Being born in December sucks. Well, not the being born part, but the December part. All because of one other big birthday in December. Lets face it -- it’s pretty hard to compete with baby Jesus.
Fortunately for me, my mom was also born in December. Exactly 28 years and 7 days before I was. Besides the fact that she always told me I was the best birthday present she ever got, she understood the pain in the ass of being a December baby. I can sum it up in a few bullet statements:
· “Combined” presents. As in “This is your combined birthday/Christmas present.”
· Birthday presents wrapped in Christmas paper. C’mon, even the comics section from the newspaper is better and it’s cheaper!
· Christmas cards with “Oh, and Happy Birthday” scrawled in them.
· Christmas-themed presents – ornaments, holiday candles, Christmas flower arrangements.
· Forgotten all together, or “I’ve been so busy getting ready for Christmas I just lost track!”
Mom always made a big deal out of our birthdays, no matter what time of year they occurred. Even when she barely had enough money to pay the electric bill, the birthday honoree got his or her favorite cake, favorite meal, and a few presents. And it was a family affair. No one dare miss a sibling’s birthday, even when we were teenagers and had much better places to be. We had this cheesy tradition where Mom would light all the candles on the cake, and the rest of the family would drift into the kitchen, leaving the birthday girl or gal alone in the living room. Then Mom would call, “Hey ‘insert child’s name here,’ come into the kitchen for a minute.” Birthday girl or boy would walk in, someone would cut the lights, and everyone would burst into “Happy Birthday” leaving the honoree surprised and speechless in the glow of the candles. This happened for every person, every time, no matter how old we got. And we loved it, no matter how old we got. The tradition has been passed down to the next generation.
Even after we all grew up and moved out, birthdays stayed very important to Mom. A few weeks before the big day, Mom would start pestering me to provide her with a birthday list. Seriously. A list. I would turn it around on her and ask for her list since her birthday was before mine. Often I would send mom flowers, and I had to make it very clear to the florist that it could not be any kind of Christmas bouquet or arrangement. Not even a red and green plaid bow. And for Christ’s sake, NO HOLLY!
Her presents to me were never late, were never wrapped in Christmas paper, and there wasn’t any red and green tartan in sight.
When I turned 40, a milestone by some standards, SO and I had been living in Utah for only a few months. My new co-workers and friends weren’t aware of my birthday. My SO has many fine qualities, but birthday planning isn’t one of them. I was a bit bummed out because most of my childhood friends forgot or just blew off my birthday. Two friends later told me they had sooo much fun flying to California to surprise Friend X for her 40th when they’d both forgotten mine, and didn’t even have the decency to shamefully remember while telling me the story. But Mom came through, as she always did. My presents from her arrived wrapped in colorful birthday paper right on time. It doesn’t even matter what they were, what mattered is she remembered and she celebrated and she made me feel loved. When she called (and she never failed to call) and I answered, she sang “Happy Birthday” over the phone just for me.
Mom died last July. Her birthday was last Saturday. I woke up early and walked quietly up to the guest bedroom where Mom’s cat, Lucy, sleeps. We adopted her after Mom died. I stretched out on the bed next to Lucy and had a good cry. For lunch, I had one of Mom’s favorite sandwiches – corned beef on rye with spicy mustard and sliced sour pickle. SO and I toasted mom with our beers. I tried to stay busy all day. When SO and I decided to take in a movie I thumbed my nose at anything serious or heavy. We went to see the Muppet movie, and I laughed throughout the whole thing.
This Saturday is my 48th birthday. There will be no presents from Mom, no phone call, no singing, no “I love you, Honey, Happy Birthday.” But I know that no matter where her spirit or her soul reside, whatever form they may take, one thing won’t change; we were and are each other’s best birthday presents ever.