Birthdays

It is happening again. Another birthday has come and gone and I am feeling very emotional.

Ironically, it’s not MY birthday that is stirring up these feelings. It is the birthdays of my children that are the culprit of this strange emotional stew. It is some combination of melancholy, with a waft of wistfulness, and a hint of nostalgia.

It is so cliché to say, “Where has the time gone?” 

But seriously… Where HAS the time gone?

Last week, my eldest daughter turned 24 years old. She has spent the last eight months traveling abroad, visiting 15 different countries, and having the time of her life. Now she is back to work. This time for a stint in Germany in one of their local wineries. While I am thrilled that she is happy and thriving, it always makes me a little sad to not be with her on her birthday.

While she was not the slightest bit upset about being 7500 miles away from home on her birthday, I found myself unmoored. I could not be more proud that my two older daughters are enjoying their independent lives. But for some reason, on their birthdays, I still feel like it is my responsibility to insure that they feel happy and content. It must be a leftover vestige from years of planning their parties when they were little… and somehow it still triggers a cascade of emotions for me.

Before Evite, texting and email, birthday invitations were handwritten. Sort of. I would take them to the party store and let them pick their birthday party “theme.” The invitations usually came in a box of eight. It was rare that the number of invited guests were conveniently a multiple of eight, so invariably I would end up with leftover invitations and have no use for three extra SpongeBob birthday invites (or matching thank you notes) in future years. G-d forbid I repeated a birthday party theme from one year to the next. So I would end up with the most random collection of leftover birthday paraphernalia.

Just recently, I found a stack of Disney Princess paper plates from one of my girl’s birthdays over a decade ago.

But, my eldest daughter never really cared about her birthday party. I always made a much bigger deal about it than she did.

On her first birthday, I went way over the top. I must have invited 40 adults and another dozen friends who also had one-year-olds. I rented a tent for the backyard because it was so hot because I wanted to make sure there was plenty of shade. The tent cost a fortune. It was an extravagance that I could not afford back then, but I was determined to make my guests comfortable. Unfortunately, the tent seemed to have a greenhouse effect. So, it was actually hotter UNDER the tent than anywhere else in the yard.

I remember ordering large deli platters to feed all my party-goers, but I ordered way too much food, and it was so hot that no one really ate. Large tins containing potato salad and coleslaw turned into some kind of toxic soup on that hot summer day. At the end of the party, I remember someone asking me if they should just dump them into the garbage, rather than trying to save the leftovers. I nodded yes. What I didn’t realize was those trays had my grandmother’s 100-year-old silver serving spoons in them! They must have sunk to the bottom like quicksand. I didn’t realize it until later that year, when I was making Thanksgiving dinner, and realized I had no serving spoons. To this day, I still cringe about it every time I throw a dinner party.

But the really kicker was that my daughter slept through her entire party. The little girl, who hated to nap, took the longest nap of her life that day. My dad was in charge of taking pictures of the party, but never got a single one of her. So, I would say the party was pretty much a disaster on all accounts. I wasted a lot of money on food that was thrown out and a tent that no one sat under. My (first) husband was furious that someone got chocolate frosting on our new sofa, and felt the party was unsuccessful because we didn’t rent a pony! Not kidding. If he was so worried about the chocolate smudge on the sofa, I am not sure how he would have felt about horse poop in the backyard and a bunch of one-year-olds running in and out of the house.

Since then, I have thrown a lot of birthday parties and have gotten a lot better at it. But my eldest daughter just didn’t really care about any of them. She just wanted to have friends over. The details about party themes, formal invitations, and what was in the goody bags was lost on her. I threw those birthday parties for me. I was the quintessential "Guilty Working Mom" who wanted to make sure that my daughter felt important on her birthday. I wanted to let her know that I was planning something just for HER. I don’t think I ever got it right because she simply didn’t care. She just wasn’t that girl. 

On the other hand, my second (middle) daughter loved a party. Loved her birthday. Loved having a theme. Loved dressing up. Loved to be the center of attention. She loved it all — the food, the cake, the activities, the presents, the attention, the party favors… the whole shebang.

It’s really no surprise that they had such different attitudes about their birthdays. It was illustrative of just how different they were from each other.

