Spring has always been one of my favorite times of the year. It is a time of new growth. as trees and flowers start to strut their horticultural beauty. Spring is also the time when Jerry and I honor the birth of our daughter Maura. There was a late winter that year and when I headed to the hospital to give birth to Maura there were few signs of the coming beautiful Spring. When I headed home several days later Spring had burst in all its glory. I felt like nature was joining with Jerry and me in celebrating the birth of our precious baby girl.
My own birthday is ten days after Maura’s April 16th date, and while I would have liked her to be born on my birthday I was okey with us having separate birth dates. Everyone should have a special day to be honored. Though Maura has always shared her special day with my beloved cousin Jim, his home was in California so there was never any birthday confusion.
This past Tuesday was my 85 birthday. I am grateful to family and friends who have made this birthday so special. It has been a time of reflection on previous birthdays. Jerry and I met on March 5 of 1960. Though we had only known one another for less than two months I so wanted to spend my birthday that year with him and was sooo happy when he invited me to dinner for my special day.
Reflecting back on past birthdays the first one I remember is my 4th birthday. Maybe that one stands out because it was a surprise party. My brothers and the few friends who were invited were hiding in our basement. I was upstairs with my mother and was totally oblivious to any intrigue when she asked me to head to the basement to get I don’t remember what. It was only when I got downstairs and my brothers and my friends started jumping out of their hiding places – with exuberant cries of “surprise” ” surprise” that I started to realize what was going on. I felt both shy and happy. Surprise parties were not a usual event in our family.
When I was 16 and attending an all girls high school, I hosted a luncheon for about eight on my birthday. This was a big deal for me. It was how my friends celebrated their 16th birthdays and it was what I wanted to do also. My family didn’t do much outside entertaining. It was 1953. My father was teaching full time. My parents law practice which they operated from our home was gradually building up a solid client base of neighbors and fellow community members. We had now lived in our home for about fourteen years. Mom and Dad had developed an ever widening respect as real estate and estate lawyers. But, because their financial worries from the depression were still so vivid for them, they were both in agreement that my father should keep his full time teaching job. That meant that during the school year my mother handled all legal matters that arose between 9AM and 3:30PM. She was a busy woman. I did not want to impose.
When my parents asked what I wanted for birthday, stressing that they thought 16 was a very special number, with some trepidation I told them of my desire to have a “elegant ” luncheon. When my brothers were 16 they had a typical family celebration. I also wanted that but I wanted this luncheon too. I was so happy when my parents were in agreement. I sent invitations. I planned a menu. I did the grocery shopping and the food preparation. And when my mother suggested I set the table with their wedding china and glasses, that was like the icing on the cake. I knew my mother understood how important this luncheon was to me and that I was having so much fun preparing for it. I was about to be 16 – to me that was a magical age. Strangely I remember very little about the luncheon – except that it went off without a hitch. What stands out is the pleasure I got from preparing for it. I was growing up. I was about to become a woman!!!
The next birthday that stands out is my 21st birthday. I was in my next to last year in Cornell’s nursing program. I had great girl friends but no guy friends who could make my heart go pitter patter. I wanted to do something special to mark this milestone and was delighted when my Aunt Bette and Uncle Jim invited me and my cousin Kathy to spend a few nights with them at a hotel they liked in Wilmington Delaware. All I can remember of the hotel was that it was beautifully decorated and charming with lots of old wood that generated a warmth. And I remember the staff who made a fuss over my birthday. Not sure how we passed the time but it went by quickly. I loved my cousin and my aunt and uncle so this was truly a special celebration of turning 21.
Two years later I celebrated my 23d birthday with the man who nine months later would become my husband. It doesn’t get any better than that. I don’t remember where we went or what we did. I just remember that I was incredibly happy.
Having five children in six years we early on decided that it was important that each child’s birthday be very special. By the time they started school and for as long as it worked, each of the children had a family party, a friend party, and dinner out with just Mom and Dad. It was at the dinner with us that we started asking the birthday questions: What is the best thing that happened to you in the past year? What are you most looking forward to in the coming year? What do you want to be when you grow up?
The birthday questions have become a family tradition that continues to this day. And at some point the children started asking them of us . This seemed very appropriate as the children grew and we became empty nesters. As you enter a new phase in your life it is important that you don’t just stumble into this phase, but rather that you give thought to where you are and how you want to spend your time. In the past fews years a fourth question was added, ” What is your spirit animal?” This is a fun addition that has generated some “spirited” answers.
As I travel into my 86th year I like to reflect on the words of Albert Camus: “I realized through it all, that in the midst of winter, there was within me, an invincible summer.”