As long as I can remember, I have loved my birthday.
I made sure from a very young age to let people know that my Dec 28 birthday was NOT to be diluted with Christmas nor New Year’s. On the other hand (hey, it’s my party and I can have double standards if I want to), I often felt that all the lights, bustle and decorations lathered all over Paris had something to do with celebrating me. A whole month and a whole city rejoicing because my birthday was coming up. Yup.
As I grew older, I still loved my special day, often letting friends know in early December that there were 26 shopping days left before my birthday.
It never wore off and end of December or not, I was treated to some beautiful displays of celebration and love.
When I turned 30, my kids’ dad and I had opened a French bakery 6 days before. I was unknowingly pregnant with our second child and very, very sleepy. When he lured me out of the house in my pajamas under the pretense of bringing him something he just had to have, I walked straight into a couple dozens of our friends gathered in the tiny magical space. The love oozed from the cake cases and I almost forgot how nauseated I had felt.
When I turned 40 and had a bit of trepidation around the notion of a new decade, my youngest son told me that I was about to become thirty-ten. I loved that. Newly divorced and with three little kids, I stepped into what I knew would be a big decade by taking a deep breath and blowing candles along with a wish to manage to make the next rent payment.
For my 50th birthday, good friends threw me a raucous surprise party as my kids convinced me to walk into a Mexican Restaurant blindfolded. My heart was sore from a recent loss but there was no way to not let the love soften the sharp edges.
This year, I found myself making uncharacteristically little noise about my upcoming birthday. No hints at shopping days, no plans… Up till the night before, a few ideas had been thrown in the air and I went to sleep with a “let’s see what inspiration brings in the morning.”
The morning showed up early, more like the middle of the night. I woke up and instantly felt strange and disoriented inside my soul. I thought about my birthday and right away a dark purple wave of grief made its way between my cheek and my pillow. A photo came to my mind and with it, the grief got richer and made itself more at home. A photo of my mom holding me minutes after I was born, while my grandmother looked on. My mom looked beautiful and I looked … red. That’s when the grief thought it would be a good time to justify itself by reminding me that my mom would not be calling me this year. She had taken her last breath a few weeks ago, moments before I had rested my hand on her belly and thanked it for housing my siblings and myself for a total of 27 months.
She would not be calling and suddenly the idea of celebrating a birth-day made no sense. If the person who gave birth to me no longer existed, something about acknowledging that day felt profoundly incomplete and almost fraud-like.
I sat in the dark for another hour or two and knew that this year would be different. Quiet, internal. I knew that I would not want to leave the house and that the oven would be on a lot. I would bake, I would write, I would work a little and I would give this jiggly dark purple shape a home for today. It and I, we would hang.
And we did. All day long and rather quietly until the one person who might understand without words called me - and shook the dam loose.
This is the first year and I have a feeling that while it will never be the same again, the joy of this special day will eventually win back its place in my life. There are more parties to be had, more celebrations to invent, more quiet gratitude to send also to the woman who was there for the very first one.
Until that time, I will feel it all, bake some more and remind myself that there is no need to explain, not even to ourselves. We just need to have the courage to trust that our heart knows what it needs and when it needs it. And to let it have just that.
PS: When I spoke with my daughter, still in the dark of the very early morning, she said to me: “Mom, if you die, I will die too.” Even though I knew what her heart meant, I had to ask her to take it back three times. Because she loves me, she did.