Before I go, I have something to say

Whose Birthday is It, Anyway?

My daughter – my firstborn – just celebrated another birthday. We gave her presents (even her brother, if you count a Facebook Farmville goose a real present), and I cooked her favorite lasagna from scratch, and although we did not sing “Happy Birthday,” I did give her a big hug goodbye. Even though my children’s advancing years often serve to make me feel very, very old, I’m happy to celebrate the day they came into the world.

The thing is, I was there, too, and I don’t let them forget it. I don’t remember my mother trying to insert herself into my childhood festivities, regaling the kids playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey with stories of epidurals or forceps, or bemoaning the fact that the best doctors were in the Army when she gave birth to my sister. She did tell that story, but not on Bonnie’s birthday.

You’d have thought she’d delivered that baby girl all alone in the back yard, surrounded by slavering hyenas, but no. She was in a hospital, and remained there an entire week, because that was how they did things those days. My husband’s mother, however, was allowed to tell all the birth stories she wanted to, having delivered one boy all alone in the back seat of the car the doctor was careening down the highway, and the second one in the parking lot of the hospital, with the doctor assisting mainly by hollering, “I think there’s another one in there!” Had that happened to me, well, this might be the 37th time you’d be reading about it, like it or not.

As I was saying, I was there. The first time was in Brighton, Colorado, a blue-collar town 30 miles east of the foothills, from which you could see the entire front range of the Rockies, and when the wind blew, the tumbleweeds piled up around the storefronts like overgrown tarantulas. I remember well the day I waddled through the checkout line at the Safeway and was asked by the well-meaning clerk, “When are you due?” By that time, I looked like a Barbie who had swallowed a beachball, and my answer was, truthfully, “Yesterday.”

The next day, her father and I met Allison. It was a long, exhausting, best-forgotten day, except that in the end, we had this gorgeous baby and they let us take her home. Three years later, the memory of the pain had eased just enough that I allowed myself to conceive again, this time a boy who tried his darndest to enter the world a month too early. When my water broke, we were routed to the bigger hospital in Denver, where they managed to keep him inside another week and then let me come home. Bed rest wasn’t bad, since my friends took turns bringing supper over every day. I lasted another week, then went into labor again.

Aided by a little pitocin, that suddenly-you’re-in-hard-labor drug of choice, Daniel entered the world on a Thursday afternoon in July. Then we were four, and that was enough. Less than a year later, when my doctor informed me I might be going to have another baby, I snarled at him, “I already have a baby,” and was relieved when the test proved him wrong.

So, as I was saying, my daughter had a birthday last week. She no longer makes long lists of possible gifts for me to choose from (or, what the heck, give in and buy them all), which is nice. Our favorite gift is, in fact, a trip out of town to eat out, shop, order coffee and read stacks of magazines at bookstores, and spend the night lolling around a Holiday Inn Express, the motel with the warm cinnamon buns. Having started grad school last year, she never found time for that birthday’s trip, so this year I fear I owe her two nights in Madison, or one in Chicago, or, who knows, a cruise to Maui.

The thing is, I have to want to do this trip, too. It may be her birthday, but if I’m going along, I have to enjoy myself, too. After all, if it weren’t for me, she wouldn’t be here. Or would she? And if so, where would I be? And if not – well, this is why we eat a lot of cake and ice cream for birthdays. It’s no time for deep thoughts. My grandfather used to go on and on, puffing on his pipe, about how your birthDATE was the day you were born, but your birthDAY was – I forget. Sorry, Grandpa.

We encountered some new birthday rituals when we moved to Dubuque. Like your Golden Birthday, when your age matches your birthdate. Mine occurred when I was three, so even if my family had know about it, I would not remember. And then there are Birthday Twins, another concept I had been grossly unaware of until I moved here. At one time, I had four birthday twins at my workplace, and it was kind of fun to walk around campus saying “Happy birthday, Nancy!” and hear her say, “Happy birthday, Pam!” and then Lynn shouting, “Happy birthday, Pam and Nancy!” and us calling back, “Happy birthday, Lynn!” I miss that. So hey, if you were born December 3rd, do let me know.

So, as I was saying, I do sometimes try to hog the stage at my children’s parties, especially now that they’re all grown up. They may roll their eyes, but I know they are secretly proud of themselves for causing me all that pain, all that morning, noon, and night sickness. It means I really wanted them. It means they were worth it, and I’m more than glad they’re here.

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