My birthday was yesterday. I enjoyed fifty while it lasted, and fifty-one was not off to an auspicious start. It wasn’t a bad day; it was…just a day. My family was around, and we had a nice dinner, cake, and presents, which was fun (and delicious). I had been thinking about doing this word art for a few weeks now, but it wasn’t until the morning of my birthday that I took the time, while eating chocolate chip cookies, to go through my calendar and play with my colored Sharpies.
My second son was due on October 21st (in 2004). On the twenty-third, I was sitting in the backseat of our station wagon while he was sleeping in his car seat. His grandma, Dad, and older brother were in the orchard adjacent to us, amidst the trees, picking apples.
Each eating one from the tree as was (and continues to be) our tradition. We took a few photos of apples piled on him as he slept and compared the largest ones to his tiny head.
However, he was not two days old, but eleven having come nine days early after two excruciating days in unrecognized labor. His was the most difficult of my three pregnancies, but his kind and gentle personality, his compassion and willingness to help others makes all of that, not only worth it, but mostly forgotten. His birthday is filled with his favorite, cheesecake – the only child who gets a homemade birthday cake because I can do a great cheesecake – the best according to him. Thanks Philly!
We also always go applepicking and spend the rest of the season eating perfect New York apples in all its variety – cider, cider donuts, turnovers, pie, tarts, chutney, sliced, and the best way, right off the tree or right out of the bsket kept in the coolness of the back porch.
In my family, everyone got a cake on their birthday.
It was always a surprise.
No one knew it was coming until they entered a darkened room and the family starting singing Happy Birthday.
That was how it was supposed to go, and how it went for my entire life; at least five times a year, probably more with Mother’s and Father’s Day and my parents’ anniversary.
We’d go out to dinner and come home.
There was a bit of awkward talking, waiting for the surprise moment.
At some point, my mother asked the birthday person to do her a favor so they would leave the room. When we were older, we’d fake going to the bathroom.
Once the candles were lit and the lights turned out, my mom would call the bitthday person back down to the dining room.
The singing would start and then we’d blow out the candles, turning the lights back on. Plates and forks. Cake and frosting. I love frosting.
We never saw it coming.
Surprise family cakes were the best.
I have never had a problem telling anyone my age. In theory. After a few milestones, I really couldn’t remember my age. I wasn’t sure how I’d react to forty, and surprisingly I was fine. I didn’t have a party or anything because a few weeks later my daughter would be turning one, and that was a bigger deal for her. My family took care of me though, and the year went on.
Forty-one hit pretty hard. I guess all of the mid-life angst that I didn’t have at forty came crashing down at forty-one. It was traumatic, and I couldn’t tell you why. I cried. But…at the end of that year was gong to be the best birthday, the birthday that would bring all the knowledge of the world, all the answers that I was looking for my entire life even if I didn’t know what the questions were, and that was:
Such a simple number, comes right after 41 but before 43, but still 42 held it all. The answer.
To life, the universe, and everything.
When asked how old I was, I grinned and said very firmly this is my Douglas Adams birthday. My year of Douglas Adams.
Most people understood, but many did not.
I did not suggest they read the book. I let them wallow in their ignorance. After all, I can’t complete everyone’s lives with one single explanation on the merits of reading one book, even if it is life altering, but it’s probably not for everyone, but I digress.
All I would say in response to Happy Birthday, how old are you was:
It’s my Douglas Adams year.
In answer to their quizzical look, I’d continue:
42. Life, the universe, and everything.
It all made sense.
That was my best birthday and it lasted all year.
Yesterday when I would have normally been posting something for this space, I was bringing back McDonald’s breakfast for my son on his birthday. He turned 19 yesterday, and it hadn’t occurred to me until this very moment that this is his last teenage year. He is my big baby, which sounds derogatory but isn’t meant to be. He was my first baby, and will always be my baby, but now he is 19. Wow. When did that happen?
My husband and I woke him from a deep sleep to ask if he wanted something special for breakfast. He did. So out I went and back I came. We brought him his mocha coffee and breakfast in bed. When he swung his legs over the side of his bed, my husband asked where he was going, and he declared, “the living room,” which coincidentally was exactly where I was going to eat my breakfast.
Will wonders never cease?
So we ate breakfast together in a comfortable silence, the TV remaining off, the quiet punctuated by the occasional beep of his cell phone which also doubles as his fire department beeper. He has it set up with some kind of app to get the fire calls on his phone.
We spoke a little bit about his upcoming job interview.
Eventually, breakfast was over, and he left.
Surprisingly, he returned, papers and pen in hand, leaning on a cereal box, asking me questions about his last ten years of residences for the background check.
