Birthdays are my favorite of all holiday celebrations. I love everything about them (well, maybe not so much the getting older part). I love having a special day that is just about me, a day that celebrates my existence. I love hearing my mother’s version of the night I was born, a story that takes on almost religious significance in family history. I love remembering some of the ways I’ve celebrated all my birthdays over these almost six decades. When I was a little girl, my mother gave me not only one but two elaborate birthday parties every year. One was a family party, for the multitude of cousins, including aunts and uncles, who lived near us. The other was for my neighborhood and school friends, all my hand-picked favorites. The parties were always at our house, and I have wonderful memories of picking out colored streamers with coordinating decorative paper plates, cups, napkins, and candles. I always had a new dress to wear, which meant a shopping trip the week before the big day. There would be fresh sandwiches (usually turkey and ham salads), home baked chocolate layer cake, and neopolitan ice cream. All my favorites.
They were grand and gala affairs, these birthday parties. And though I swear on a stack of Bibles that I am introvert through and through, I still recall being giddy with excitement about being the center of attention during these events.
When my son was little, we had a combination friend/family party for his first and second birthdays. By this time, most of my cousins had grown up, many had moved away. Some of the aunts and uncles were retired to Florida or California. Because neither Jim nor I have any siblings, there wasn’t much in the way of family to celebrate. Brian’s birthday celebrations became small family affairs, or maybe a sleep-over with one special friend.
When Brian was in second grade, he was in a particularly nice classroom with several little boys he enjoyed playing with. I had been feeling guilty about our lackluster birthday festivities, and I suggested we have a big birthday party and invite all the boys in his class. He agreed, so we set about planning how to fit 9 or 10 little boys in our small house. I moved furniture out of the way, set up card tables in the living room, decorated with streamers. I can’t recall if we had a “theme,” but if we did it was probably either cars or Star Trek.
On the appointed day, the boys descended. There was no worry about trying to fit them into the house. They simply took over every available inch of space. It was pretty wild and rambunctious, at least by our quiet standard of living. Cake and ice cream were consumed, games were played, toys were opened and wrapping paper tossed with wild abandon. It was a a typical boyish birthday party.
After it was over and the last guest had been ushered out the door, Brian turned to me and said, “Don’t ever do that to me again.” Turns out what I thought would be a fun and celebratory event for him was more akin to spending the afternoon in the seventh circle of hell.
One of the hardest lessons we learn as parents is that our children are not us. As a mother, I had identified so closely with my son that I assumed he would love the same things I loved. It’s hard to accept that our children don’t alway share our feelings or reactions or preferences. It’s a lesson we keep learning, every single day.
Today is my son’s birthday. He’s having a quiet day with his wife and son, going out for lunch, going shopping, maybe playing some video games. There is birthday cake at home for later, and presents and cards waiting to open. While some young men in their 30’s would probably enjoy a day hanging out with a group of friends, maybe going to a game, drinking some beer, I’m pretty sure Brian’s plans for today will suit him a lot better.
But there is one feeling I’m quite sure that Brian and I share: The day our sons were born was the best day of our lives.
Happy birthday to my wonderful son. May this new year of your life be filled with happiness!