Dom, my eldest child, turned three years old over the weekend. I worry that I didn’t create enough fanfare or deliver the needed dose of magic. I realize that he is only a toddler; In the scheme of birthdays yet to arrive this was like the ‘leather’ or ‘paper’ year on the totem pole of occasions. Don’t misunderstand me, 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 peddled a bike with only one wheel to deliver papers in a tattered newsboy hat. On the contrary, it was a fine day. We went out for breakfast, he selected a gift from the toy store, and we served pizza and cupcakes that evening. I suppose I feel guilty since we’re likely to do this on a run-of-the-mill day, as well. The breakfast hot chocolate wouldn’t go unshared, the gift wouldn’t be so grand, and the cake wouldn’t be adorned with candles, but the basic sequence of events could have occurred because I’m the kind of mother prone to offering toys and simple carbohydrates on a Tuesday.
I’m beginning to realize, though, 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 that she is Italian and that I’d sooner eat my own pointer finger than wienerschnitzel. She knew how to festoon a bedroom doorway with paper and cover a toilet with a sheen sheath of saran wrap because nothing thrills a young soul like stumbling through Charmin only to have urine cascade down the back of the 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 when Dairy Queen spelled my name incorrectly, like Arin or Eron, my pride still swelled at the sight and my classmates still knew it was my birthday, and not because something impersonal like Facebook told them it was.
I went on my first date with my now husband, G, three days after his birthday. This bode well for me since we were well into wedding planning by the time I had to make a fuss about his birthday. It’s probably because we’d already sent out Save the Dates that he didn’t walk away after what had to have been a lackluster day. I can’t actually remember what I did, but I’m sure working late, a drug store 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 him 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 trifle when it was statistically probable that a sibling was being treated in the Emergency Room.
The Christmas holiday 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 crab rangoon and free refills keep coming. And as a result, G 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 give a shit about 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 helium 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.
My plan to marry a man who could compensate for my flagging revelry went sorely awry. I should have realized this even before we had children when he suggested a backyard BBQ for our wedding reception and then again when he marked my 30th birthday with a vacuum cleaner. As I squinted at him over the glare of the candles on Dom’s birthday cake, my forehead creased with fret, I inwardly hoped he was going to usher a Buzz Lightyear mascot through the door any minute to rescue this birthday.
When I saw Dom 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 because he has great eyes and funny one-liners even if he doesn’t provide any mystique on birthdays.
The Darwinian advantage of marrying 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.
(Are you good at birthdays? Is he?)