He did his paperwork, and checked out his phone, and I checked my Kindle, looking up every now and again.
It was a nice way to spend his birthday morning.
Since I graduated high school I have not attended classes or worked on my birthday. I went on a job interview once; almost got into a car accident and after getting the job it was the first one I was fired from. No more.
I’ve learned my lesson.
I even prefer when my birthday falls on a weekday. My husband works; my kids are in school. I do my thing and we meet at home after school and work let out.
I wander, usually. I go to the mall or if it’s a nice day out, a rare treat even in early December, I go to an outdoor mall. We have a fancy one nearby with boutiques (I can afford to window shop anyway) and a café with benches and statues throughout the open space. It makes me feel as though I’m traveling some place new. I get to pretend I’m a tourist or researching my non-existent novel or a wayward traveler and I take pictures of the most mundane things and enjoy my quiet time with myself.
In the years before she died, my mother began to send me money for my gift. There’d be enough to buy myself something I needed, something I didn’t need and have lunch. I started taking myself out to lunch and beginning to be comfortable in my own skin and on my own, something I dread, but am more and more coming to appreciate and treasure.
The year after she died, my husband gave me his work incentive gift card, which happened to come the same week as my birthday– $50 from American Express and I have the same birthday ritual that I had with my mother’s gift. He knew how much it would mean to me, and it really did. It was one of the nicest things.
I almost always go to Starbucks, breakfast or lunch, have a drink, or two, relax. Write. By my birthday, the cranberry bliss bars are available.
One year we had a major snowstorm on my birthday – schools were closed and everything; no going out for me. I planned ahead to cook Shepherd’s pie and Yorkshire pudding from scratch. I’m not sure why I wanted it so badly. I might have been reading a Welsh history book or historical novel at that time, and that was all I wanted for my birthday dinner. It tasted amazing! It was also one of the only snowstorms where I wasn’t anxious or panicky.
When I was a kid we always got a birthday cake. It was always a surprise, even when it wasn’t. Whoever’s birthday it was would get called away or asked to do a chore and when we came back, the lights were out and there was cake, lit candles and everyone singing happy birthday.
Every year as we got older, we continued this, every year, and every year we would all be surprised when it was our turn. It was sweet. And we all played along even if we did roll our eyes when we were asked to do the “chore.”
We were always taken aback, surprised, thrilled everyone remembered, and if we weren’t, we played along. This was one of those family traditions that my parents loved.
In our family now, we usually pick a restaurant to go out to dinner and come home to cake. I love birthday cake – anytime of the year. It is never the wrong time to have birthday cake. My favorite kind is vanilla with buttercream frosting and some kind of flower or something made out of frosting. This year we had a vanilla raspberry that I want more of. It was the perfect blend of cake and fruit, whipped cream and fondant. Yummm.
I began my most recent birthday by attending Mass. This really is one of the most enjoyable things I do in a week. The way the light bounces off the pews and the altar; the way the words wash over me; the way the host tastes when it’s mixed with the wine in my mouth. So many senses filled in such short moments.
This year, I actually went home and shared breakfast with my husband and drank Doctor Who tea (the ninth doctor to be precise) before going out again.
Believe it or not, I spent the next hour in Payless Shoes trying on boots. I might have mentioned in earlier writings, but I was so excited to find these boots and that they fit pretty perfectly that I even walked out of the store wearing them. I can’t remember the last time I wore shoes out of a shoe store and still kept my “old” shoes which hadn’t worn out to the point of falling off my feet. I now own three pairs of shoes. Woo-hoo! The last time I bought shoes on my birthday were winter boots several years ago from my mom.
Lunch at Starbucks and cake at home. Since my son was working we had my birthday dinner two days later.
It’s funny how every birthday is the same and yet different. I pack up my Kindle, my notebook or journal and my camera. I wear my favorite clothes – this year my favorite long sweater, my new black boots and my cute black knit hat. I become me for a day and try to figure out how to stay the me I am on my birthday all the rest of the year.
The ritual stays the same year after year; it almost takes no thought or planning at all, but the happenings change just enough and each year I’m in a new place mentally, emotionally so that year’s wandering brings on new thoughts, new reflections, new grace to find.
The sun is in a different place, the clouds have different formations, the blue in the sky is a different shade. The people I run into in the shops or the café are all different and each brings a special presence to my day that I welcome and can add to my growing inventory of people and places and things and they all form the index for my reflecting and writing, always striving to find my way through the shadows.
I grabbed a pile of dust, and holding it up, foolishly asked for as many birthdays as the grains of dust, I forgot to ask that they be years of youth.
― Ovid, Metamorphoses
Happy Birthday. You have a free pastry at Panera.
– my son, this morning