Sunlight creeps into a new day. I open my eyes and my first thought on November 19 is, “Today is my birthday. Does anyone know? Does anyone care? Well, I do.” Birthdays are important because they celebrate our life for a day. Feelings about the day morph as life goes on but at some point, as an adult, we need to make peace with the existence of birthdays and decide how we will live out the remainder of our life of birthdays. And for me I decided long ago that I would define my own celebration. I gave myself permission to feel special on that day and that I wanted those in my life to feel important on their birthday, if possible.
My mother was there on that cold November day when I came. She alone remembered every detail of my beginnings and they were vivid in her thoughts during each of my birthdays to follow, I know. I am sure she recalled my rosebud mouth (she said I had one), my wee, pink 5 pounds curled in her arms, smelling of baby lotion sweetness. There is no earthly joy quite like that day for a new mother. I believe that is why mothers instigate birthday celebrations forever after.
When October comes I know I will reminisce the births of my first 3 Children. My first boy arrived right on time, October 3--a 9 ½ lb. breech, C-section after 22 hours of labor, when I thought I might die—then the wonder of the sweet little boy in my arms. I never expected to feel this much elation, especially after the difficult delivery. Three years later on October 6, a little girl was born at 5:52 AM. I still see 5:52 AM on my clock some mornings and think of that day. She was a healthy 10 ½ lbs. but there was no labor this time—a scheduled caesarian. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen with her big eyes and dark skull cap of hair. Oh yes, I should celebrate this day. And then 2 years later, on October 12, another little boy was born with clogged tear ducts and a little indentation in his chest, but it made me want to love him even more. 8 lbs. 12 oz. made him my smallest baby, but now he is the tallest at 6’6”. And then there was a gift for my mother, a beautiful 10 lb. little boy born on June 19, her birthday. How delightful of him to come on that day.
We didn’t have friend birthday parties when I was a child except once for me when I was 10. I am still amazed my mother did it. Our house was an unfinished basement embarrassment. We lived 3 miles out of town. I didn’t have friends come to play very often. But my sweet mother waxed the old linoleum, made the beds and tidied up the house. She baked her famous golden layer birthday cake with mounds of fluffy 7 minute frosting and crowned it with 10 candles for me to blow out, while 7 little girls sang happy birthday to me. It was a surprise party. I left the bus and skipped down the lane to my home after school anticipating that there would at least be a family party and always the special cake and a present. But my heart leapt with joy when I opened the door to the shouts of “Surprise!” I can still feel every minute of that lovely day. Thank you mother for that happy memory. Maybe that is why I agreed to a birthday party every year for each of my children. The first week of October was always a mad house of parties and baking, but I did it anyway. And it was always lots of fun.
When my first little boy, Beau, was a year old we were students at Stanford living in a 4-plex facing another one with a courtyard in the middle. We invited everyone we knew. I made papier-mâché puppets of Goldilocks and the 3 bears and put on a puppet show. We cranked homemade ice cream to eat with the clown cake and had a fish pond for the kids. When my grandson Michael was two I resurrected the puppets and rewrote the Goldilocks story for him. For the next 4 birthdays I wrote a new puppet show and collected a rag-tag of assorted puppets for the stories. And I made whatever cake he wanted—a horse, an elephant, a cheetah and others. His mom lets me make the cakes. Last year Luke came for Michael’s 9th birthday and I wrote another show about the two of them. (All the stories and puppets are saved for retelling.)
Lots of years I cook and invite friends to my house for my own birthday lunch. No one is allowed to bring presents. We just have a nice gab fest. I love doing it. I also give lots of birthday lunches for friends or would be friends.
There have been years, after they left the nest, when some of my children have forgotten my birthday. I don’t really care about presents but I do want to be remembered with at least a phone call. I think they would be very hurt if I forgot them. I usually call them late in the evening. Sometimes I sing, “happy birthday to me.” Now they never forget. Again, I believe we should define how we want our birthday to be and never feel sad or rejected because someone didn’t make us feel happy on our day. We can make our own happiness. It helps to communicate what you want.
Mike loves the birthday cake with the fluffy frosting. That’s all he cares about. But he wants fudge filling in the middle. That is my addition to make it special for him, chocolate lover that he is. One year Leif’s girlfriend called me from Seattle wanting to know how to make a Snicker Pie so she could make it for his birthday. He always wanted a Snicker Pie instead of a cake and I am glad I had something that he remembered with longing. Beau always wants a Fresh Peach Cream Pie. I feel happy that I had traditions of something from my kitchen, to show my love, and not just a cake from Smiths. Maren likes the old family birthday cake. Once I tried to mail her one when she was living in South Carolina. Something was wrong with the address and by the time it arrived it was not worth eating. (I did have the frosting separate for her to frost but alas the plan failed, hopefully I got credit for trying.)
The morning after my birthday when the light strikes my eyes I think, “Whew, I am glad my birthday is over and I can go back to feeling normal.” One day a year is more than enough of that special birthday feeling.