REPORT A PROBLEM
Such a tomboy. More interested in battleships than baby dolls. Running to keep up with my brother, wanting to best him at everything he did. But my birthday cake was always pink and heart-shaped because it was so near to Valentine’s day. My mother had actually gone into labour on that day of cupids and kisses, but I stubbornly resisted entering the world until two days later. All the same my mother insisted the party theme would be all about Valentines. And, in spite of my usual boy-like bents, I embraced the idea. Valentines became ‘MY’ holiday.
The costume shop in a large theatre company is a sisterhood. Strong bonds were formed during long hours spent working together towards a common cause. Often working 80 hour weeks, our lives were lived together in that shop – there was no time for anything else. Weekends off were a rare luxury. So we celebrated everybody’s birthdays and partied on opening nights, drinking multiple bottle of champagne to blow off stress. One time the two coincided. The cake ordered from the German pastry shop was meant to read “Happy Birthday and Opening.” It arrived with the inscription “Happy Birth Opening.”
The high school dance was the same night as my birthday. Mom invited my friends for cake afterwards. The dance was much the same as other dances. The boys mostly stood along the wall, the girls danced with each other. Only known couples ventured out on the dance floor together. I could not believe it when Scott, a grade 13 guy, asked me, a lowly grade 10-er, to dance. I invited him to come to my party, but first we drove down to the beach, where we necked for half an hour. Mom was furious when I arrived late.
One of the best birthday gifts I ever received was from my ex-husband. It was a deluxe Swiss Army Knife. Not the very fattest, which is so big that it is hardly handy anymore, but one that had just enough extras to make it neat, without being too bulky. I was charmed to get something that reflected who I truly am, with my interest in intelligent design. I used to carry that tool in my bag at all times and it came to the rescue on many occasions, especially while traveling. Sadly 9/11 changed that for air travel.
Today is my sister’s birthday. She is fifty years old. She is the youngest of the siblings, so we are now all on the downhill slide. Fifty was the age when my mortality became more of a reality than it had ever been before. Somehow at 49 it still seemed like I had years ahead of me, while at 50 it was apparent the end was looming close. I guess the math is easier to comprehend from a round number. And your body begins to make it perfectly clear to you that you cannot stave off the aging process.
In my experience, having a little girl means having a house littered with Barbies. Even if you never purchase one yourself, they come at you from every angle. Friends with older girls download them on you; they sell cheap at lawn sales so your child can buy them with her allowance; and they are a staple for birthday presents. The year my daughter chose Barbie party invitations was the worst. The other mothers took it as a cue that Sophy was into Barbies. Every single child showed up with a Barbie as a gift. Sophy did not mind at all.
There was one girl in our class who was invited to every birthday party without fail. She was not pretty, smart or talented. Her family was poor and they lived in a rundown old house. She was not particularly popular. But her mother was a wonderful seamstress and made beautifully detailed Barbie clothes. That unobtainable glamour gown that was so expensive to buy? Her mother could knock it off and make it even better, with sparkly sequins or faux fur trim. Those flawless doll clothes were prized by all the girls in town. Coincidentally, the girl’s name was Barbie.
I always had a faint guilt that maybe I let my kids have too much sugar. Other parents I knew were much more strict. I remember one mother telling me she put just a few pieces of Shreddies cereal on top of her kids’ health food store cereal to sweeten it. At my son’s birthday I noticed one child was missing from the games in the basement. I went upstairs and found him crouched behind a door greedily shovelling candy into his mouth. It was literally horrifying to witness. I was glad I had not created desperados like that.
We saw he struggled through dinner. He had been unwell since Christmas. And depressed. Our gift for my father’s 70th birthday was meant to give him something to look forward to – a hot-air balloon ride. He always wanted to do that. His birthday was in January. We would have to wait for the summer. By then he was on his deathbed. We celebrated my mother’s birthday in the hospital. He could barely lift his head; it was hard for him to talk. Outside, as if to taunt, a parade of hot-air balloons drifted past the window.
