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Dec 13 2011

Do Birthdays Matter When You’re a Mom?

By at 1:09 pm

birthday cakeIt was my birthday yesterday. I am 36 now. I don’t much like birthdays, to be honest. Haven’t since the age of 10 or so. I don’t mean to sound like a scrooge, but if you’ve read anything I have written before, you know I sort of am one. A loveable scrooge, but a scrooge just the same.

My lack of overt enthusiasm for birthdays, however, reached a feverish pitch the year I turned 30. Why? Well, the year I turned 30 I had a 2-month-old child; my first-born son, Miles, who is now 6. The first two months of his life were challenging beyond my pregnant hormonal imaginings: he was in the NICU for the first four days of his life, my body’s healing from the birth took a long time, breastfeeding was a huge challenge which I overcame after many months of La Leche League consultations, breast infections, and tears (we nursed for two years, so it all worked out just fine!), and the adjustment to life with a high-needs baby who either wanted to be held or breastfed (or usually both at the same time 24/7) was frustrating and humbling.

I simply didn’t have time to care about my birthday. Sure, we went out to celebrate the momentous occasion. Because we had stayed home the first 40 days of Miles’ life, going out in general was new to us. In addition, I looked like a small hippopotamus at that point. I had no clothing appropriate to even go out in (having spent two months basically in PJs and a robe/muumuu), and I honestly would have preferred to just hang around the house where I could sneak in a nap, catch up on email, eat a cupcake, and hibernate.

“Being a mother” as an identity seems so much more gigantic than celebrating a birthday. I know it may sound odd, but the thing I now “do” and “am” every single day – being a mother – feels more monumental, more special, and more profound than a day that only comes once a year and commemorates my birth. I appreciate the birthday love I get from my family and friends, but at the end of the day, the true beauty and celebration is in having survived another day without putting my kids for sale on Craigslist to the most deserving bidder because they only know how to use an “outside” voice, they keep making messes every time I clean up their previous mess, and I sometimes really think maybe I wasn’t cut out for this.

Now that my boys are 3 and 6, they get excited for birthdays, singing loudly and excitedly for grandparents, friends, and just about anyone who wants to hear them sing. Miles loves carrying the birthday person’s cake right up to them, and Fred, who speaks very little, has managed to phonetically sound out the “Happy Birthday” song so sweetly it would break your heart. I feel like I am getting a new appreciation for birthdays by having kids who are old enough to understand and experience the simple joy of the day: watching someone open presents (they consistently don’t understand why the presents are not geared towards their interests and desires), finding any occasion to eat a vegan cake (yum), and watching the candles burn (who doesn’t love fire?).

This year, I left the house on my birthday pre-dawn; I had an early call time as we filmed the 100th episode of The Big Bang Theory, and I left two sleepy boys all curled up in a dark chilly house. My husband was asleep, too, and I am okay with that. I hoped to be home for dinner, but I knew that may not happen, and that was okay, too. If I didn’t open the kids’ cards and presents that night, we could do it the next day. And I knew their sweet scribblings would mean more to me than any present I may get. Why? Because in a child’s card to a mother, we are reminded how the joy of being alive may not thrill us, but when the joy emanates from the child we are raising, we remember again to be grateful to be alive another year.

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