Birthdays in my childhood were always remembered, but not especially memorable. My mother would bake a cake and the family would sing happy birthday off-key. The birthday person would blow out the candles. Then we’d eat the cake and tell funny stories about the birthday person.
No gifts. No balloons. No bounce houses. It was simple, but we made the best of it.
Making the best of things is the best anybody can do.
Imagine my surprise when I grew up to be a mother of three and was duly informed in no uncertain terms that a birthday deserved more than a cake.
The informant was my middle child, who by the age of 3, wanted to plan her own parties along with those of her brothers, her dad, her mom and our dog.
I’m not always the smartest person in the room, and I’m smart enough to know it. So I wisely let my daughter take charge of family celebrations. She was thrilled. The only hitch was limiting the cost.
“We can spend $20,” I’d say, “but that’s about it.”
“You’re not serious,” she’d say.
I’d give her a look that said, “Yes, I am.” And she’d give me a look back that said, “Fine!”
We threw some good parties thanks to her brains and my twenty bucks. Then my kids grew up, got married and had kids of their own. Now they plan their own celebrations.
My husband and I fill our social calendar each year with birthday parties for our eight grandchildren. Talk about fun. We get to take turns being a bouncer at the bounce house.
But the pandemic has changed a great many things in our lives, including how we celebrate.
In August, our oldest grandchild marked his tenth birthday with a drive-by party, standing outside his house with his family, waving at his friends and their parents who drove by honking happy birthday.
It wasn’t how he’d hoped to celebrate. But he and his family and friends made the best of it.
I wish you could’ve seen him.
My husband and I have been together more than 20 years. Our birthdays are ten days apart. We often celebrate both at once with dinner at a favorite restaurant, or a weekend some place with a heated pool.
Not this year. Restaurants in our area—Monterey County, California—are closed, except for take-out. We talked about going away for a few days, but decided we’d rather stay home.
So today, on my husband’s birthday, we treated ourselves to cinnamon rolls for breakfast. I stuck a candle on his and he blew it out. If I had given him a candle for every year in his age, we’d have needed a lot more cinnamon rolls. And possibly burned down the house.
A few hours later, our kids—the two families that live close by—showed up with cards and gifts they’d made just for him.
We sat on the patio laughing and talking through face masks like a happy family of bandits.
Then our out-of-town kids began calling and sending “happy birthday” videos. It was more fun than a bounce house.
After everyone left, and the phone quit ringing, we talked again about our birthdays.
We wanted to share a gift, like the glider we gave each other for Christmas, where we sit most evenings to watch the sun set.
There are things we could do, plants for the yard, paint for the house, a rug for the kitchen.
But we realized, honestly, we have our health, our home, our loved ones, and each other.
The only gift we truly need is the grace and grit to be thankful.
A grateful heart beats slower and holds within its walls both the loved and the unlovely. It lights a candle of hope to find the best in everything, even in the darkest of times.
My husband and I are thankful to celebrate another birthday. But you don’t need to send us a card. Unless you really want to.
— Sharon Randall is a syndicated columnist who lives in Carmel Valley, California.