For my tenth birthday party, when I was in grade five, I invited a boy. This was an unprecedented act in our small town. The only males who were ever included in a girl’s birthday celebrations were younger brothers, if they were included at all. But Kenny and I had been hanging around after school, exploring the bush and poking around in streams. We always had lots to talk about. It only seemed right to ask him to come. The present he brought made me feel all grown up – a bouquet of flowers; the first I had ever received.
The kitchen table was set up in the back yard. We had lemonade, hot dogs and cake. My mother said it was because I had a winter birthday and it was no fun holding a party indoors. So she organized one on my half-birthday that year. I think it was really because we moved to town in January and I had not made many friends by my birthday. I do remember a dismal Valentine’s exchange at school since nobody really knew me. I loved the idea so much I now celebrate my children’s half-birthdays for fun.
Looking back, I am sheepish by just how much my mother indulged me on my birthday. There was always the heart-shaped cake. But, in addition, my mother knew I loved miniature things (what kid doesn’t?). For several of my birthday parties she made mini hot-dogs and hamburgers. The hot-dogs were those little cocktail sausages, and the smaller patties were easy enough. But it was the tiny buns that were the challenge – they had to be baked. My kids never got anything like that. But working outside the home kept me sane. They were spared other consequences
Sophy loved Honey; Honey was her cat. But Honey peed everywhere, trying drive the other cat, Cindy, away. We tried everything, including a cat psychologist. We threw out carpet after carpet. The last straw was when we had to put a couch on the curb. Sophy knew Honey had to go, but all the same, she was heartbroken. I put out word that Honey needed a new home. We lucked out and found people willing to take Honey. They arrived one evening after I got home from work, and left with Honey. Afterward I realized it was Sophy’s birthday.
The government of Ontario generously provided me with a long weekend on which to celebrate my birthday. With the institution of Family Day I now have a three out of seven chance that I will have a weekend day to celebrate. The first year Family Day came into being, my 50th birthday fell right on the Saturday. Steve rented the Legion Hall on the Lakeshore and his band provided the entertainment. My mother flew my sister in from Vancouver. It was a great party. Ironically, now that I have passed that milestone, I will keep celebrations will be low-key.
I believe my brain is carmelized with all the sugar of the past couple of days. There were brown bananas around so I made banana bread on Friday. Yesterday Sophy brought home a failed chocolate cake from the café where she works. It had fallen flat, but turned out to be quite heavenly fudge. Steve made spanokopita for my birthday dinner, and the leftover pastry was filled with nuts and honey. And, in addition to all that, there were Valentine’s chocolates AND I got two boxes of chocolate for my birthday. Menopause or not, nobody needs that much chocolate.
If today is your birthday: This year, you have an opportunity to stabilize your finances and create greater monetary flow and security. (Yay!) Your understanding of those in your immediate environment frequently emerges. Others will tend to confide in you, learn to keep a secret. (Oh, oh, what are my teens up to?) Dote on your significant other a little more often. You will witness a change. Enjoy the new warmth. (Wow, even more? That will be downright hot!) Okay, okay, so I cheated and copied my horoscope for today. It’s my birthday, I can do what I want.
I find it hard to fathom how people can believe in horoscopes. Even though I do read mine in the paper, it is more for chuckles. How can everybody born in a certain month have the same character traits? Even harder to believe is the Chinese system, where everybody within an entire year has similar personalities. When I was in art college one of my friends insisted on reading my chart. “Four planets in Aquarius,” he said. “Scary.” Yes, that’s me – scary. I scare myself, sometimes, with my own stupidity. What can you expect if your planet is Uranus?
She was the most exotic thing I had ever seen, with rich silk, gold trimmed sari and matching gold earrings, nose ring and necklace. Her hair in a thick long braid reaching to her hips. Her husband worked with my father and my mother was helping her acclimatize to Canada. At 12 years old I was probably just as suitable a companion for her. She was 15 years old and a new bride. Her husband’s family in India had chosen her for him by the suitability of her horoscope. After the wedding he brought her to a new world.
I was invited to stay, therefore I witnessed one of those parties I had only heard about before. The little girl was dressed like a princess. Her two attractive parents fussed over every detail. There were several very professional entertainers. The food was catered and the cake was an extravagant creation. When we left the party, I was embarrassed to see that the contents of the loot bag were more expensive than the gift we had brought. Later I found out the parents were going through a bitter divorce and came together only for the occasion of their daughters birthday.
