From the end of December to mid-February, 10 of the 16 members of our big, blended family will celebrate a birthday.
That’s a lot of cake. Mine is up next. But let me assure you this is not some pathetic ploy to get you to remember my birthday.
There’s absolutely no reason for you to do that. Unless you really want to.
Birthdays in my childhood were not the wingdings that seem to be in fashion today. In my family, we didn’t do birthday gifts or parties. My mother baked a cake. We sang “Happy Birthday.” We ate the cake, and that was that.
I assumed that was the norm until I started school. Imagine my surprise to hear other kids describe their celebrations.
I’ve told this story before, but I am going to tell it again.
On my sixth birthday, in first grade, tired of feeling left out, I rose from my desk and invited everyone in class, including the teacher, to a party after school at my grandmother’s house.
Imagine my grandmother’s surprise when I ran home after school to tell her what I’d done. Her jaw dropped to the floor. “The teacher, too?” she said.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “And the principal. And the janitor.”
Only two kids showed up: A boy, who brought me a candy bar. And a girl, who ate it.
That’s a true story and in my opinion, it’s worth retelling.
Same goes for this one:
In fifth grade, at a different school, some of the mothers would bring cakes to class to celebrate their children’s birthdays. One of them was a lovely woman whose daughter, Brenda, through no fault of her own, happened to be born on my birthday.
Upon hearing from the teacher that it was my birthday, too, Brenda’s mother insisted that I stand with Brenda while the class sang “Happy Birthday” to us both.
I was mortified. The class sang both our names, but the cake proclaimed only “Brenda.” Birthday cakes don’t lie.
What I remember best about that day occurred later at recess.
Back then, before litigation and child safety became serious concerns, school playgrounds often featured a “merry-go-round,” a metal disk also known as an “instrument of death.” The boys would push the disk in a circle, faster and faster, while the girls would cling to its bars, hanging on for dear life.
On that day, fired up by Brenda’s cake, the boys outdid themselves, pushing faster than ever. I locked my legs around a bar. My friend Nancy clung to a bar next to mine. We were giddy with anticipation.
But as the disk approached lightning speed, Nancy lost her grip and ended up clinging in a choke hold to my neck.
I liked Nancy a lot. But I soon surmised that trying to save her would either send us both into orbit or, worse, to our graves.
OK, I’ll just say it: I bit her. Hard. On the nose.
Estimates of how far she flew varied widely. The good news _ my birthday gift _ was, thanks be to God, she was somehow not killed or maimed. I apologized profusely. I hope that she forgave me. But we were never as close after that.
I told you those stories to tell you this: A birthday is a gift in itself. It tells us we have just lived another year of life.
That is something to celebrate.
There are no guarantees for the year ahead. But the one just completed is over and done. No way to change it. No going back. Maybe it wasn’t our best year ever. Maybe we didn’t give it our best.
All we can do is look back and learn and hope for another chance to do better.
When your birthday rolls around, I hope it’s your best birthday ever. May nobody eat your candy bar. May your cake show only your name. And may you never, ever have to bite a friend.
You really don’t need to remember me on my birthday.
Unless you really want to.