My father and I share September as our birthday month. Our actual birthdays are just two days apart. He will turn 72 this year, but I’m not sure he will remember. His memory betrays him more often than not any more; he suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease like his mother before him. I don’t know if my father had any birthday traditions growing up. He was the last of six children in a household that struggled to make ends meet. I don’t know if there were birthday presents, parties, or cake. Perhaps I won’t ever know, now.
When I was growing up we would often have joint father/daughter celebrations inviting my grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins over for a big dinner. Afterward everyone would sing to both of us, but I’d blow out the candles on the homemade Betty Crocker Devil’s Food cake (always with chocolate frosting). Then everybody would have a slice of cake with vanilla ice cream, served up on Mom’s fancy rose-colored glass dessert dishes (although separatist that I am, my ice cream always had to be on the side, in a separate bowl). Sometimes Mom would also make Dad his favorite banana cream pie, usually with cheater crust (thank goodness for Pillsbury). I wonder if she will make it this year, if Dad will remember.
On my birthday proper, Mom would make my favorite dinner, most often spaghetti, and there would be a few presents to open, plus cards. We are a family of card senders. It wasn’t until Liam turned one and he received a birthday card from his great-grandparents with a crisp one dollar bill that I remembered how each birthday in the card from my grandparents I would receive a dollar for each year in age (up until I was twenty, I think). It’s crazy that I had forgotten about that tradition; I can remember anxiously awaiting that card in the mail, and the satisfaction of seeing another dollar added to the total, another year older. Often the cash came in the form of two dollar bills, rarities to be kept and treasured.
Jim and Liam share a birthday month, with their springtime birthdays just three days apart. Perhaps they will now take up the mantle of joint birthday celebrations. Or maybe we will try to do individual celebrations. Last year I just made blueberry “power” muffins for Liam’s birthday (never mind the failed attempt of a lemon cake with a non-Betty Crocker mix), and we had a Carvel ice cream cake for Jim’s birthday. Both sets of grandparents were here for Liam’s big day. He got a mylar helium-filled balloon and a few other presents: books, a wooden helicopter, a corn-on-the-cob silicone toothbrush, and three mini silicone cooking utensils.
We are still in the process of establishing our birthday celebration rituals. I don’t have special birthday–or holiday–dishes yet, but hope to. Last year I purchased a vibrant multi-hued cotton tablecloth and matching cloth napkins that will be the foundation of our birthday traditions. Another tradition will be to unearth my fancy cake stand for each birthday, that marble pedestal and benchpressable marble plate with its matching glass dome big enough to house three layers of moist delicious goodness, a gift from my mom and dad a few years ago.
I like the idea that we will have photographs of Liam and Jim and me celebrating our birthdays of various ages all with cakes on that marble stand, and sitting around a table covered with that same tablecloth, wiping the gooey frosting from the corners of our mouths with those same napkins.
Heaven on Earth, a book by Sharifa Oppenheimer, that we were given as part of our Waldorf Early Parent/Child Education class last year suggests that for children, the anticipation of the special day is an equal, if not more important, part of the celebration. The author suggests that the planning of the celebration, including recalling memories of birthdays past, deciding on the menu, the decorations, the music, the activities, and then the preparations as you go shopping, make the decorations, clean the house, cook the food, and so forth add to the magic of the celebration.
Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne expounds on a parenting philosophy that we have found resonates with our values, a philosophy that says less is more, at least in terms of material things. So, making birthdays less about the presents people give you and more about the time spent with others in preparing and celebrating sounds right to us. I want Liam to be able to say or think, “In my family, this is what we do to celebrate birthdays…” and I want him to understand that celebrating birthdays is just another way to show that we love one another.