Easter is like Christmas in Steve’s family. Several birthdays occur in April. They lump everything together. Steve’s mother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew, and Steve all have attention focused on them. Those whose birthdays occur the rest of the year are on their own. I make sure my kids’ birthdays are appropriately marked. For my own, I really don’t care that much, but if I wanted it celebrated I would have to make it happen. Steve’s sister sulks that nobody holds a party for her birthday in August. She can damn well do it herself.
The most embarrassing incident of my teenage years occurred during my birthday party in grade nine. Furniture pushed aside and rug rolled up for people to dance. Lots of witnesses when my boyfriend, Bill, decided to tickle me by jabbing his fingers into my sides. At first I laughed good-naturedly and tried to get him to stop, but he wrestled with me and dug deeper into my ribs. “I’m going to pee!” I screamed, but he kept going. So I peed – a big puddle in the middle of the floor. That was it for Bill as a boyfriend.
The only ‘milestone’ birthday that bothered me was when I turned 20. All the other ones – 30, 40, 50 – were no problem. I felt none of the angst of being ‘over the hill.’ However, I was truly sad to have to leave my teens behind. Maybe it is because we live in a youth-focussed culture that elevates teens to a special status. I spent my childhood pining to be a teen. And I had fantastic teen years. I guess once I got over the pain of not having ‘1’ in the first digit of my age, everything else was easy.
Bill was in the middle of a big show and he insisted he could not take the time to celebrate his birthday. We settled that we would have a dinner with his parents the following Sunday. He was working late on his birthday, but I knew the crew would have a beer or two together afterwards. I phoned one of the guys and tipped him off, so that Bill would not have the day go by unmarked. He stumbled in drunk and shoved me violently awake. “The guys in the crew remembered my birthday, but you didn’t,” he said.
As an Ontario Hydro executive, my father was always going on overnight business trips to head office in Toronto. He would drive down with other guys who were taking part in the meeting. Dad was incredibly handsome and women were always falling all over him. I imagine my mother experienced some anxiety. One year for his birthday I made an oval-shaped pillow, on which I painted a face, and added yarn hair. It was a portrait of Mom for Dad to take on his trips to hug at night. I bet nobody appreciated that gift more than my mother.
Three weeks before Christmas is enough distance that Sophy’s birthday does not get lost in the holiday celebrations. Friends who were born closer to the day complain of always getting Birthday/Christmas gifts. They feel deprived. We have the outdoor lights up to greet the guests, but the house is tree-free for Sophy’s party. We put it up the week after. The year she was born we were asked if Sophy could play Jesus in a Christmas pageant to celebrate his birthday. We said no, and have managed to keep her birthday separate from his ever since.
The first birthday of one’s first baby is memorable and exciting. My son was the first grandchild on either side of the family. Lenny still had both set of grandparents intact. There were plenty of people to dote on him. Of course, a party for a one-year-old is more for the adults. The child usually ends up crumpling into tears at one point or another because they are over-stimulated and they don’t understand what is happening. And I was somewhat preoccupied, having just learned that I was already a month pregnant with my second baby.
February is the month that upsets the applecart, with its extra day every four years. I have heard of people born on February 29 who only get a birthday when ‘Leap Year Day’ comes around. I always thought that was cruel. Their families could celebrate a year going by rather than marking the occurrence of a specific date. I once heard the ridiculous claim by a person born on February 29, that he was only six years old when he was actually 24, because he had only had six birthdays. It kind of messes up the whole horoscope thing, too.
Thank goodness February is a short month because my theme of ‘birthdays’ is becoming threadbare. However it does lead nicely into my projected theme for March. That is the month of my son’s birthday. Lenny will be 19 years old and therefore considered to be adult enough to drink and smoke. A birthday is an anniversary for the parents as well as the child – especially the first child. Lenny’s upcoming birthday on March 22 will be the nineteenth anniversary of my becoming a mother. My theme for March will be about finding oneself in the position of parent.
The Tip Jar