There was a time in my life when I knew the birthdays of everyone in my family.
Unlike my grandmother – who had 12 children and 22 grandchildren and could barely remember their names, let alone their birthdays – my immediate family was fairly small: My mother, my dad, my stepdad, my sister, two brothers and me.
Remembering their birthdays was a piece of cake. Literally. We couldn’t afford gifts (we could barely afford shoes) but my mother would bake a cake and we’d eat it together and no one seemed to miss the gifts.
That was then. This is now. Families are forever changing with marriages, divorces, births and deaths, divisions and reconciliations. The question at family dinners is often not what to eat, but who will show up?
My sister and I and our brother, Joe, are all that’s left of the family we grew up in. But we remember those we’ve lost, especially on their birthdays. We phone each other to tell stories about them and talk about how they are missed.
A good story is a gift for all who share it – the teller, the listeners and the one it recalls.
My second family included me, my first husband, our three children and a dog. I never forgot their birthdays. Not even the dog’s. My daughter wouldn’t let me forget. By the age of 4, she knew all the birth dates and planned the celebrations. Every family needs a party planner. She was mine, then and now.
My children were barely grown when we lost their dad to cancer. We were always close, but death has a way of drawing families closer. My kids fussed over me like birds when one of the flock is injured. They prayed for me, made me eat and sleep and phone to “check in.” Things I used to do for them.
Three weeks after their dad died, my daughter told me to pack a bag because she and her younger brother were taking me to L.A. to see their older brother and celebrate my birthday.
I wish you could’ve heard us.
We laughed and cried and told bittersweet stories. It was one of the saddest/happiest birthdays of my life. I never felt more loved or blessed to be alive.
Years later, I remarried and gained not just a husband, but two stepsons. Then came a flurry of weddings and births. Now our big “blended” family includes my husband, me, five children, four of their spouses and six grandchildren, with (yes!) two more on the way.
If my math is correct (if it’s not, you’ll tell me) it adds up to 17 family birthdays. So far.
That’s a lot of dates to recall. Especially for a woman who was scatterbrained long before she could blame it on age.
Eleven of those 17 birthdays take place from the end of December to mid-February.
That’s a lot of birthday cake. Not to mention a lot of gifts. But families get together for all sorts of reasons: Sunday dinners, holidays, weddings, baby showers, anniversaries and, too often, for funerals. What better reason to celebrate than the birthday of someone we love?
Eleanor is next. She’ll turn 4 this week. We’ll sing “Happy Birthday.” She’ll blow out her candles and open her gifts. I’ll tell her a story about the day she was born and how happy she made her whole family.
I will say to her the words I like to say to friends and loved ones on their birthdays: “I am so glad you were born.”
We’ll eat cake. Then, in the next three weeks, we’ll celebrate seven more family birthdays.
Mine will be last. I’d like to spend it surrounded by family and stories and laughter. No gifts, but maybe a little cake.
That’s a lot of happiness. It’s the best gift I could hope for.
Cards are always nice, too, of course. But you certainly don’t need to send me one.
Unless you really want to.
– Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416 Pacific Grove CA 93950, or on her website: www.sharonrandall.com.