Yesterday was my second child’s birthday, and I went to see her on her supper break at work. I’d finished a quilted wall hanging, featuring cats because she’s a cat lover extraordinaire. It was fun to make and I was pleased that she loved it so much. (She later emailed that Squeaky, one of her furry friends, also loved the wall hanging.)That got me to thinking about birthday gifts. When I was pretty young, around 5 or 6, my father used to take me to the cowboy show (western movie) at the Lincoln Theater in my hometown. It was years before I realized that he took me because he loved westerns, my mother didn’t, and this way he wasn’t embarrassed to be seen at what many considered a kid’s movie. I not only fell in love with the cowboys (the good guys, of course) but I needed a horse of my own. I even downsized my craving to a pony, Shetland ponies being quite popular in those days.
Never got one. I used to hold that against my dad. He’d promised me a pony (as I recall the story) and he broke his promise. Once I had kids of my own and realized what all was involved in taking care of a family, where the money went, and what a pony would actually cost to buy, never mind feed and care for . . . . Let’s just say, I forgave my dad. Breaking promises hurts, but understanding comes with the distance of decades. I did learn not to promise my kids things in order to shut them up. It’ll be interesting to hear how they remember it.As I grew older and more experienced (you’ll notice I left out the word wiser, which was itself a wise decision), I still had covetous thoughts about what I saw in the stores. Trailing three or four preschoolers (one of which was in the shopping cart seat), I browsed the hardback books, record albums, clothes not meant for moms with sticky-fingered little rascals, a fancy new sewing machine, elegant fabric . . . . Yup, the list was never-ending, changing only as my interests grew and changed.
If you don’t recall those times—and I know the years create a comfortable forgetfulness that leads to nostalgia—to refresh your recollection, I suggest you borrow some preschoolers from a harassed mom—give her a break, but no more than an hour or two lest she pack a bag and dash for the nearest bus station, leaving you with . . . well, no, not really. I’m just saying.I can recall wanting a newer, perfectly clean, totally reliable car or station wagon (this was B. S.—Before SUV).
Heck, while I was in covet mode, I wanted a housekeeper, maid, and yard man/handyman—I liked to cook so didn’t need one of those. Oh, yes, and a nanny/governess/child minder so I could shop in peace, cook without burning the soup because I’d had to separate two strong-minded siblings who wanted the same piece of modeling clay . . . . In those days I read books that gave me ideas “above my station.”Instead of all those material wants and desires, I got: a big (old) house, full of kids and mess, not enough time to make a meal fit for a king, with only stolen minutes to sew a half-hour here and there. But the kids and I did crafts, sang to the piano, read library books together, and cooked. I’m happy to report they go ‘way beyond Jell-O with fruit cocktail, hot dogs, and canned baked beans when they make meals nowadays. And they remember those years as good times that helped mold their talents and interests.
So what does all this have to do with Great Birthday Gifts, you ask?Here’s what: I have four children, all grown up and housebroken, who actually like each other (this was in question 40 years ago), and enjoy spending time with their mom. Because we’re all doing things we love with our lives, our visits are far between, but when they occur, oh, what joy! Here are a couple of samples:
The first was my 60th birthday. My four children rounded up two of my close friends from college for an evening of good times and good food, laughter and silliness. I got a photo album of pics going back into our collective past—my woman friend’s wedding, the man friend’s casual dress while he helped us remodel the upstairs of the farm house we bought, the kids on vacation trips. Nothing like looking at ourselves 20 or 30 years ago. Did we wear that?! Yes, we did. And our hairstyles! Talk about retro.The other time was my 70th birthday, when my four children then lived in three different states and several hours’ travel were required to reach Northeastern Indiana. They all managed to get here for a full day. The girls stayed the night, but my son had to leave because he had responsibilities the next morning at church. We watched hilarious animal videos on the computer, made stupid puns (always a family talent), ate too much, drank too much coffee and tea, and—as they used to say in the newspaper about community meetings—“a good time was had by all."
Those two birthdays will linger in my memory forever. At some point I gave up on wanting “things.” Hard to say when—but I know my priorities shifted and I learned the value of spending time with relatives and friends before one of us is no longer here, in body or mind, perhaps.Today I celebrate birthdays—your, mine, the letter carrier’s, the newborn baby in my neighborhood. Hope it’s a happy one! And that you get what you most desire!