Writing

How Did You Celebrate Your Birthday?

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Every Saturday in 2013 I’ll be sharing a post for the Mom Before Mom project. The goal is to tell the stories of life before motherhood, the stories which root the woman in every mother. So much of memory keeping is focused on capturing our children’s experience but what of our own? Who will capture the mother’s journey as a woman? Who will honor our journey if we don’t honor it first? Every week I’ll be answering a question, journaling my life stories. Read along or write along with the wonderful bloggers linking up every week.

mother's journey as a womanOriginal image by aussiegal via Flikr.

Prompt #4: How did you celebrate your birthday? Do you have a favorite celebration? Worst? From the cake to the presents to the guests, invite us in to the party.

I’m an only child. Raised by my grandfather. He had two sons of his own, no girls. Up until I had my own daughters, I was the center of his world. He spoiled me silly and birthdays were part of that package. Celebrating my birthday was his way of making me feel like the most important person in the whole universe. I don’t think he realized he made me feel that way every day. He worked full time and I think a part of him wanted to make sure I felt loved. He made me feel unconditionally loved with his tiny, everyday gestures and with his big operatic gestures. I’m grateful he cared (and still does care) enough to love me (and now my daughters) in both small and grand way. These are the birthdays , the grand ways that stand out the most; they blur time between the years.

The semi-memory, pieced together from photographs and the telling and retelling over the years. There’s me on a chair behind a table, cardboard cone shaped birthday hat on my ponytailed head. Half a dozen children crowding in our tiny kitchen. Balloons. Cake. Two little boys, more outspoken and bolder than I, open my presents for me. Tears. Laughter. Play.

The mother of all over the top kid parties. The restaurant on Bergenline Avenue with an entire wall of windows to taunt the passersby, “Look what you’re missing!” Winding stairs carry you up to the heart of the party, dim lights, loud noise, louder music. Me in a chair; it arches over my head, baby pink and lace. I hold the mic and stare out into the blinding lights, barely making out faces. The performances begin – the clown, Disney characters, the blue painted dog left on my lap, the belly dancer. The women in their big 80s hair, all red lips and pouf. My godmother in a just below the knee sweater dress, dolman sleeves, hair the epitome of fluffy. It’s night, late. I can’t remember how it began or how it ended. Just the magic during.

And suddenly I’m too old for parties. Eight, nine, ten? Who knows. Too cool for parties. Three friends, my godmother. We head to Medieval Times. We swoon over a knight. We eat with our hands. We laugh. My name, my birthday called out for all the arena to hear; I’m a little giddy. We catch the rose. We snap memories. Simple, sweet, fun.

And suddenly I’m not too old for a party. Car or quincenera? What I want vs honoring tradition. A temporary, material possession or a gift for the heart of the man who’s raised me, who’s dreamed of my big coming out party since I was an infant. Indecisive, I opt on the side of love. Late and as a result we modernize – sweet sixteen. A year of planning. Booking a hall, a photographer, a videographer. Choosing a cake, decor, a dress, a court, a partner. Choreographing. Rehearsal. Mini-wedding, people. Mini-wedding. A crown, a waltz, a handing over, a slow dance. We party into the night. Faces from the last sixteen years. Feeling incredibly cool. Don’t want the party to end. Hugs, kisses, laughter. A piece of my heart.

I’ve since celebrated plenty of birthdays in many wonderful ways but these are the ones which set the tone for my love of birthdays. No balloons in my doorway or a special cake plate or dance party, none of the seeminly simple yet elaborate traditions I see on Pinterest. One day. One party. Savor it. Gifts, though, are a different thing.

Tradition. My grandfather, a jeweler, an unintentional memory maker and keeper. Every birthday, every important moment marked by jewelry. The charm bracelet. A tiny circle pendant with a number on it, given each year for my birthday. From one to twenty two. Special tokens to mark milestones in between years. My most prized possession. Charms clapping against one another, the music of my life, the sound of every year I’ve been. My daughters carry on the tradition. My grandfather, consumed by these little girls and so crazy in love with them, orders their birthday charm weeks in advance. One, two, three. One, two, three, four, five. Four and six are surely already waiting tucked in his drawer.

Next week’s prompt: 2/9 Do you remember your first romantic thoughts? How old were you? Who was your first crush? It’s the month of love so fill us in on how you created a concept, an idea of love and relationships.

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17 Comments

  1. Carla – I love the “pictures” you paint in my mind with your writing. It’s like I’m there with you when you were a young, pony-tailed girl….all the way to today. Hugs, laughter. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Your birthdays sound fantastic! Mine was always right before school started, so it was lame and I got school clothes most of the time 🙁

    These days, I’m all too happy to get a clothing shopping spree!

    1. LOL Same here. I’m glad for those elaborate & over the top days. I figure I’ll let my daughters plan the big elaborate parties of my future =)

    1. There are stories I always think about telling but the time just hasn’t been right. When you need to tell them, it’ll just happen. Thank you for taking part in this journey!

  3. This is beautiful. I tried thinking of my favorite birthday as a little girl and I’m a little sad that nothing really stands out or jumps to mind. I do remember going through a phase in 6th or 7th grade where I didn’t want my family to sing to me? Not sure what that is about. I do remember my 21st birthday, because it came smack in the middle of college finals!

    1. My oldest is the same way! Every year she’s told us a cake is fine just no singing. I attribute it to her gentle spirit. All the attention is a bit much for her personality.

  4. Personally, I love making my family and friends feel special by celebrating a Birthday week – I call then each day, send special cards and a gift – I love surprising and making them feel very special.

    As far as my bday: My hubby threw me a surprise 40th and I was touhchd.

  5. I loved this Carla! Birthdays have always been very special days in my family. It was always a day all about me, and honestly my mom makes sure it still is even now. I hope to always do the same for my kids, 🙂

    1. OMG Love meeting folks in RI who are from back home! We’ll have to chat sometime on how he made his way up here =)

  6. It sounds like you have a lot of wonderful birthday memories. I used to love Midieval times! I had almost forgotten about that place! Your grnadpa sounds like a wonderful man too. 🙂

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