We slept in, which is an Excellent Beginning, and were joined, sometime after eight-thirty, by all three of the children, who climbed into the bed with us. They wished me Happy Birthday separately, they wished me Happy Birthday together, and we were all still in bed when my parents called from South Africa to wish me a Happy Birthday again.
It was a good beginning, and it was a good day. A quiet day, and good. But I must say that now I’m in my thirties, birthdays surprise me with their lack of fanfare. I think I don’t want anyone to make a big deal. It’s just another day: the children’s birthdays matter So Much More. So does Bill’s birthday. So does Everyone Else’s. And then, when the day arrives, I find (and this is a confession) that my birthday actually means a lot to me. I want people to make a fuss. I Really Do.
Bill made a fuss. He took us all to breakfast at Foster’s, and we ate outdoors. The weather was perfect October: free of humidity, free of clouds, skies a blue so deep you’re surprised to find it overhead. And then he had to go to work.
Linda made a fuss too. She made me a frosted carrot cake. She had us over for dinner and made a gorgeous salad, chicken cacciatore, and rolls. But I had to run away too soon: it was time for class. Duke University, oddly, doesn’t consider my birthday a holiday.
I shared my carrot cake with my classmates, and a few people wished me Happy Birthday, but mostly we did what we always do: we discussed the history of Durham and how it was embroiled in change during Reconstruction. Soon I was suppressing the rising panic that accompanies any mention of a research paper. I was racing through my mental calendar, looking for available days to go to the library.
Sigh. By the time I left, toting my books and my mostly eaten carrot cake, I was firmly resolved that October 17th is, in fact, Just Another Day. Which of course it is. Of course it is. Of course.
Despite Bill having to go to work, despite the fact that I am homeschooling my children and so have a Responsibility, despite having class myself, I had tried to make the day special. I held school at Duke Gardens in a sunny spot on the lawn. We were near the stream, and William took his spelling book and then his grammar book over to a rock and worked on them there. We practiced our poem while the children climbed on the rocks; I read to them from our science book while they did more of the same. It was early afternoon by the time we’d finished, but it hadn’t felt like school. When it was finally time to go, I had to call them down from a tree. It was a live oak with wonderfully approachable branches, and they were Reluctant to come down.
But by the time I was heading home from class, the Heavier Responsibilities in my life had begun to Settle. They were decidedly Encroaching. They were, in fact, Weighing Heavily, and making my birthday feel pressured and unpleasant and decidedly un-celebratory. Not at all, in fact, like a birthday.
And then I came home. And there, in my living room, were the phattedcalf (who is so dear), and dear Allen, and Ben (dear Ben), and Travis (who is dear, too), playing poker in front of the television with Bill. And they sang to me. They sang loudly, and badly, and whole-heartedly. It felt Very Festive Indeed. And the children were up, having asked to get up when I got home. And they sang too, and sort of hopped around the way children will when there is More To Come. There were presents, you see, and they had made me cards, and a sign which read “Happy B-day” in letters individually cut out. William’s card wished me “happy returns,” and Emma’s was what she calls scribble-scrabble, and Everett’s read “Everett,” “yes,” “no,” and “stop,” which, I assume, are the words he feels most comfortable reading and, therefore, writing.
I felt quite celebrated After All after that. I was Most Pleased. I have saved the cards (of course!) and removed the sign to the mirror above my dresser. And today, when again I walked through Duke Gardens on my way to do more research, I looked longingly toward our spot by the stream. If I had had time, I might have walked over to see if the lawn was still pressed down from our blanket and if, like confetti, the shavings of our colored pencils still decorated the grass.