To be honest, as I like to be whenever I can, I’ve never cared much about my birthday.

   Growing up, birthdays were the days other kids had parties and got presents. I felt lucky to get a cake from my mother (chocolate with custard filling), five dollars from my daddy and a lick in the face from my dog.

   In my teen years, birthdays were only rungs on a ladder to that magical grownup land I called “free at last, free at last.”

   “Free at last” didn’t last very long. I got married at 21, had my first child at 23, my second at 26, and my baby at 29.

   After that, birthdays got a lot more interesting. Not just because I hit the “Big 3-0.” (An older friend told me, “There’ll be bigger birthdays, honey, if you’re lucky.”) But children have a way of making everything more interesting.

   After I became a mother, birthdays were the days when I celebrated my children’s births with parties and presents and a whisper in the ear, “So glad that you were born.”

   They in turn would celebrate mine with burnt pancakes, crayoned cards, handpicked daffodils from the neighbor’s yard and a beautiful sticky mess of maple syrup coated kisses.

   I liked those birthdays a lot.

   The celebrations grew  more sophisticated as they, and I, grew older, with dinner at Denny’s or a hotdog at halftime of a basketball game.

   I didn’t want gifts or parties. I was sure I had everything I’d ever need. My birthday could come and go, it wasn’t a big deal. There would always be another one next year, right?

   Then my husband was diagnosed with cancer. And suddenly birthdays, holidays, every day, really, shined with a sweeter, clearer light.

   My children were in their twenties when he died. Three weeks after his memorial service, my daughter and my younger son packed me in the car and drove for five hours to L.A. to celebrate my 50th birthday with their brother. I’d never felt so glad to be alive.

   One of the gifts that comes with loss is a finer appreciation for what remains. We were close as a family before we lost their dad; but in the wake of his death, in the fire of letting go, we drew even closer.

   The best thing about birthdays is not parties or presents or even a cake (unless it’s chocolate with custard filling); the best thing about birthdays is being remembered by those who matter most.

   And you know who you are.

   Some years ago, I mentioned in a column that my birthday was in February, but you did not need to send me a card, unless you really wanted to.

   You would not believe the mail I get in February. Contrary to what some may think, I do not own stock in Hallmark. But if I had half a brain, I would.

   Thank you for the cards you have sent recently and the ones still arriving. Like the phone calls from my children (“So glad you were born, Mom”) and the cards and kindnesses from family and friends, they lit up my heart like a thousand candles on a chocolate cake with custard filling.

   It’s tacky to brag about gifts, but too bad, I can’t resist. First, a mourning dove sang outside my window. I had heard it sing before, but never just for me.

   Then my youngest, a teacher like his dad and his sister, called and had me listen as his class of third graders sang “Happy Birthday” just for me.

   Finally, my husband took me to see Tony (be still my beating heart) Bennett, who sang “The Way You Look Tonight.”

   Yes, just for me.

   There are bigger birthdays than 30 or 50 or whatever, if we are lucky. And I am.

   But you don’t have to send me a card, unless you want to.

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