Birthdays

Do you hate birthdays? Enjoy them?  While some people plan elaborate parties others prefer to let them pass quietly by. Not our family! We make a big deal out of birthdays for every person-every year.

It’s exhausting!

I was ten years old in 1960 when our parents  decided to load up the station wagon and move five kids, across country from Maryland to California. A moving truck took some of our belongs and Dad hauled a rented moving trailer behind the car. With dreams of starting fresh, they headed out some 3,000, miles for a new life in The Land of Milk and Honey (became known as The Golden State in 1968).

In the days before seatbelts were required (or in fact used much) we were able to spread out and claim our favorite spots for a trip that would take three weeks! Perhaps it was because we had never really vacationed before that our parents made this long journey an adventure. Most days we settled into a Holiday Inn with a pool and spent the late afternoon and evening swimming in a “real” pool! No more blow up or soft sided pools for us!  We must have eaten out some but supporting a family of seven on my dad’s income alone must have been difficult. (Surely there was an ice chest full of Kool-Aid and bologna sandwiches, but I actually do not remember). Dad worked  six days a week and  typical of the times, Mom was a stay at home mother. Thinking back I cannot imagine how they afforded this trip or how difficult it must have been to uproot five kids under ten years old.  I only remember the adventure we had! To see such sights a the Mississippi River, (even Mexico), or the desert of the Southwest was a dream come true for kids who had never ventured far from home. Sure, we had seen the great sights of Washington DC but a real road trip-it was a chance of a lifetime to be sure.

I was never really clear why they decided to leave behind their brothers and sisters, a large number of cousins, lifelong friends, and even a few grandparents. They would simply tell us that they always dreamed of living in California. This didn’t make a great deal of sense since our mom was miserable for the first few years and  Dad really missed his siblings. In those days long distance phone calls were expensive and it was not as easy to reach out to those left behind. Perhaps that is why they made such a fuss over birthdays and with it began the tradition of the

Birthday Party.

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To be sure, they couldn’t have known how it would spiral out of control in the coming years but for our little California family it was everything. Soon another sister came along and now there were eight of us.

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With only two of us sharing the same birthday month, that left seven months in which to celebrate. December with no birthdays allowed us to focus on Christmas and in November, with no birthdays, Thanksgiving was our big event. Easter seldom interfered with any birthdays so we pretty much had a celebration about every month. We did not  invite friends to these birthdays. It was all about family! We had a special dinner followed by your favorite cake (which Mom always baked) and ice cream. Presents were always a part of the festivities. With little to spare (I am sure) our wonderful parents managed to provide a very special celebration. It was never about the extravagance of the gifts but always more about the giving.

In late 1970, things changed, I got married! Now a new person was added to the birthday rotation. The following year we had a daughter and another birthday to celebrate. Two years later another daughter until  there were soon four little ones. I know some of their fondest memories are the birthday celebrations at grandma and grandpa’s house. Adding to the numbers was a slow process and many of the dynamics in the family changed. A brother and sister were married for awhile, eventually a nephew was born, another sister married. And still the birthday parties continued-for every person, every year. Naturally I took over many of the celebrations at my home, my parents added a pool to theirs. Usually it was grandma and grandpa’s house. Dad just loved having his family at his table. The kids loved the pool. We all pitched in.

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As the size of the family increased so did the number of birthday parties. In 1997 Dad died. It really was his love of family and celebrating that kept this in motion  We began to make some changes. My sisters and I established the…

Annual Sister’s Birthday.

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(hamming it up at the Sister’s Birthday party)

  The brothers had a joint party in the spring.  More grandkids and spouses were added.

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(hey, this is supposed to be a happy occasion!)

My son moved out of state with his daughter.  Birthday parties were combined. Then Mom was gone. Still the parties continued. A grandson joined the military and moved away.  Great grandkids slowly arrived.  People had jobs and families to deal with. The kids pitched in and organized and had parties in their homes.  We had beach birthday parties, pool parties, camping parties,  pizza parties, and barbeques.

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Sure, some people couldn’t make it to every party but that didn’t stop us. You can’t change tradition…

…or can you?

Over the last years or so, some of the adult kids have said no to having a traditional party. Occasionally they will opt for small affair of some sort.

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At first I resisted. After all, these were my kids but… here we were some 56 years later. Thommmee and I seldom miss a party. I am tired. A few years ago I told the kids I was done with the party planning business. Invite us and we will come. At first this worked well. They jumped to the challenge.

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(looks like a forest fire!)

They made quarterly birthday events but then… slowly… something strange happened…. some birthdays went ‘semi’ celebrated (at least in any formal way). Sure, we still dropped by with a gift and good wishes or mailed birthday and gift cards. The younger kids were still being celebrated. I closed my eyes and

just let it all happen.

We go when called and never forget (no not one) birthday. My siblings and I still celebrate-so far. As for the big  Sisters  Annual Birthday…? I don’t know. We lost a sister last year and another is planning to move away. That leaves just two. We haven’t yet decided what to do. My brother is off on his own adventure and we don’t know his plans. Yes, the other brother will have a party at the end of the month.

