Happy Birthday

Birthdays are the epitomy of strange days, in their way. When you are a kid, they are the one day guaranteed to be filled with wonder and delight and me-only attention. Unless you are a kid in a large blended family, and mostly your birthday gets remembered at the last minute, say at dinner when your parents are already out at another party that doesn’t include children, much less you, and your nanny serves a Pepperidge Farm cake fresh out of the freezer (“See, your favorite–coconut!”).

I see birthday drama–both happy and sad–play out every day at lunch and every night at dinner in my restaurant. Most times, the celebrants bask in the attention they are receiving from friends or loved ones. Sometimes, they are clearly unhappy, even sullen, for reasons that only they know, and no single candle adorning a dessert is going to make it any better.

My worst birthday was my 30th (you know, just a few years ago ;)). I was legal guardian of my then 16-year-old half-sister. I had a cute but needy toddler (sorry RG Son), and one more (the lovely RG Daughter, but I didn’t know that then) on the way. I was sick to my stomach, and just plain sick and tired of it all. All I wanted, CRAVED, was a Baskin-Robbins ice cream cake. Mr. Restaurant Gal had taken me at my word to “not make a fuss” and done nothing about a cake. My half-sister was being her usual pain-in-the-ass-16-year-old self, forgetting everything beyond her high school soap opera’s cast of characters, including my 30th birthday.

“Want to go to Baskin-Robbins?” I asked brightly, like a parent does, even though I was not her parent, to cajole a kid with whom they have totally and completely lost control and any meaningful contact. “I want to buy myself a birthday cake!”

My 16-year-old half sister, whom I was raising because my mother and step-father could not, agreed an ice cream cake might be a good thing, and she deigned to accompany me. When we arrived at said Baskin-Robbins, my quasi daughter-like 16-year-old made a bee-line for the ice cream cake freezer.

“Oooooooh! I want that!” she said pointing to a mint chocolate chip ice cream pie.

I didn’t want that. I wanted what I wanted–an ice-cream cake, not pie–because it was MY birthday.

“Um, how about that one?” I asked, pointing to the chocolate chip ice cream/chocloate cake combo, as if it were her birthday, the ungrateful urchin, now that I honestly think back on it.

“NO!” she exclaimed, so loud for all to hear. “I hate cakes. I want THAT pie.”

I considered this for a few moments. My birthday. My 30th birthday. My husband uninvolved because he took me too literally. My spoiled brat half sister, whom I willingly had under my watch, but whom I now wanted to permanently turn back to my step-father, even though I knew he probably didn’t care that much about either of us on this day.

I looked at the cake. Then I looked at the pie.

I bought the pie.

Because even then, even though this half sister was not my kid, I got it about the parental sacrifice thing, because I had a toddler I loved unconditionally and I had one more on the way, with whom I had to share this unconditional love in seven short months.

And when we got home, everyone enjoyed the pie. Except me. I couldn’t eat a bite. But no one ever knew why. Even now.

No, today is not my birthday. That day comes along in a few weeks. No, today is my cousin’s birthday, which I always forget. It is also that of a once-close friend, whom I wish all the happiness in the world, but with whom I no longer share the closeness to tell her so.

I wish the happiest birthdays to those for whom birthdays bring crushing pain. Because, before their day is over, those from whom they would most like to hear simply stay silent, and best wishes from friends never, ever fill that void.

Happy birthday, to all of us.







20 responses to “Happy Birthday”

  1. Laurie Avatar

    Wow. that was really sad. HUGS to you…it sounds like you need it.

  2. Restaurant Gal Avatar
    Restaurant Gal

    Laurie–actually, my friends need those hugs far more than I do.

  3. Suz Avatar

    Today is my mother’s birthday. I wanted to make her a cake and drive it up to her, presenting it on the “cake plate” she wanted someone in the family to take from my recently deceased grandmother’s home. Sadly, I could not do it. I did spend the day with her Tuesday, bought her a lovely gift, and presented her with a sappy, mushy, “you are such a good mother” card.

    I also promised there would be a cake-just not today.

    I hope the same is true for you in a few weeks. 😉

  4. Restaurant Gal Avatar
    Restaurant Gal

    Suz–Just make sure you talk to her today, on her birthday. The rest doesn’t matter as much.

  5. Tinker Avatar

    You never get over wanting someone to make a fuss over your birthday. I always felt August was best. No holidays, then, so you really need one. You get over the need but not the wanting, eh?

  6. Restaurant Gal Avatar
    Restaurant Gal

    Tinker–I think we all need to have a fuss made over us, even when we say we don’t want it, even when we appear angry when someone does make that fuss.

  7. Suz Avatar

    Oh yeah. I emailed her in the morning and called her in the evening. I wish I could bring you an ice cream cake on your birthday so you’d feel fussed over. I bet RG’s daughter will do that if she reads your blog! 🙂

  8. Brave Astronaut Avatar

    My wife tells a story about how one year for her birthday, not only did she have to pick up her own birthday cake, she had to pay for it as well.

    I will turn 40 this December. My wife is currently working on Little Brave Astronaut 2.0, due at the end of December. Something tells me that there will be no surprise party or big fete to mark the occasion.

    I will console myself with the fact that my son will turn three on Christmas Day, and my second child will arrive shortly thereafter. Those are the best gifts ever.

  9. Nathan Avatar

    Your story hits home, today is my birthday and I am hoping that my grown children will take time from their very busy schedules to visit or go out to dinner. Birthdays have become so bitter/sweet. I can’t let myself expect much like when I was young but when someone does take the time to acknowledge my birthday it sure makes my day.

