Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What Happens When the Birthday Celebration Gene Skips a Generation

Today is my mother's birthday. She is turning 70, which is a milestone as far as birthdays go, and clearly something to celebrate. For my mother all birthdays are a good excuse to celebrate.

I wrote recently (here) that if there is such thing as a Cleaning Gene, I did not inherit it. Well, if a Birthday Celebration Gene exists, I missed out on that one too.

My mother tried her best to instill a love for birthday celebrations in me. When I was growing up, she always threw me a party. Nothing over the top--when I was a kid people didn't go nutso over birthday parties like they do now. No themed parties or gift bags or bouncy tents--but my mother always baked a cake. She always invited my aunts and uncles and cousins over for a party after dinner. I had a big candle that had the numbers all the way to 21 on it.

My mother started this tradition on my first birthday, burning the candle all through the party until that year's number disappeared. Every year she brought the candle out and lit it. Now that I'm thinking about it, this is pretty impressive--that she remembered it, that she could find where she'd stored the thing. I can barely remember where I store my Christmas tree ornaments.

The year I turned 21 was the first year I celebrated my birthday away from home. I was staying at a college friend's house for the weekend and unbeknownst to me, my mother had mailed the last remnant of my special birthday candle there. She called the friend's mother and gave detailed instructions--this was it for Jody's birthday candle. That number 21 needed to be burned to keep up with the tradition that had been going since I was a baby.

I don't know what my friend's family thought about all this. But let me tell you, they burned that candle for me. That was the year my mother started a new tradition.

I was born at 11:42 in the morning, and she called me at that exact time to tell me the story of my birth and to wish me happy birthday. Every year since then, if she is not with me at 11:42, she calls me.

Sometimes this tradition has veered into bizarro-land. IE, the time my mother was driving along and realized it was nearing 11:42 and she had to pull off the highway to find a payphone. (This was before cell phones.)

Or the year I turned 24 and had a job interview for a teaching position at a high school. I was sitting in the principal's office being interviewed when the phone rang. The principal answered and nodded and smiled, while I sat there thinking maybe it was normal for an interviewer to have a chatty conversation with someone on the phone during an interview. The principal kept smiling and nodding and then she handed me the phone.

It was my mother.

She had just explained to the principal that it was 11:42 and it was my birthday etc. I nearly died of embarrassment. But the principal thought that entire thing was a hoot. (PS. I got the job.)

Over the years I have tried to live up to my mother's birthday celebrating example. My husband and I threw parties for the kids when they were growing up. Some of these were even over the top bashes. As the kids have gotten older we've had smaller celebrations. The kids didn't seem to mind. We go out to dinner. Maybe invite a few friends over. I bake a cake.

Things have really started to taper off lately, and a couple of years ago I hit rock bottom. My daughter was turning 14 and she was busy doing stuff and I was busy doing stuff and I asked her what kind of cake she wanted me to bake her and she acted like she didn't care and yadda yadda ya, and the next thing I knew, it was the night of her birthday and I had nothing. NOTHING.

Okay, I did have a couple of candles. Which I duct-taped to the counter.

Not my proudest moment as a mom.

While I am confessing shameful things, here's one more: I have no idea what time my mother was born. Today is her birthday and I can't call her at the exact time because I don't know what that time is. Until this moment, I have never even thought to ask her.

Is it too late? Can someone who clearly has not been blessed with a Birthday Celebration Gene start a new tradition?

Hmm. Okay.

Right after I post this blog, I will call my mom and ask her. And if the time has already passed, I will make a note of it for next year. In the meantime, "Happy birthday," I will tell her. And later today I will bake a cake. I will poke 70 candles into it and present it to her.

It's not every day that it's someone's birthday after all.


  1. Wait. I guess every day IS someone's birthday. But you knew what I meant.

  2. As usual, you have a true gift - the writing gene in addition to the birthday gene. I wish I could say you have the cleaning gene from me, but that wouldn't be true - it's from your Grandmother (Casella) of course. For that matter, I don't know where the writing gene came from - maybe me? But I don't know at what time I was born.

    1. Well, Mom, we are going to have to figure that out...

  3. I do celebrate my birthday every year by taking a walk and having a nice meal. Often I invite friends to join me (though not this year, due to the planets not aligning properly).

    But I think I was born very early in the morning, and I'm really glad nobody calls me at that minute. ;-)

    1. Shoot. I didn't even think to be grateful that I hadn't been born at say, 1:42 am...

  4. Jody, you might not have inherited the birthday-celebration gene, but you did inherit something better: the creativity gene. Not just any mom would have called the school where you were in the midst of a job interview in order to speak to you at precisely 11:42! Not just any mom would have created a 21-year tradition with just one candle! Happy birthday, Jody's mom!