The loving tribute started by my parents has now come full circle, I think. It is, perhaps, time for new traditions to be established. We were taught the value of a loving  family and that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Hopefully these values will continue to be passed on.  I am so grateful for these many years together and many celebrations.  At times it has been difficult to embrace the changes. I am ready to let go. Its funny to me that the kids will not allow me to miss my birthday celebration while refusing to have one of their own.  Despite celebrating with my sisters they always insisted on having some special celebration with me. I always  feel a bit strange about this. Maybe it is their way of giving to me what they received all of these years, or because they love me, or simply it brings them pleasure. Whatever the reason I am going to lovingly accept their gift this year with no fuss-simply gratitude.

Birthdays will somehow always remain a very special part of our family.

Thanks Mom and Dad. You were the Best!

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(I bet they are smiling)

 

 

 

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26 thoughts on “Birthdays

  1. Thanks, Nancy. Sorry to hear your having problems with WordPress . I am looking forward to hearing more about your cruise. My absence from blogging recently didn’t really have anything to do with a marvelous trip like that…. (but we did squeeze in two little mini trips). That’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it! If I had big problems with the website I would probably throw up my hands and quit. It’s hard enough for me to keep up.😨

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  2. What a great post! How fun to have all those birthday parties. I made sure to celebrate my kids birthdays in a special way for them when they were growing up. But all of the family was far away… so it was really just us and sometimes both sets of grandparents. So… not big and landish but still heartfelt.
    I am so pleased to hear you survived the family cross country trip. And lived to talk about it! HA HA HA Family Vacations in a car were always something to talk about with my family! I was the youngest of 4! Oh I could write a thesis on those family vacations.
    I really enjoyed your post! Hugs to you… I’ve missed you and I got my next post up. It was a chore. I am having some problems with WordPress getting my posts up and running. I may have to have a live chat with them.

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  3. It must have been fun growing up in a large family like yours. Kudos to your parents for starting the birthday tradition. I come from a smaller family. I only have one sister. Our family birthday celebrations were full of love, but they were small. We did have big birthday parties with friends, though. One birthday I had girlfriends over for softball and cake. Another year it was a swimming party. They there was the party in my grandma’s basement with boys and dancing and games.

    Now my kids are scattered across the country, but we still get together for one occasion or another. This month we all traveled to Maryland for my grandson’s First Communion and to celebrate Mother’s Day and my birthday. I live in Seattle, so it was a long trip. Adding the sons-in-law and their families, we had a good big group.

    Large or small, we treasure our loving family gatherings. Thank you for sharing the story of your birthdays.

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  4. Thank you so much. Beginning a family is such a wonderful time to start new traditions and yet hanging on to some of the old ones is equally as special. Being the oldest and starting my family caused us all to change many things about how we celebrated certain events. It was really difficult for my dad but he came along and eventually came to embrace all of the new traditions that we created as a family. I am now watching my kids do the same.

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  5. nice post. made me remember my childhood. though i have lived in a family of four, so reading it gave me a different kind of experience.but me and my brother reach the marriage age.. i guess this is the kind of family i will wanna have.. share these beautiful moments together.. a lovely post . loved it.. 🙂

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  6. Kate Morton and I have the same author’s agent in Australia. I really must get on and read some of her books. I have been reading memoir since I was writing in that genre. I am glad you are enjoying her writing, and the little glimpse into our culture. For many years, at least until the first world war, many Australians still thought of England as “home”.

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  7. Yum! BBQ. 🙂 It should be warm this weekend too. It’s been quite cool here and wet but the heat is coming by the first of May. There are 4 of us and only my sister and I are somewhat close so I envy you the large, close family. Good luck with the Pie. That’s what I had on a birthday if I had one.

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  8. Yeah! I didn’t think about all those extra calories accredited to birthday cake and ice cream. No wonder these hips are expanding… Yeah that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it! We have another one coming up Friday night, the only one of the month for my other brother and he insists he wants no gift. I’m making him a key lime pie. Last year I made him key lime pie and it did not turn out well at all so I’m trying a new recipe. Wish me luck. I’m not hosting it, my sister is and her husband is a marvelous BBQ gourmet cook so it oughta be good!

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  9. I may not see the aurora borealis or Cuba but I guess my journey is really here at home with this marvelous family that I have. Keep up the traveling and the posting- I’m loving it! ♡♡( and a few road trips thrown in)

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  10. You were so blessed to have such a large and close family. So many great memories. I understand the need to pare down the celebrations. That’s a party a week at least, sounds like. Lots of calories. 😉

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  11. Thank you, Lani. My birthday is later this summer. Yes, I am so lucky and we have had a great deal of fun with this. Glad to see the kids passing on the tradition in some fashion or another! Hugs!

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  12. The cuppa made me smile. I’m reading the most marvelous book, The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton and she talks about having a cuppa in Australia. The story moves on to England. Apparently they call it a cuppa in both places due to the roots and history of the two countries. ( which I’m sure you knew the term but I didn’t) A fabulous read!

