, far away. We tend toward humorous cards – but some folks like the mushy stuff – I just can’t bring myself to buy them, though.


    1. I think I just need to make a pact to go with nothing but humorous cards from this point forth. That way, expectations will be lowered and they’ll at least get a good chuckle once a year. Problem solved!


  12. I tend toward the funny cards for everyone but my daughter. My daughter will get the mushy card or a funny card depending on how I’m feeling the day I pick out the card. I am always letting her know how much I love her, so to me it doesn’t matter if I say it in a card or not. As long as she knows, that’s what is important!


  13. I’ve actually never considered what my sisters write in their cards to my parents. I always try to write something nice – like “So happy to have you as my mother and friend” or something like that. Now I wonder if I’m one-upping my sisters? Or – WORSE – are they one-upping me?

    Must investigate. 🙂


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