My eldest child turned 5 years old last week.
I worry that I didn’t create enough fanfare or deliver the needed dose of magic. It wasn’t a bad day; He won’t be penning an Irish memoir about his parents absconding with his shiny birthday coins to spend them on pints and dance hall girls while he tirelessly pedaled a bike with only one wheel to deliver papers in a tattered newsboy hat or anything.
On the contrary, it was a fine day although the sheen of the milestone had worn thin by the actual day since we had given him a little party with his peers the week before. His actual day was met with a few family gifts and a cupcake. I suppose I feel guilty since we’re likely to do this on a run-of-the-mill day, as well, because I’m the kind of mother prone to offering toys and simple carbohydrates on a Tuesday.
I’m beginning to realize that while I may have Tuesdays down, I may not be the kind of mother who has the alchemy of birthdays mastered.
My own mother was great at it. She could have made German Unity Day feel special despite being Italian and that she’d sooner eat her own pointer finger than wienerschnitzel. She knew how to festoon a bedroom doorway with streamers and cover a toilet with a sheath of saran wrap because nothing thrills a young soul like urine cascading down the back of their legs.
She knew to stagger the excitement so that every couple of hours were punctuated by a new surprise, the crowning moment occurring as we would pass Dairy Queen on the drive to school.
She would murmur casually, “Wonder what kind of Blizzards they have today?”
I would look up at the marquee to see my name emblazoned in large black letters, backlit by fluorescence. It made me feel as though I was someone with enough import that Dairy Queen wouldn’t dare to advertise hot dog platters on the anniversary of my birth. Even on the years they spelled my name incorrectly, my pride still swelled at the sight.
I went on my first date with my now husband, Greg, three days after his birthday. That bode well for me since we were well into wedding planning by the time I had to make a fuss about his next birthday. I can’t actually remember what I did, but I’m sure working late, a drugstore card, and an “I Owe You” for sexual acts I had no intention of making good on were among the celebratory offerings. He was undaunted, however, which must be on account of being from such a large family. When you’re one of seven children, a birthday is reserved for eating a favorite homemade meal and giving thanks you passed through one more year without being forgotten at a highway rest stop. Who could bother with a birthday party when it was likely that a sibling was being treated in the emergency room.
The Christmas holiday, by contrast, is easier for large families to execute with some grandeur since it’s like an all-you-can-eat-buffet of tinsel. The focus isn’t on one entree because everyone is happy so long as the free refills keep coming.
As a result, Greg is really firing on all cylinders when it comes to Christmas. The man pulls out his Santa hat the minute the grocery stores start selling gourds. Because Christmas was the first actual holiday we spent together as a couple, I assumed his prowess for orchestrating extravaganzas would trickle down to birthdays.
Anthropologically speaking, I may have even married him for this reason. Scientists have postulated that females are attracted to mates who possess certain desirable traits, things like the ability to haul wounded mammoths, a hearty unibrow to block the sun, and the know-how to start fire with rocks. I don’t really value any of that stuff considering I spend all my money on organic vegetarian food and hair removal products. I need someone in possession of lungs circulating excessive air for inflating balloons and a knack for memorizing classroom rosters. Extra evolution points awarded to the guy who knows how to pipe frosting or print out a color banner.
As I squinted at him over the glare of the candles on our son’s birthday cake, my forehead creased with fret — I inwardly hoped he was going to usher a major surprise, like a puppy, through the door to rescue this birthday.
When I saw our firstborn child screw up his face, in contemplation of his birthday wish, and blow out his candles, I breathed a little easier and realized that he felt some enchantment despite two parents with low party IQ. Unless, of course, he wished for new parents. And I reminded myself that it is okay to have married a man who doesn’t provide any mystique on birthdays because the Darwinian advantage of being with a tax attorney who sucks at birthdays is that where he fails on April 9th, he really blows it out of the water on April 15th.
Erin Donovan moved with her family to the midcoast where she constantly is told she says the word “scallops” incorrectly. She performs live and produces Web sketches derived from her popular humor blog “I’m Gonna Kill Him.” Follow her misadventures at imgonnakillhim.bangordailynews.com and on Twitter @gonnakillhim.