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  13. Thank you Mommermom. I had seen on that other comment that you had bought my book. Thank you for the leap of faith! I am still waiting for the US release and I think it will be very low key, so am pleased you decided now. I would love to hear what you make of it. Wherever you find expressions and Australianisms you don’t understand, please feel free to ask. It hasn’t had a US edit. It wasn’t actually that hard to write, even though the subject matter is difficult. I did have a sense I was speaking for people who couldn’t, and also documenting social history. I hope it does help others to a greater understanding of things we try not to discuss. All the same, I know some people will criticise me for choices I made as a younger person. None of us is perfect, hey? And you are right, we would enjoy a cuppa’ together. xxxx

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  14. Love! You’re so lucky to come from a big family and a loving one at that. I’m from a small nuclear family, so holidays and birthdays were quiet affairs. It’s okay though. I’m actually not a birthday person, but when folks get together and create something special, it’s hard not to be moved. It’s magic! Does this mean your birthday is soon? Thanks for sharing something so personal and lovely! 😀

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  15. Your touching comments really meant a lot to me, Gwen. You are right, we don’t want to let this slip away. I was talking with my sister this morning about the birthday situation and I think everyone is still on board. Perhaps this will be the thing that brings our brother back. I held back the tears as I read your comments- for many reasons. I’m so glad that you got to experience the birthdays with your friends. It’s also such a treasured memory, I’m sure, to have had that birthday party thrown for you. You are always so open and candid. I’m sure if I lived in Australia or if you lived here we would be busily chatting away over a cup of tea often. I ordered your book yesterday on Amazon and so much looking forward to reading it. What courage it takes to open your heart and past to others in the form of a book. Wow… allowing people such personal glimpses and yet… I’m sure you make a difference and encourage others by sharing your story. Big hugs!

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  16. Naaaw. I so loved this post.I had so many thoughts and emotions as I read each paragraph. That trek across country . . . I thought of the first time I left the state of NSW, when I was 15. Stayed in a motel, first time ever. Around the same time I was friends with a family of five children. They were skinny as. The meals had to stretch a long way. I was chubby. The six of us would scrunch in the back of the Citroen with the rounded back bench seat, no seat belts to worry about. I took up the space of two. It was chaotic and fun.

    We never celebrated birthdays in our household. My mum was a single mum just struggling with staying in the world. In her younger years she had spent five years in an orphanage. I don’t think she knew how to make birthdays happen. I am not even sure she always knew what date it was. When I was seven, a neighbour threw me a party in the park. I still remember it. (gosh, I just teared up). Then when I was 22, I went to England, and got “adopted” by a woman who had six adult children. The birthday routine was exactly as you describe. When she died ten years ago, the family reacted differently and tensions arose, but in a way, it is the birthday tradition that brought them back together. One of the grandchildren writes a blog on parenthood. She is not even thirty yet and has four children under five. The birthday tradition features strongly in her blog, and I can transport myself to the garden in Kent in which I know everyone is gathered, rain or shine (they have a tarpaulin/marquee thingy). It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Coronation Chicken and salads is often the go. Plus birthday cake. Getting together in a restaurant doesn’t cut it in the same way. Hubbie and I never had children together, so I never got to test whether I was any good at setting the scene. If I was in England, I know the birthday celebration would spread to us too.

    Don’t let it slip away without a fight. We can’t always tell each other how much love we have to share. It’s awkward. Sometimes, we only know it by the actions of those who surround us. Maybe, little by little, these threads will draw your brother back to the warmth of a loving family.

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  17. I have been truly blessed and I know it. For this I am extremely thankful. I’m sorry about the situation with your brother. It must have been (and is) extremely difficult. It sounds like you’re building your own precious memories and traditions within your own family. After reading you’re wonderful blog for so long I feel but I can safely say that you are a loving and caring wife and mother who strives to provide the very best for her family. I’m certain that they will treasure these days all of their lives. Big hugs!♡

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  18. You have truly been blessed. Change is always hard especially when traditions we have grown up with are being replaced with unfamiliar new ones or people just want to leave them behind as they make their way in the world. Family birthday celebrations were always a big deal in our family as well. My dreams of this continuing throughout my adult life, with my own children, were changed when my relationship with my brother ended some 17 years ago. Things changed as the dynamics of the family changed and now birthdays are celebrated here at home just with Hubby, me and the kids. No extended family for the most part. It is not what I really wanted, but for reasons that could not be helped, that is how it has become. Holding onto the memories is comforting as we move forward and struggle to hold onto what we have left.

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  19. It was a wonderful start and legacy, Pauline. Hard to imagine how quickly those years flew by! I was surprised of how little I actually remember about that trip-although I shouldn’t. 56 years is a very long time! 😄

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  20. What a wonderful start you had in life Jan! This testament to your parents courage and protection of their children shows in your memories of the drive across country so long ago. Everything has it’s time doesn’t it and everything morphs into something else. What remains important is the love that exists. Now that is worth celebrating!

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