Happy Birthday to Me by Margaret Hart
Last week I celebrated a birthday. It wasn’t a milestone, just an ordinary birthday. My son and husband let me sleep in, and woke me up by sliding a pair of comfy new slippers onto my feet, and presenting me with colorful and sentimental birthday cards.
As I often do, I thought a about birthday’s past…The very first birthday I remember was when I was five years old. I remember the cake most of all. It was decorated with horses and a covered wagon because I loved to watch a television show about cowboys and Indians. The cake was German Chocolate, and it was made by a woman who ran the nursery school I attended. Every year thereafter, for at least up until I graduated from college, my mother baked me a German Chocolate cake.
I don’t recall any memorable cakes, or birthday’s, in my 20’s, but when I turned 30, a group of good friends threw me a surprise party at a favorite Mexican restaurant in Manhattan, where I was living. That birthday is one of my most memorable. A favorite photograph, is one taken with that group of friends, that night. I keep it in a frame on my desk.
My 40th birthday is perhaps the most unforgettable of all, but not because it was enjoyable. My husband and I had been trying, unsuccessfully, to start a family, and I was stressed out. So my husband treated me to a vacation at a resort in the British Virgin Islands. The location was breathtaking, and the turquoise ocean waters in January were like a warm bath. Almost everything about the resort was five star, and I felt like a celebrity. The first part of our stay was wonderful, and then, after a snorkeling excursion, I developed a painful inner ear infection which ended our vacation several days early. The resort provided little assistance, which caused treatment to be delayed, and the infection to worsen. Ultimately, I went to a hospital on a nearby island. Once back home in the U.S., and after complaining to the chief executive of the company, we received an apology, along with an offer for a complimentary stay should we wish to return. We decided to forgive and forget, and returned the following year.
My next birthday visit to paradise, however, was far worse. Five days into our stay, on a scheduled airplane sightseeing tour with a company highly recommended and arranged by our resort, our plane crashed. At approximately 3,000 feet, one of the engines started to sputter, and slow, and stop; then the other. While simultaneously talking to the control tower, the pilot instructed us to put on our life jackets, and prepare to go down. We crashed into a reef, and sank into the ocean. It’s only because of time that I can talk about what happened with a somewhat distant, and more factual voice–and less of a raw, emotional one.
This latest birthday was the simplest in many years, and perhaps the sweetest, because I celebrated it not just as a woman, but as a mom. To me, motherhood is the greatest birthday gift of all. It was given to me not long after the day when my husband and I came to the surface of the water, having escaped from our wrecked plane, to realize we had survived. Because of that experience, I knew I was meant to do something meaningful, and I know that I was meant to be a mom. This year, that knowing is made sweeter by a cozy pair of slippers.