When you survive a bad accident or a life-threatening illness, birthdays change.
The birthdays I've had since 2003 have been emotional for me; when I found out I had cancer another lifetime ago, I wondered how many more I'd see. My goal was five. Five more birthdays. If I could just hang on five more years, I thought, I could see Ainsley start kindergarten. She would be old enough to remember me. And, I reasoned, I'd get to see the final Lord of the Rings movie.
So every birthday I've managed to see since 2008 has been a bonus, really.
I am a woman, though, so eventually that little number that goes up every February 12 has started to bother me. Instead of feeling like, "Yay! I've lived to see another candle on the cake!", it's become more like, "Yay. I've lived to see another candle on the cake." I don't know if you can hear it, but the second version was positively dripping with sarcasm.
This birthday has crept up. January, that horrible month that usually makes time slow to a crawl, was gone before I knew it. Jason's been nagging me since Monday to make some kind of plans and tell him and the kid what I want this year, and I seriously just realized I age up next week. I'm fairly self-absorbed, as I'm sure you've noticed (when you sign up for a Blogger account, checking that box is part of the user agreement), so it's unusual to for me to not be looking ahead to my birthday and purchasing the celebratory champagne and making the dinner reservation a month ahead of time. I really don't care this year.
Except that this is the last 30-something birthday. And if I think on that too long, I care. Deeply. From the bottom of the new wrinkles around my eyes.
The reasons for this, as so much else I don't particularly care about this year, are due in part to coping with the loss of my mom. If I don't care, and don't make a big deal about these first holidays and special occasions without her, maybe it won't hurt so badly.
But with this one milestone, if I don't care, I will actually be doing my mother a disservice. For there is nothing she cared more about than her children's and grandchildren's birthdays.
I don't know why our birthdays were such a big deal to her. As kids, we never had big parties or anything. Her signature gesture, though, was that she surprised us every year with a special gift. Even when I was older, even when I begged her to not spend money on me for my birthday, she couldn't help herself. Birthdays were a time to get her girls some ridiculous gift they would never buy for themselves.
If you have ever complimented me on a purse, or a necklace, or a pair of shoes, chances are the item you liked was a birthday present from my mother, dropped off on my birthday in a beautiful gift bag regardless of whether I was home or not. For Christmas, she generally played it safe and stuck with things we needed. But birthdays were for presents that made you say, "Oh, crap," when you opened the box. Not because you didn't like the gift inside, but because you knew she spent more money than she should have.
And under no circumstances was any birthday to go by without having her over for a piece of bakery cake with butter cream frosting. That part wasn't for us; that was how she celebrated/mourned her daughters or grandchildren getting another year older and reminding her that she was getting older, too.
Toward the end of my days with Mom, on an afternoon in her hospital room where she told me she didn't really think she was going to make it, she said, "I can't believe I won't live to see another birthday."
At the time, I thought she meant her own. But she dreaded her own birthday and hated that she went by a number that did not represent how she looked or how she felt. She lived (and dressed) about two decades younger than she actually was. No, I think she meant that she wouldn't live to see another one of ours. She wouldn't get to surprise us and delight us with something beautiful and meaningful. She wouldn't get to come over for a small piece of cake (because she was watching her weight, of course) and then take a big slab home for later when she didn't need to feel quite so lady-like.
So the moral of the story, I guess, is that I need to suck it up and have a good birthday. I might not love the number, but I should try to love the day. I should celebrate another year that I am on this planet, given that I am pretty damn lucky to still be here. I should buy myself something pretty, something not like me, something I wouldn't ordinarily purchase for my cheapskate self but that I will absolutely love after the sticker shock wears off.
More than anything else, though, I should have a huge piece of chocolate bakery cake with rich icing and lots of flowers.
So, Mom, happy birthday to me. I will miss you, as I do everyday.
But because I know you would want it this way, I will try to make sure I miss you in a new pair of girly shoes.