  10. K Avatar

    It was my birthday on the 19th – I turned 29. The idea of 29 has always been a bit scary as I figured I’d be in a lovely long-term relationship (as I have been in the past) surrounded by friends. I’m single. It does hurt a bit sometimes, but after seeing MANY friends in horrid relationships, I count my blessings that I haven’t settled – whereas I have three divorced friends all before the age of 30.
    But, I was surrounded by friends. I had many people I love at my house (though I did organize my own party… dammit, lol) and they all were joyous and positive and spoiled me with gifts and food gallore (potluck, easier that way!).
    I realize that it’s just a number and that the mind-set is more important.

  11. patita Avatar

    I’m a bit choked up. Birthdays get so complicated with age and experience, and anyone who has a story like what you shared can feel the crush of the moment as if it were fresh. I make it a personal mission to do something for anyone having a birthday (especially if it’s a loaded number, like anything that ends in a 5, 9 or 0).

  12. Natalie Avatar

    In my family growing up birthdays just weren’t that big of a deal. We didn’t get parties with friends and lots of presents. We got to choose the meal for dinner and have cake and ice-cream. There would be a present from Mom and Dad, but it was usually something I didn’t want or need. I think the best birthday I had was when I turned 17 and my friends in high school decided I needed to really celebrate. They picked me up and took me to Bullwinkles. We ate pizza and played miniature golf and rode on the bumper boats. And they gave me some gifts which I loved, like my first U2 t-shirt. It was a blast.

    Nowadays the highlight of my birthdays is seeing what little thing my oldest daughter (now 5) picked for me and hearing all about the thought process behind it. Hubby is good at picking presents too, but I’d never expect him to do anything that would knock my socks off. He just doesn’t think that birthdays are that big of a deal. Of course he grew up with lavish birthday parties and excessive amounts of presents, so maybe he’s just tired of them. =)

  13. Lex Avatar

    That’s awful. I think the great birthdays ended around 8 or 9.

  14. Jenni Avatar

    another fabulous post where you so precicely capture the emotions

    I’m lucky… It’s typical of me to say ” no fuss needed”… I’ve said it because for years and years and years, no fuss is far better than the thrown together (not really your favorite) coconut cake from the freezer ‘fuss’…. (mine was more the dinner at Smitty’s that ended in catastrophic family fighting for my 13th bday ‘fuss’) (Fuss that.)

    anyway.. I say I’m lucky, cuz today is my hubby’s bday, and today he made ME feel fabulous.. simply because he’s so happy!

    here’s to your awesome bday soon… and the reunion weekend and happy happy days to you, RG~!

  15. ms chef Avatar
    ms chef

    Funny how when we say it’s not necessary to make a fuss we’re a little (or more) sad when one’s not made. How much more meaningful it would be if one were. Next year maybe I’ll demand a fuss – see how selfish feels. Are you in?

  16. Jenni Avatar

    hmmm… ms chef just might have something there!!

  17. Zizi Avatar

    I’m only 25 and can honestly say that it’s been a really really long time since I’ve felt fussed over. Probably since my 8th birthday and again on my 14th or so. In my adult years it’s been a constant let down. People forget, or we aren’t close enough for them to do much of anything. I’ll get a call or two from family members, but I can’t remember ever getting a box in the mail with a genuinely sweet present. Boyfriends have always done something, the typical flowers and dinner wherever I want… but never have they seemed to go out of their way to plan something just for me. I guess it sucks because that’s what I do. I really try to make the day as nice as possible and do everything in a personal way, not the generic and cliche versions. Knowing how much thought I put into these things, it sucks to get the bare minimum returned. But, not everyone is built the same. And for some people, asking you what you want and what to do is their only idea of being thoughtful. So, take it or leave it, I guess. It’s hard to not take it personally, but you really have to. I say this with a birthday less than a month away… sigh.

  18. Kim Ayres Avatar

    “No, seriously, don’t make a fuss. Don’t bother with a cake and stuff, I’d rather just get through the day. Honestly. No, I mean it. No, I really do. Honestly. Stop it. Now you’re just going to get me annoyed if you carry on not believing me.”

    And yet she’s lying through her teeth.

    How can men possibly know the right thing to do?

    I’ve learned over the years to ignore what comes out of my wife’s mouth if her body language says something different. It’s much more accurate. They don’t teach you that in husband-school though, and I had to learn the hard way.

  19. christina Avatar

    My birthday will be here in Nov.
    I missed having a birthday cake — a real birthday cake (not a ready-made cake that became a birthday cake) with candles and all.
    When I was a little girl, mom used to order a birthday cake for me a week before my day, then she will go pick it up and we will enjoy it with the family.
    I wished my boyfriend would make me a simple cake, with candles, and icing that says “Happy Birthday” for my birthday. I dont need a big fuss, but I want him to fuss over a birthday cake for me. That beats any present !!!

  20. maureen Avatar

    I love birthdays even though the #’s I’m not loving these days . I came from a big family your birthday was the only day that was purlely yours except I shared my birthday with 2 siblings all born on the same day years apart. I was 19 before I got a birthday cake with only my name on it . Then for a # of reasons everyone forgot my 21st Birthday . Since then I make a huge deal about my birthday people I might not talk to from from one end of the year to the next call to find out about my B’day celebration. Birthdays are what you make of them & i’ll take any excuse to celebrate