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.
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
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.
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.
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.
(hamming it up at the Sister’s Birthday party)
The brothers had a joint party in the spring. More grandkids and spouses were added.
(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.
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.
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.
(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!
(I bet they are smiling)