I've always felt that my oldest daughter's birthday is not just a celebration of her birth, but my celebration of becoming a mother.
The birthday girl just a few years ago
This week is my oldest child’s birthday. We didn’t have a Chuck E. Cheese pizza, roller skating party or slumber party. Those big parties were so much fun, and although I can’t say I miss the slumber parties where nobody slumbered, I wouldn’t mind another go round at the roller skating rink. But instead of lacing up our skates we celebrated my daughter’s 31st birthday with a small gathering of family and a few friends for dinner. My daughters assure me I no longer need to keep up all the birthday traditions, yet I suspect they might secretly enjoy having a fuss made over them. Everyone deserves a day or at least one mealtime to be the center of attention. I can’t remember a single present I received as a child, but I remember feeling loved and cherished on my birthday, and it’s always been my wish to pass that feeling on to my children. But if I’m totally honest, there’s some selfishness involved in my daughters’ birthday parties: it’s a little bit about me also. My daughter’s life began on that May Day evening, irrevocably and wonderfully transforming my life forever. I try not to emotionally hijack my child’s birthday, yet each year I silently include my anniversary of becoming a mother in her celebration.
Chuck E. Cheese parties were very popular for the pre-K crowd!
Elementary school was the time for roller skating parties. So much fun!
An integral part of creating the feeling is a display of pictures of the birthday person. Photographs are spread out on my grandmother’s beloved old painted dresser, and photo albums of the birthday person are set out around. While dinner was being prepared there was guacamole, queso and the much anticipated (by me) and dreaded (by everyone else) browse through the photo albums. Only after the guests exhibited proper delight over the photographic review of Alexandra’s childhood were they allowed to feast on our traditional birthday meal of homemade tacos and birthday cake. The blowing out of the candles signified the time for the next tradition, each guest saying their favorite memory of the birthday girl. Just when everyone thought the sentimental stuff was over and my birthday girl was thinking (hoping?) I may have forgotten, I announced that it was time to watch the video I made for her 16th birthday. Yeah, I know that was a long time ago and I need to make an updated video, but I never tire of reliving those first 16 years. As always, the video brought happy tears for me while the captive audience complied by nodding politely and making the obligatory polite comments while furtively looking at the door planning their escape.
My grandmother would have loved to see her dresser so well loved!
After the last guest escaped, I mean left, I was alone with a hot mess of dirty dishes and memories. I washed the dishes and then sat down with a cup of hot tea and a second piece of birthday cake, looking through the photo albums again, lingering over each page and letting the memories run rampant through my heart, tears threatening to spill onto the pages. They weren’t tears of sadness or regret, they are tears of thankfulness for having the experience of being her mother. I embrace each stage of my children’s lives and selfishly, I enjoy the freedom the empty nest stage has brought, but that doesn’t preclude me from bouts of wistful reminiscing.
The day is about my daughter, but I am also observing a milestone in my own life, my entry into motherhood. Our children’s birthdays, even after they are grown and have children of their own, are monumentally significant in our lives. It’s a celebration of the day they were born, and in the case of firstborns, the day we became parents. There’s a sharp demarcation of before and after; our lives before kids and then a very different life after kids. No tide can erase the metaphorical line in the sand separating before from after. My children are grown, my youngest will turn thirty this year, and while I’m grateful for their independence I also allow myself the indulgence of a solitary trip down memory lane. My kids have always rolled their eyes at me and smiled in a somewhat patronizing way if I become too nostalgic, but I think this year my May birthday girl had a more tolerant response. This was her first birthday since she became a mother herself, and she’s told me she has a completely new understanding of my sentimentality. Her son will soon have his first birthday, and she is already a bit emotional. She gets me, she finally understands on a deep visceral level the unexplainable fathomless depths of motherly love. Happy birthday my precious girl, your birthday is a day we both are entitled to celebrate!
The Maypole in the front yard is another tradition but now that she has her own house, we have to sneak over very early to put it up and hope no one thinks we’re burglars.