I turned 45 this year. My birthday is on Christmas day so my family does a really bang-up job of making it special. People often think that my birthday is overlooked because of it being Christmas and all but you know, that’s just not the case though it’s a reliable ice-breaker conversation that I’m dumped into regularly. The truth is, I feel for people who are born on the 27th or 29th because those are mucky days where everyone is still eating leftovers, dealing with gifts half in half out of plastic, mulling over what worked and what didn’t, starting to think about the credit card bills that are coming… and of course, the mindfulness that once again another year is ending. People are busy man! Birthdays that fall on this transition week have more guck to wade through.
The funny thing is, celebrating my birthday isn’t even that important to me, but being remembered is. I suppose that’s tied into my history and understanding that this moment, as in right now will change in less than a second and we can’t stop it. Time moves on. People leave, tragedy happens, aha’s change our perspective, cars turn left instead of right… we don’t get to run that show – so really, who cares about birthday cake and beautifully wrapped presents? The paper is going end up in the trash because most of it can’t be recycled (insane isn’t it?), and the cake is likely some store bought thing because most of us aren’t willing to learn how to pour ourselves into food anymore… so really what is special and memorable about that?
I’m not a birthday downer I promise. What does matter deeply to me – is that PEOPLE, as in RELATIONSHIPS, as in our UNIQUENESS, as in our STORY is seen, recognized, honoured and shared. That’s what birthdays are about for me. It’s loving this thing called life and our connection to it.
We have a tradition in our house that on birthdays during cake time, we go around the table, or the couches or whatever and each person has to finish this sentence for the birthday person: “What I love about you is…” and we usually do a few rounds of it. My boys are 14, 12 and 6 right now (2016), and we’ve been doing this since they were wee. It’s old hat to them. It started out feeling kinda weird and exposing, and at various times in the boy’s development they got shy and even sensitive about it, like sharing their feelings about a family member was a bit too personal, and we’ve also been through years where ‘what I love about you’ is a silly poop, fart and bum joke (what is it about 5-7yrs old?), and now we’re in this funny mix of recognizing that this ritual we do for each other really matters, I can see on the boy’s faces. They ‘get it’, but they’re so pre-occupied with themselves (welcome teen years) that what they love about each other is what the other can do for them. “What I love about you is that you make my lunches every day… what I love about you is that you take me to hockey… that you do my laundry...”, thankfully there’s still a six year old in the mix sharing poop and fart gratitudes…
My husband totally gets it. He’s never been a birthday guy either. Neither of us grew up having birthday parties with friends over, loot bags and crazy amounts of gifts. Neither of us grew up with any kind of birthday rituals either, but we come from a time where our distractions were painful ones: my mom died when I was little, his family divorced and both of us grew up fast. It’s the relationships that matter. That’s the gift of birthdays. We remember how lucky we are to have the person sitting in front of us who is about to stuff their mouth full of cake.
This year for my birthday, we were up in a cabin away from home. We did this on purpose – opted out of the bigness of the holidays (though I’m a Christmas cracker and one could say I did it big anyway), it was quieter. The pic above is what I woke up to after having a nap on the couch by the fire. While I was sleeping after a long birthday walk in the snow, Mr. Todd and the boys hung streamers and balloons for me and while we all recognize that stringing pink crepe paper is ‘wasteful’ and ‘environmentally stupid’, this was their way of saying I Love You Tina, Mom, Wife, Cheerleader, Friend.
When we did our ritual of “What I love about you is…” for me, it was simple and silly and irreverent and kinda teenager/elementary school impersonal, and guess what? That’s what made it totally perfect.
What I love about you is…