GUEST BLOG POST: Big Birthdays – A Later Mom Reminisces and Wishes by a Grown and Flown Writer
When you’re a little kid, your birthday is a very big deal. Even Christmas is shared (that is the point) with your siblings, parents, the family dog, whomever! But your birthday is the one-day in 365 that belongs to you, alone.
In our home, we indulged our birthday boy and girl with traditional parties for their school friends. Our small guests arrived with presents and departed with goodie bags. If I had been inspired during my lunch breaks, they revolved around a theme.
This was the norm for the first decade of our children’s lives. By eleven, our son began taking a group of friends to a Yankees game, and our daughter chose sleepovers for her pals. The earlier frenzy of having two dozen kids running around the house with icing all over their hands and faces had run its course.
Once they hit thirteen, both children began to look beyond their birthdays and, like Tom Hanks in the movie Big, dreamed about being older. At sixteen, they would score their drivers’ license and our daughter, a Sweet Sixteen party. At twenty-one, our son imagined he would be fully grown up and could legally drink. Only the second is true, of course.
Those are the ages of our two kids now – sixteen and twenty-one – and this year we celebrated birthday milestones with both of them.
Maybe they already know this but, if not, I’m keeping these two things quiet:
1. Big birthdays are now celebrated every ten years.
2. Ten years happens in a heartbeat, especially after you have children.
The birthday parties I had when I was little have morphed into one big (happy) memory. After that, well, I barely remember turning twenty.
We could order beer legally (and vote) at eighteen, so twenty-one held no great significance.
At twenty-five, I was studying for a graduate degree far from home and on October 26th, my birthday, my sweet father had twenty-six yellow roses delivered to my dorm room. This unforgettable gesture of paternal love was my second best birthday gift.
By thirty, I finished that degree and moved into Manhattan. I had a job, a relationship and a group of friends who held a big birthday party for me. I remember what I wore – a black miniskirt -the apartment in Chelsea where we gathered, and how incredibly exciting life was. We drank martinis before dinner at a nearby pub. I felt like I had dropped onto a Woody Allen movie set, in a good way.
During the next ten years, I experienced both great happiness and loss. My earlier relationship ended, but I had the good fortune to meet and marry my husband. We got our first Labrador and bought a house in the suburbs with a backyard better suited for the dog and also for our first child who was on the way. We brought him home from the hospital and into the house where we still live. We had a mortgage and our two – career salary supported the monthly payments on the house and the SUV.
My job had become my career, and I was still working hard at it, which meant switching companies, after ten years in one place, to a more challenging position. Our son was three, and we postponed our efforts toward baby #2 until I felt established in the new job. In retrospect, this was my mistake, as the pregnancy that had been so easy to plan a few years earlier led me to assume it would be equally stress-free for subsequent children.
Years of anxiety and doubt ensued.
At thirty-nine, I took a step backward, professionally, grateful that my firm allowed me to job-share. I hoped that giving some breathing room into my hectic life as a working mom with a long commute could help us to become parents again.
With credit to my brilliant reproductive endocrinologist, I got pregnant, kept the pregnancy going and began to plan my 40th birthday bash. I remember what I was wearing – a pink maternity dress – and recall how the three of us had a simple dinner together to celebrate. My husband had a nice glass of red wine and our son, an ice cream sundae.
Our daughter was born three weeks later and remains the best birthday gift I ever received.
Next fall, on November 17th, when she turns seventeen, she will receive seventeen roses from her parents. I will wish for her, and our son, that they be blessed with many, many birthdays and, especially, that someday they receive the best gifts of all – their own children.
As I think about my twenty-two years as a mom, I certainly remember that there were plenty of very stressful times, especially when I was working in the city with children at home. The funny thing about memory is that all that stress and worry is now like very quiet background music. My more vivid memories are of the happy times we shared with our kids, including each and every birthday, big and small.
Parenting doesn’t end as our kids leave home. Instead, as we enter the empty nest years, we face the joys and challenges of college applications, boomerang kids, renewed freedom and setting our young adults on their way. Marriages change, friendships evolve and our relationships with our kids move to the next stage. Grown and Flown:Parenting from the Empty Nest (www.grownandflown.com) takes a look at all sides of this life stage. Writers for the blog have children who have flown from home but not from our hearts.