My first daughter was a fussy baby. She had gas. She had colic. She hated to go to sleep. She hated to take naps. She cried a lot… and she cried loudly. She didn’t like bath time. She didn’t like bedtime. She didn’t like car seats. She didn’t like diaper changes. She didn’t like being held. She was a picky eater. She didn’t like anything about being a baby… and subsequently, I wasn’t too crazy about being a new mom. Mostly, because I thought I was doing everything wrong. We both cried a lot.

But once she learned to walk and talk, she was a pretty easy kid. She was social. She was fun. She was independent. She was delightful... and she still is. I always say that she made up for her colicky-infant years by being a great kid… and now an awesome adult. I miss her being so far away.

When my middle daughter was born, I prepared myself for another round of “infancy hell.” I was still working like a maniac, but at least I had a twelve-week maternity leave which was infinitely better than my six-week maternity leave with my first baby. Much to my surprise, my middle daughter turned out to be a dream baby! She was instantly a good sleeper. A good eater. No gas. Very little crying. She was super cuddly. She melted my heart with her adorable face and sweet disposition.

When it came time for her first birthday, I had learned my lesson. Immediate family only. A tiny little cake. Sang her happy birthday. Snapped a photo. Ate a regular family dinner. Perfect.

But, unlike her older sister, my middle daughter really liked her birthday, so we spent a lot of time carefully planning her party every year. There was the princess party. The gymnastics party. The cow-themed party. On her 12th birthday, she insisted on wearing a tiara to school, so that EVERYONE would know it was her birthday. When I went to pick her up from school that day, even the janitor wished her “Happy Birthday.”

At 13, she had her bat-mitzvah and you would have thought that she was planning a royal wedding. It wasn’t that it was over the top or fancy, but she wanted everything a certain way. She was instrumental in picking out every detail of her celebration.

On her 16th birthday, she got her driver’s license. The first night she had her license, she almost drove the car right into a parked car. I didn’t get in a car with her again for years. Not kidding.

Then she was 18 and graduating high-school… and off to college. Now she loves to learn. She remains incredibly social. She is a feminist. She is highly opinionated. She is artistic. She is a great storyteller. She is a good writer. She is an outstanding bargain hunter… and she has a great sense of style. She is a hard worker. She is a loyal friend. She walks fast… and talks faster. Her favorite leisure activity is binge-watching Netflix (all three of my children share this obsession) and going to concerts. She has a wicked sense of humor and a great laugh… one of my favorite laughs in the whole world.

But last spring, when my middle daughter turned 21, it felt like it just snuck up on me out of nowhere. While she was happily celebrating this rite of passage with all of her friends in college 5,000 miles away, I was a puddle of tears. How did she grow up so fast? I think I was feeling residual guilt from living apart for almost five years living in Hawaii, while she chose to remain in Los Angeles with her dad and stepmom. While I never missed a single birthday until she went off to college, and I would see her every six weeks along with winter and summer vacations, I missed a lot of regular days from the time she was 12 until she was almost 17 years old. So when she turned 21, I felt like it happened in a blink… and I found myself overwhelmed with the passage of time that got away from me.

And now this week, my youngest daughter will turn 14. A freshman in high school who bounces out of bed and can’t wait to get to school. Mostly because she loves being on the volleyball team and going to practice every day. We jokingly tease her that she acts like she is going to volleyball camp and is required to take a few classes while attending. She just smiles and shrugs her shoulders.

We were planning a sleepover party for her birthday this weekend, but it turns out the volleyball team will be traveling on her birthday to play in a tournament. She is overjoyed. Apparently, that’s better than any party.

So, my three little girls are not so little. Two of them are grownups. Living on their own and making their way in the world. Living and traveling abroad and doing everything I hoped they would:  Enjoying their lives.

My youngest still has a few more years at home, but has become quite independent as well. I offered to make her the birthday cake of her choice, but she insists on baking cupcakes herself because she loves baking almost as much as she loves volleyball. So she will be baking her own (red velvet) cupcakes and bringing them with her to the tournament to share with her teammates.

So, I only have one question:  

Where HAS the time gone… and why is it marching on without my permission?

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