Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A very round number

Love 'em or hate 'em, they still roll around every danged year, regular as clockwork, and they cannot be ignored, as much as we might try. I have been downplaying mine for a few years (Oh, I don't want a fuss, I have everything I need, it's no big deal) and most people seem happy to oblige. Jeff is usually out of town and it tends to be a normal day, except for a slightly unsettled feeling that I should be having a more outlandish time than usual, even though I'm not.

May is a month of birthdays in our family.
So is December, but that's mostly Bethany's fault for giving birth to three of her five children in that worst of birthday months. And my sons didn't help by marrying girls with December birthdays.
My sister and I have birthdays that are four days apart, and Tommy and Jeffrey's are both in May, as is London's. I've probably forgotten someone.  

My aunties in England have always been very faithful senders of thoughtful birthday cards. When I was a young girl, the cards often had my name in shiny letters on the front. When I was 21, I got a special card with a plastic silver key in it, which is an old English tradition. Several birthdays with nice round numbers have been remembered with cards bearing the appropriate numbers.
And this year is no different. These cards have been sitting on the TV cupboard for a few weeks now. The aunties always send cards by surface mail, being frugally minded, but I think they arrive in much less than the promised six weeks because we generally get Christmas cards several weeks before the day.

From Aunty Marg and Uncle Fred

I've been thinking lately of birthdays when I was young. I only remember one party with friends, and it was the month before we left England for New Zealand. Anne and I had a joint party, due to the previously mentioned proximity of our birthdays.  It was probably the most exciting event in my life up to that point. My friend Janet gave me two books from the Enid Blyton Malory Towers series. They went to New Zealand with me and I read them many times before they finally fell apart. 
I don't remember any other presents from that birthday. But I do remember how thrilling birthdays were in general, due to the simple fact that we got a few presents from our parents and our aunties and uncles. I still have some of the well-read classic books I received for birthdays and Christmases. And there were a couple of beloved dolls that almost survived to be loved by my daughters, but they didn't fare well being packed in a heavy trunk for a few years. As in, their faces caved in and their arms and legs fell off. Sad.
One year, when I was about thirteen, I got a briefcase for my piano music and a few other things for school and I was almost giddy with happiness. It didn't really take much to satisfy us because the acquisition of new things was a relatively rare event. Throw in a nice birthday dinner and cake made by Mum and we called it good spectacular.

From my cousin Lynne

The sheer joy of occasionally receiving a small new possession will never be realised by any of my grandchildren, and I think it's kind of sad. I'm not saying it as a criticism of anyone, it's just the way things are these days. Families have more disposable income, items are cheaper thanks to the invention of plastic and trade agreements, and commercials are ubiquitous. Moms have to be constantly vigilant to stay ahead of the clutter caused by the mostly disposable possessions of their children.
The discrepancy, of course, is no greater than between me and my parents. Their tales of receiving an orange in their Christmas stocking and the subsequent bliss as they ate it is a great contrast to my childhood of plenty of good food and every comfort I needed and wanted.

I guess the point of this post, if I could quit my rambling reminiscences, is that birthdays tend to be a bit full of angst for most of us as adults.
Kind of like Mother's Day.
We don't want to be seen as expecting a big amount of hoopla, because that would be needy and embarrassing, but the kid in us wants someone to throw us a party or take us out on the town to celebrate the fact that we exist. And usually it doesn't happen. Which is okay, because I would hate the pressure of trying to do that for everyone else in return, but I do think it's nice to have a big shindig once every decade or two. Like the surprise 40th Jeff and a friend threw for me twenty years ago. Crikey.

I threw myself a birthday lunch a couple of years ago and asked people to donate to MamaBaby Haiti instead of bringing a gift, if they were so inclined. It was genius. I got to enjoy the company of my friends and MBH was blessed. Nobody seemed to think it was weird or, if they did, they kept politely quiet.

Aunty Connie, rocking the personalized card concept

I once knew a mother who gave each of her many children a birthday week.
Now there are some kids who will have some serious expectations of birthdays for the rest of their lives! My kids felt lucky to get a birthday dinner with family. Parties with friends were limited to ages 5, 8, 12, and 16, with a surprise party around age 10. I am, I suppose, the birthday Grinch. To which fact my grown children will attest, because I am just as likely to forget to call them and their children on their birthdays as to remember, although I never forget to send presents.

So there you have it. My ruminations on birthdays.
What, you thought I would reveal a life-changing truth?
Nope. Still as angsty as ever.
But if you are wondering, I despise snacks that are made from seaweed or kale, so if you are thinking of commemorating my birthday with some kind of deliciousness, those are not it.