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The Truth About Mom Birthdays

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I’m ready to stop pretending that anything special happens on a Mom Birthday. All we get is another year older and closer to death, as the old saying goes. I’ve had enough of the myth of Mom Birthdays.

You’ve all seen it. The ads and TV shows that present us with the birthday woman, perfectly made up and in an actual clean nightdress, being served breakfast in bed by her clean, dressed, and not-squalling-loudly children. Who, we are meant to believe, made this breakfast without bloodshed over who cracks the eggs, and without burning the toast or spilling the coffee (which is already cold, because it took them that long to decide who got to carry it in).

And it goes on, doesn’t it? Because Mythical Birthday Mom goes on to spend her special day having lunch with her close friends in a happy cozy cafe. Because all her friends have jobs that leave them with an hour free to celebrate with her, and also apparently live close enough to have lunch with her on a weekday.

Mythical Birthday Mom still isn’t finished, though. She might have a pampering spa day, possibly with her mythical mother. And then, inevitably, she ends a perfect birthday having an intimate dinner with her husband, who remembered her birthday for long enough to reserve a table AND to pick out a gift for her that involves her favorite item of jewelry.

It’s not just moms who suffer from birthday myths, although we definitely have it worst. There’s Singles Birthday Myth, where you are expected to believe that you’ll spend your birthday with your friends in a bar and/or club, dancing the night happily away, not being sick after drinking too much, not fending off sexual assault, and not just staying home because you have to get up early for work the next day. Dads might get the most realistic birthday image. The media preps them to expect nothing but socks and aftershave as gifts, and a quiet pint at the pub with a friend, so while there’s not much excitement to hope for, at least there’s no disappointment.

It’s time to call time on the myths: There are no dragons, chocolate does have calories, and there is no birthday for mothers. Birthday Mom usually begins her day by mediating squabbling children and getting them to stop throwing their breakfast around. Never mind breakfast in bed, having enough time to drink her own cup of coffee is a gift. If Birthday Mom wants a birthday cake, even if someone thinks to buy one for her, she still has to find the candles and matches and stick them in by herself (and quite possibly light them herself too. And find the knife to cut the cake with. And plates for the cake, because no one else in the family knows where they are. Oh forget it, I’ll just buy myself a danish.)

Once her kids are off to school, maybe after having handed over a hand-drawn card, Birthday Mom can read all of her friends’ messages on Facebook and Twitter. And that’s the extent of her birthday interaction, because which of us has friends who are free for a birthday lunch? Our friendship interactions take place online.

I know that I’m not the only one who doesn’t really get any birthday presents. Gone is that delight of opening a beautifully wrapped package. In order to avoid disappointment and through uncertainty about the right gift, my loved ones ask me what I’d like as a present, or give me money to choose my own. It’s definitely appreciated, and yes it’s the thought that counts, but there is more thought in an actual surprise gift, even if it’s not what you want, than in money. Plus, birthday money has this dreadful habit of disappearing into the weekly grocery bill.

Judging from my friends, most mothers are lucky if their partner remembers their birthday at all. I won’t mention the year that, at mid-afternoon, a friend offered to remind my husband that it was my birthday (to be fair, I was in a different country at the time). No one makes a special birthday dinner for Birthday Mom, or plans to book a babysitter and reserve a table somewhere in advance—in fact, she invariably has to make dinner for everybody else.

What’s galling is that I have friends who perpetuate this myth. You know who you are, the ones who post selfies of “birthday spa day” or “special birthday dinner with hubby.” (Mind you, I have never asked who planned the spa day or how many reminders it took to get the special birthday dinner with hubby booked.)

But the truth is, what Birthday Mom gets is wonderful, too. A hand-drawn card, a happy home, a childish hug, and love sent from friends and relatives are not to be sneezed at. Birthday Mom does get something special on her special day, but it’s not what the media presents to us. Once we let go of that elusive “ideal” birthday, we can enjoy what we have. Even if we have to bake our own cake.


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