Starting at age 15, my birthday has gone…poorly. I mostly tried to ignore it. This got easier once I had a child. The focus inevitably shifts—as it should—to various kid milestones, kid holiday stuff, kid birthday parties. Also, your memory sucks when you’re sleep-deprived.
When Baby D was just a little more than 2, a friend called and said, “Hey, where do you want me to take you to lunch for your birthday?”
“My birthday? It’s not my—oh. Wow. I guess it is my birthday on Friday. I forgot about it.”
“You forgot your own birthday?! Isn’t that your husband’s job?”
In fact, Andy always remembered my birthday, damn him. He made me a cake the first year we were together. The year we got married, he planned a surprise party—only to have a guest wreck the surprise. After Baby D was born, he’d give me flowers and a break, taking the toddler to McDonald’s playland or the park. As Baby D got older and disappeared down the block to play with friends, my birthday morphed into a day where Andy would make my favorite foods.
One year he made a super luxurious, expensive spa appointment weeks in advance.
That was the year Andy’s mom decided my birthday would be the perfect time for her to visit.
“Don’t worry, honey!” Andy said. “You can go to the spa and I’ll still make you poutine and I’ve ordered a cake—”
“No, no. It’s not a big deal. Cancel the appointment and the cake. Don’t do anything. We’ll just pretend it’s not my birthday. This year, it’s just all about Baby D getting to see his Nai-nai again. And it’s Easter anyway and we’ll celebrate that.”
Andy eyed me warily. “Is this a trick?”
“No! These days, it just doesn’t matter. Besides, celebrating my birthday feels silly when I haven’t accomplished anything.”
“Baby D is still alive. That’s something.” (Our energetic child was a regular at the local Emergency Room for X-rays, glue, and staples.)
“I guess, but it’s depressing getting older, especially since I no longer have an agent and rarely get a chance to write. Also, you know how my birthday goes. If we make plans, bad shit happens. So what I want for my birthday is no birthday, okay?”
“I still feel like this could be a trap.”
“It’s not a trick! I don’t want a birthday. I’ve grown to hate my birthday. Think of me as the freaking Grinch of Birthdays. NO BIRTHDAY!”
One of my younger sisters had her first baby that March. Social Worker Sis was having a rough time of it. With our mom deceased, my sisters and I tried to step in and give each other “Mom” help whenever possible.
When Social Worker Sis asked if I would come help if her husband used his miles to arrange a ticket, I said of course. She said, “Even though it might run into your birthday?”
“Even better,” I told her. “I’m not having a birthday this year.”
Within 24 hours, my Bro-in-law sent me an electronic ticket. He’d scheduled my flight home on my birthday, leaving NYC at 5 AM with a five-hour layover in Houston.
“Really?” said Andy. “He couldn’t get you a better ticket?!”
I laughed. “Honey, he’s got a newborn and a wife who is a postpartum wreck. I’m impressed he got the week right. Besides, we’re skipping my birthday, and I will be skipping town before your mom arrives. It’s perfect.”
I went to NYC. I took the baby on walks so my sister could sleep uninterrupted. I made the dinners I knew by heart (all 3 of them). I cleaned the kitchen and the bathroom. I vacuumed with a shop vac, which was what Bro-in-law apparently bought when sent out for a vacuum.
I sang a lot of lullabies. It was all about the baby, and I was happy to forget about my birthday.
My sister didn’t. She surprised me with NYC’s fanciest cupcakes and insisted on singing “Happy Birthday.”
My BFF arranged a visit to NYC. She surprised me with dinner out and cake and presents and a whole Harlem restaurant singing “Happy Birthday.”
My five-hour layover in Houston coincided with part of another sister’s layover on her way back from Costa Rica, which meant more presents and her kids singing me “Happy Birthday.
When I got home, my mother-in-law presented me with a red envelope full of lucky money for the first time since the Daughter-in-Law Tea Ceremony. “Happy Birthday!” she said.
Baby D and Andy presented me with a cake from a local bakery.
“Honey,” I whispered through gritted teeth, “I thought we agreed no birthday cake.”
“It’s not a birthday cake!” Andy insisted. “Read the writing!”
The cake said, “Happy Unbirthday.”
I pasted on a happy face for my husband and kid. But as they sang “Happy unbirthday toooo youuuuuu,” I stewed over being thwarted yet again.
This birthday Grinch hadn’t stopped her birthday.
Somehow or another, it came just the same.
Oh, hell. Oh, well. At least came with cake.