Because we are a family of artists and intellectuals, we are selective about the shows we watch. With the exception of Tired of Being Youngest, who takes to the screen the way a tongue sticks to the frozen pole, we limit our time staring at the backlit rectangular shape and make sure that when we do sit for long periods of time absorbing mindless drivel, that it is quality mindless drivel.
My favorite show is Wipeout, the gigantic obstacle course that involves ordinary people jumping over, crawling under, and squeezing through assorted oversized balls, shapes, swings, and padded items, many of which incorporate foam and water. Yes, I shamelessly laugh at other people falling down.
In a recent show (“recent” in my vocabulary meaning something less than ten-years-old, such as our “recent” automobile), an exuberant contestant announced, “It’s my BIRTHDAY!”
Oh, I love this man — (He won, incidentally — Happy Birthday to You, Happy Man) — because another hallmark of our intellectually artistic family is that we get excited, really Really excited, about people’s birthdays.
This is not a Norwegian tradition but of Polish extraction, originating with my mother, the Venerable One, who treated my four siblings’ and my birthdays like the special days that they are. A spot on the fireplace ledge was reserved for gifts — properly wrapped in genuine birthday paper that was different for each child — and a homemade cake of the child’s choice — chocolate or vanilla — capped off the meal.
For the day, a truce was called in sibling rivalry, and each of us attempted to be nice to the honored one. Jealousy regarding gifts was never a problem, at least for me — my three older brothers’ impossibly complicated and boringly grey model battleship haul was only interesting when they shot the completed projects to pieces with their BB guns; my older sister’s posters of the Monkees and Bobby Sherman caught my eye ten years later, when I, too, was a teen — by which point I was enamored of Neil Diamond.
But the Birthday Tradition was firmly entrenched, and when I found myself married with four kids (actually, I didn’t just wake up one day and find myself in this situation, although some days it felt like it), I continued what my mother had started, with variations.
Take the festive wrapping paper, for example. Generally, the newspaper, brown paper bags, white freezer paper, and plastic bags were called into service; when the Dollar Store arrived and I occasionally purchased real paper, it was cycled and recycled through the three May birthdays and into the July one. The September recipient occasionally found crumpled Christmas paper from nine months before, IF he were lucky.
The cakes remained, with the same choices, although depending upon a whim I would “decorate,” a well-remembered favorite being the dog park complete with plastic figurines and little raisins scattered about (this was before the days of plastic poopy bags). The dinner meal of choice was instigated, and somehow, with extended family parties and friend parties and nuclear family parties the length of the birthday was extended as well, sometimes for as long as two weeks around the actual date.
Presents were and are supplied by not only the Norwegian Artist and his Polish Siren, but each sibling provides a gift as well, generously reaching into their allowance and babysitting funds — Tired of Being Youngest for years shopped the sales at the Dollar Store. The crowning point of the day is the hour — often a literal hour — in which the Birthday Person slowly opens the gifts, one by one, admiring and commenting on the selection, and thanking the giver. Giver and recipient both glow.
And I started a private tradition of my own, taking time through the day to reflect on the moment of the Birthday Person’s birth and special memories of our time together. Knowing that some people have had to live with the horrible words, uttered in anger or thoughtlessness, “I wish that you had never been born!” I determined that those I loved would not hear those words from me, ever, but rather the opposite, and sometime during the day I make a point of taking the BP aside and saying, “I am so glad that you were born.”
I recently celebrated my own birthday, physically surrounded by people dear to me and feted via Facebook, phone, or letter by other treasured ones unable to be in the same room. Chaos reigned as someone sautéed shrimp, another brewed tea, a third set the table while the Toddler unsettled it. Doors opened and closed and cats ran in, uninvited (when you own six of the things, this tends to happen). It was noisy, messy, tumultuous, exuberant, and full of joy.
And we hadn’t even got to the presents yet.
oh! as always, i just loved your birthday post. again, i see so many similarities between our lives, and it makes me very happy to read your witty recitation of events. [i dont have the gift of entertaining storytelling that you do, but thats alright!]
boy, was the $ store a god send for our 6 kids. [at christmas, they would each get their 6 $’s and one at a time, stroll through the aisles finding the perfect gift for their siblings. and were so happy!] for their birthdays, the honored one would get to go eat [ a real treat!] with mommy and daddy BY THEMSELVES!
we too, made our own wrapping paper, decorating with stamp pads, stamps and markers, and everyone would work on a big poster for the birthday boy or girl, tailored to their likes of the moment. daddy always added a silly poem. we have saved many of those works of art.
the birthday person was relieved of their daily chores, and yes, treated very special, with no bickering allowed.
our large italian irish home also overflows with noise, laughter, babies and animals with everyone talking all at once at our get togethers, and i too just sit and glow in the midst of it all, supremely happy.
Thank you for your wonderfully gracious and encouraging words.
I think the Irish/Italian family mix sounds like the best of both worlds, with two very warm, expressive cultures crashing into one. Our Polish/Norwegian melee, however, manages to make itself noisy as well, and I agree with you — it is enough to simply be in the same room with all of the laughing and chaos and noise and activity, and let it wash over you and through you.
When College Girl was High School Girl, I remember being FRUSTRATED with her extreme messiness, but smart enough to recognize that she was a package deal — her noise and energy and fun-infusion came with the messy price tag. I determined that I would overlook the dirty towels on the floor (clean ones too) and get every precious minute of her exuberance while I was blessed to have it in our house.
I am happy for you for your wonderful family, and for your wisdom and joy in recognizing and immersing yourself in it.
Birthdays are indeed a great and joyous occasion! What’s sad sometimes is that adults tend to stop celebrating birthdays (probably because getting older loses its novelty after a while 🙂 after a certain age, and scoff at others who still get excited and expect to be treated extra special on that one day.
I think it all goes back to family traditions – if your family growing up celebrated everybody’s birthday with joy and fanfare, then you’ll tend to do the same long into adulthood. I certainly still celebrate my birthdays, and look forward to that special day, feeling thankful and appreciative of my parents that they had me 🙂
Life is a daily gift, and a birthday is a reminder that we have lived and breathed and laughed for another year. So what if we’re getting older? We all do. So much better to accept the inevitable with joy and gladness.
I am glad that you also are a joyous birthday celebrator. In this culture, cynical is in, but it most certainly doesn’t make us happier.
Happy Birthday to You, whenever that wonderful day may be.
Happy belated birthday. 🙂 My favorite part of Wipeout is when people are getting ready to jump on the big red balls, only to be smacked from behind by “The Motivator” 😛 Love your traditions. 😉
You’re right — the Motivator is indeed a pleasing element.
I like the snipey banter between the two John hosts.
We love the quirky, close, comfortable nature of our family, and the traditions bind us together even when we are physically apart.