The first week of February used to provide a high level of anxiety. I have on many occasions called this week the “birthday week from Hell.” (Am I allowed to say that in the newspaper? I can never remember.)
The main reason for that anxiety was my own expectation that I was solely responsible for the quality of birthday celebrations in my family.
You see, this week 60% of my immediate family have birthdays – my husband’s birthday is Feb 6, and my daughters’ birthday is Feb. 7. To that I must add that my best friend Susan’s birthday is Feb. 4. My nextdoor neighbor’s birthday is Feb. 4. (And, in fact, my former newspaper colleague and friend Rob Novit celebrates his birthday on Feb 4, as well.) In times gone by, I could add the birthdays of my husband’s grandmother (Feb. 7) and also Tom’s great-aunt (Feb. 5) – of course, neither of them is still among us, but I do think about them during this week. Then, when my girls were in high school, there was a succession of boyfriends whose birthdays were in and around Feb. 7 – I lived in fear that they might marry one of these, particularly since, as twins, Cat and Liz never had the luxury of having a birthday to themselves already, and had they married one of those guys, they’d then have to share with yet another person on this earth. (In fact, when my son Mac was born, I bought one of those plates that declares “You are special today.” Then when Cat and Liz came along, I realized they’d even have to share that. This is yet another area where I bear a lot of guilt.)
The good news is that my sons-in-law have birthdays in March and September, not February. However, my daughter-in-law does add another February birthday to the mix – but at least it’s not this week.
So for the longest time, I bore pretty much sole responsibility for making those birthdays the best ever. Yes, it was largely self-inflicted, but I wanted to give the best gift, – preferably a surprise. I wanted to provide the perfect favorite meal – no mean task since my two girls did not agree on what they considered a favorite meal, and Tom loves corned beef and cabbage – something no one else in the family particularly likes. I wanted to bake the perfect birthday cake – but then Tom rarely eats cake, and again, Cat and Liz couldn’t agree. So by the time this birthday week was over, we’d usually have leftovers from three birthday meals, including the remains of a raspberry cheesecake, a decadent chocolate confection, as well as berries and whipped cream.
And while my girls were in school, I wanted their birthday celebration at school to be one the kids would not quickly forget. Why? Since when does an otherwise rational, reasonable adult woman seek such validation from 5-year-olds or even 16-year-olds? Not really willing to psychoanalyze myself, I cannot say exactly, but somewhere in there it may be rooted in my fear of rejection by people whose opinions I really shouldn’t be concerned about.
As I think I’ve mentioned before, none of my kids cared much for traditional cake, so I became the queen of Rice Krispies Treats in interesting shapes – everything from a variety of sports items (baseballs, soccer balls, basketballs) to pink hearts, green shamrocks, Easter baskets (obviously not birthday fare), gingerbread men (again not for birthdays, exactly), etc.
So here I am. My girls are now well into adulthood with children of their own. With grandchildren I have renewed some of those skills – and pressures. With grandchildren Cade and Payton living nearby, I’ve returned to Rice Krispies Treats, this time in shapes such as pirates and Pokémon.
The pressure is seemingly off, and I’m not sure what to do with that.
Tom has always insisted he’s pretty much fine with almost nothing on his birthday in the way of food or gifts. And truth be told, I think these days Cat and Liz would rather have money than the “perfect” gift.
In fact, I have taken to texting before their birthdays to ask for suggestions. This year I sent out a text to Tom, Cat and Liz reminding them that if there is something they really, really want for their birthday that now is the time to tell me.
Cat immediately responded, “chocolate mousse.” The good news here is that's her daddy’s problem. Although he has never actually tasted either, Tom has taken to making superb chocolate mousse for Cat on her birthday and the best ever creme brûlée on my birthday. (When son Mac’s birthday rolls around in March, I’m responsible for – you guessed it – a Rice Krispies Treats cake. Even after all these years, it’s still his favorite.) Unfortunately, since Liz is 120 miles away, she probably gets short shrift in this department – I guess I could feel guilty about that, as well.
And Liz’s quick response to my request for birthday ideas was “Money, maybe $1 million, preferably in $20s.” (Remember, she and her husband have recently completed – well, almost – extensive renovations to their house.) Her dad’s reply to that was, “I’m not sure I can even come up with $1 million in Monopoly money!” Her sister quickly chimed in, “Me, too, but I’m OK with it in $1s.” (Luckily my friend Susan and I were at Mullins Crossing last Saturday. In a store called “Five Below,” Susan found a pack of play money with a number of million-dollar bills – it may not be what they meant, but it’s the best I can do.
So it appears that, at this point in my life, the birthday pressure is largely off. My kids obviously don’t expect as much as I expect of myself.
So how do I get over feeling guilty?
Regarding my column of two weeks ago about our recent difficulties with a well-known area airline: A friend from church, Economic Development Partnership Director Will Williams (who spends a great deal of time in the air), commented simply, “You get what you pay for!” My son-in-law Vince, who also flies a lot and insists on sticking to one particular airline known for quality of service, would agree wholeheartedly. I’ll admit, I’m beginning to realize they may be right. Meanwhile, Tom is about to fly to Virginia yet again. Here’s hoping he doesn’t end up in Philadelphia overnight this time.