I just celebrated my birthday last week. Or as my husband, Birthday Buzzkill would say, my birth month, June. He and I were raised differently regarding birthdays. His family didn’t get all riled up about them. I guess they figured, everyone has one. What’s the big deal? To each his own.
On the other hand, I was raised by a mother who loved celebrations in general, especially birthdays, especially her own. A woman from The Greatest Generation, she was all about seizing the day. Every year, she would throw a birthday party for each of the nine of us, culminating in a grand soiree for her own birthday in December. Because my birthday was at the end of June, I started getting excited as soon as school let out. Hence, the monthlong birthday.
God granted my mother with seven of the nine of us being born in the summer months, three in June and four in August (honestly, what was going on in September and November?!”). Summer birthday parties were simple back then. Just throw everyone in the back yard, fill some balloons with water for a balloon toss, play Red Light, Green Light, have some cake and ice cream, and off you go. They were not extravagant affairs, just modest parties. A time to feel special, in the spot light, which feels good when you’re one of a litter. No bedazzled princesses doing face paints, no bouncy houses. It’s a birthday party after all, not a carnival, or a Prom, God help us.
My annual fete was so laid back that I was literally the last person to arrive at my own tenth birthday party. Marge and I were running late (shocker) from getting a Hough Bakery cake and paper plates. My guests were milling about in the back yard when we came barreling through the door with our booty. (They are lucky my dad didn’t put them to work weeding the flower beds back there). That was the year that my mom gave me a wooden dollhouse for my birthday. I was excited about painting it and gussying it up with design features. But it was also a little embarrassing. I mean, I had crushes on the family of cute boys moving in next door. Could I have a boy crush and also play with dolls? It was confusing … I ended up giving that doll house to my niece the next year. As the youngest of a big family, I was an aunt of two kids when I was nine, of four by age ten. It felt strange to be an aunt who was still playing with dolls.
Raised with this culture of birthday reveling, I threw birthday parties for my own kids every year until they were about ten or twelve, much to the dismay of Birthday Buzzkill. Typically, they were pretty cut-and-dry (this was before Pintrest sent mothers everywhere over the edge with the pressure of being darling and cute IN ALL THINGS). We went off site a couple of times: Malley’s Chocolates Café, with the carousel seating, bowling, the zoo. A few times I combined the parties of my two oldest daughters because their birthdays are only three weeks apart. One time, I hired a clown magician to entertain a gaggle of girls in my living room. I naively thought the clown would keep them distracted and busy, allowing me to get the pizza and cake ready, and maybe read a page of the paper. Turns out I was completely unnerved to have an actual clown in my house. Because, you know … clowns. I felt uneasy about leaving this man, this clown, alone with all these little girls. I spent the whole time standing in the doorway of the living room, within arm’s reach of the kitchen knives, giving the poor guy the hairy eyeball. “I’m watching you, pal. Don’t even try getting weird with these kids.” Nothing untoward happened, of course. But I was glad to get him the hell out of my home.
A few years later, I again combined those two birthdays and we all went to a laser tag place. History repeats itself. The girls and I were late for their own party, not because we were picking up the cake, but because we were picking head lice out of their hair all morning. I was maniacally combing their hair – so, so much hair – and drenching them in toxic Rid chemicals so as not to send their friends home with a surprise party gift. “Thanks for coming! Here’s a little something extra for you to share with your own family! You’re welcome!”To make sure no critters jumped from their heads to their guests’ heads, I slathered their hair in Vaseline, and braided their hair tight, just to seal the deal. They looked like very stressed out, itchy ballerinas who were packing heat.
So, here I am, fifty-five, “double nickels.” As they say, “it’s better than the alternative.” My youngest daughter is turning twenty-one and I’m all done throwing children’s birthday parties, putting that energy towards writing, yoga, reading, and other inward endeavors. When I turned fifty a few years ago, I was on tour, visiting friends in town and out of town as much as I could, traveling my brains out. It was my Jubilee Tour, like a monsignor celebrating his milestone. I’ve heard sayings like, “I’m running out of runway,” but I don’t really like to think about that. I mean, I’m middle aged, right? The glass is half full … I guess that means I plan on living until age 110? If I’m blessed? Is that a blessing?
Of course, there’s just no telling. I buried people dear to me this spring who all died too early, one just about my age.
So … I am back on tour.
Seize the day, baby.