On Friday we celebrated Kathy’s birthday.
Some people are born on the 29th of February, and can only truly celebrate their birthday once every four years. I once worked at a chemical company with a 9-year-old computer programmer who had held that job for more than 12 years.
Others are born near Christmas, or their birthdays are overshadowed by some other major event or occasion — some of them eke out unhappy lives plaintively wishing that someone would celebrate them.
Not so in this family. Birthdays are a big deal for us all, led by Kathy’s passion for celebration — a typical birthday includes massive decorations (Kathy routinely stays up past 2 am hanging streamers & signs), breakfast in bed, an elaborate party, an avalanche of presents, and immunity from all regular work or school for at least the actual birth day itself. When we eat the cake, we always sing “Happy Birthday” and blow out the candles twice (once is never quite enough).
Kathy holds to this philosophy with regard to her own birthday, as well. So it begins in early June, with not-so-subtle hints about how it will “soon be my birthday”. Excitement typically builds to a fever pitch a day or two before her birthday, tapering off a week or so later. Eventually the festivities fade to whatever passes for normalcy in this household around the end of the month, just in time for Kathy’s brother Thom’s birthday.
Two years ago, disaster struck. In all other ways, it was a very good day, but with regard to birthdays, it was terrible: our daughter Sarah had the unmitigated nerve to be born on the 16th of July, the same day as Kathy! We begged and pleaded with the hospital staff to forge the birth certificates, but they took refuge in some legal technicality and refused, point-blank. (Too bad I didn’t have this blog back in those days — I could have traded on my influence by threatening to negatively expose them to my vast readership.)
Last year wasn’t too bad — Sarah was contented with the traditional piece of chocolate cake, and preferred the wrapping paper anyway. But this year the relentless creep of her individuality made itself felt — Kathy had to actually share her birthday.
The older kids tried to make it up to her. Joshua organized the breakfast-in-bed committee, and Rachel covered the kitchen in crepe-paper streamers. Daniel served as the “right-hand man” and (like many who have served in that capacity) it was not entirely clear how he contributed. They all conspired with a neighbor to purchase presents in advance, and wrapped them the night before, secreting them away in Joshua’s room. It isn’t every mom that can have fresh fruit, chocolate milk and blueberry waffles served to them in bed at 8:20 am. Following the breakfast, they wheeled in the kid’s video player and watched an episode of “Little House on the Prairie”.
I made reservations at a Thai restaurant for that evening, and met Kathy & four friends for dinner there, while Annjanette and Sierra graciously babysat for the entire tribe (our five plus three Burt children). Kathy really seemed to enjoy the time with these dear friends — gifts were presented, pictures were taken and we went for a walk along the Poulsbo waterfront at sunset.
But all the time, it was there in our minds — Kathy is really sharing this birthday with our youngest little girl. When we got home, all the kids pretended to have fallen asleep draped around the living room (even the babysitters) — Kathy and I were completely duped and tiptoed around wondering what to do! It was a good joke, and a fun ending to the day (especially when the babysitters refused to accept payment)!
On Saturday we opened presents, pretty much all day. Since I had not managed to wrap anything in advance, each gift required a trip to the wrapping station I had assembled on the deck — I am a very slow wrapper. We tried to give Kathy a “not in charge” day, but with five kids, a lot of the parenting splashed on her anyway. It was a very pretty day; certainly the Olympic Peninsula cannot be accused of failing to produce weather fitting the honor of Kathy’s special day. I tried to have the kids come to me rather than bothering Kathy, and Joshua graciously made lunch for everyone — we did manage to give her some time off. Typically, she couldn’t stand to be left out of things, and followed us around, even when we were all out on the deck trying to give her a break. I even changed a diaper or two — a chore I have pretty much abdicated ever since I started my job in Seattle.
I did have one ‘coup’ — Kathy had asked for a new cordless phone, and it occurred to me to give both my birthday girls a new phone. Sarah’s phone was a big hit — the phone allows me to record a message that she can listen to when I’m away at work. Sarah hardly puts it down and pretty much all the kids have thoroughly enjoyed it — a well-spent $7.
For some reason, Sarah got the idea that it was my birthday. Each time a gift was opened (most of them were for Kathy), she would gently take it from her Momma and bring it to me for approval. I got a good chuckle out of this; perhaps a little too much — but I found it very amusing in a sort of ironic way.
Kathy hates for her birthday to end; this year I’m a bit more clever than usual. Instead of paying extra shipping charges to ensure that all her gifts arrived on time, I deliberately ordered them with the cheapest shipping modes, so that some will be late in coming. I’m expecting several gifts throughout the week, and (with my sloth-like wrapping speed) I expect to parlay this birthday out for another 8 or 10 days at least.
I don’t know what the future will hold — can Kathy and Sarah work through this whole birthday conflict, without a lot of bloodshed or expensive therapy? Maybe one of them can shift to another day (or week, or month?) but it is hard to see how it will work out. I guess each day has enough trouble for itself — we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, Sarah thinks that she got a square deal, and we just have another two weeks or so of Kathy’s birthday celebration. We haven’t yet made a cake, so we can probably spin that into a couple of days, if only to clean up the mess.
Some people might think that this is a little excessive. “She’s a grown woman”, they might exclaim — “Why is she carrying on as though her birthday is such a big deal?” But we know that merely conceals their secret envy. How many of us ever got enough celebration as children or adults? One of the really special things about my Kathy is the joy and fun that she brings into even the most commonplace of household rituals. If that means we spend the month of July singing “Happy Birthday”, then it is well worth the effort.
It’s true, though — the party hats and noisemakers do start to get a little shabby, after the third week of parties.