People often fall into one of two camps when theirs come around: the kind that want balloons, and the kind that pop them.
I tend to tell my family to save their breath–not because I don’t like balloons, but because Sir Sackier is a god-awful singer, and without doubt, everybody wants to sing the duet part. It’s a train wreck of a song, but that’s not it. It’s not even half over after the first rousing chorus because then it has to be sung in Polish, then Spanish, and finally, just to impress, someone might start a verse in Hebrew. That one usually peters out quickly as no one is ever quite sure they remember the words, and it feels almost sacrilegious to continue muttering and mumbling something that could be mistaken for clearing your throat of phlegm.
Also, I was raised in a household that eventually fostered a lackadaisical attitude toward birthday celebrations. Being Polish, all festivities required the slaughtering of some unlucky animal, and seriously, one can only stomach so much duck blood soup. Therefore, I’m left trying to explain to my own kids why I’m not fussed when no one from my family calls or shows up to wish me happy returns on the day.
“Aren’t you offended? Doesn’t it hurt your feelings?” they’d ask.
“Nope. We were raised not to have feelings. We couldn’t afford them. Plus, we’re not big on guilt. We’ve still got a mighty big bag of it left over from catechism classes, so I think we’re all pretty much set for life in that department.”
Now it’s not that my family doesn’t ever recognize one another’s birthdays, it just happens a little later in the calendar year–like over the phone when someone has called to let you know that another ninety-year old relative has finally shuffled off this mortal coil.
“Hey, you just turned thirty, didn’t you?”
“Yep. ‘Bout seven years ago.”
“Cool. And Ciocia Grazyna kicked the bucket.”
“Dad’s Great Auntie Gracie.”
“Good heavens, I had no idea she was still alive.”
“Apparently it came as quite a shock to the rest of the family, too. Three people swore they attended her funeral two years ago.”
Nowadays, birthdays for me are much more about taking stock. I start the morning off in bed and go through a small, yet growing, checklist. Toes still working? Check. Breath coming in and out? Slow, but steady. Check. Right arm still capable of hurling wretched alarm clock across the bedroom? Let’s see …
I take stock of what hurts, and more importantly, what doesn’t, but normally does. I say a small prayer of thanks and then throw a few curses at the bits that are louder than usual.
I try to get up early enough to drag a lopsided lounge chair outside, or find an accommodatingly soft rock to perch on, in order to watch the sunrise. It’s sort of a gift I give myself. That and the two shots of tequila I bring out as a pre-breakfast tipple.
I’m only kidding. I don’t actually get up to see the sunrise.
Ok, seriously, I usually pick some yoga pose and try to hold it for as many seconds as years I’ve lived all while watching the sun creep above the horizon. By the time I’ve finished, the squirrels are having a good laugh, and birds are pointing out to their young just what not to do.
It doesn’t matter, I’ll get them all back later. We used to eat a lot of squirrel while growing up. We called it tiny chicken.
Usually, I then come into the kitchen, where Sir Sackier has cooked up something that one would normally see on a twelve-course tasting menu, but all on one plate, and the kids are bustling about snatching things like my iPad out of my hands, telling me I shouldn’t be doing any heavy lifting today.
The day continues with me basically eating too much, laughing too hard, and worrying that my kitchen will never look as it once did a few hours earlier.
I spend time really focusing on things. The direction of my writing, the height of my children, the sagging of my–well, never mind that–the point is I look with fresh eyes. Okay, maybe the eyes themselves aren’t so fresh, but the perspective is.
The phone rings and one of the kids peeks at the caller ID and says, “Hey, Mom, it’s your second cousin Celia.”
“Don’t answer it,” I shout.
“Geez, Mom, they’re only going to wish you a happy birthday.”
“No, they’re not. They’re calling to tell me about somebody’s deathday.”
“Whatever,” they respond. “And just so you know, G-ma and G-pa’s car just pulled into the driveway.”
“Quick! Somebody hide the ducks. Or we’re going to have two funerals to attend this week.”
“No worries. Dad’s already made dinner. He said you’d love it.”
“Great,” I sigh. “What did he make?”
“I’m not really sure … I think he said it was some kind of soup.”