Thursday, May 26, 2011


Last Sunday I had a birthday, making it halfway to 102, as my daughter delights in reminding me.  (You’re old mom!)  We had an action-packed day, kayaking on the Catawba River, then dinner at my favorite Italian restaurant (a bottle of red, a bottle of white, la la la!).  I was surrounded by the people I love the most: my fiancé and my children.  I felt very special (even when the kids were sniping and squabbling about who’s going to sit next to whom; does it ever stop??).  In less than three months I’m going to be married to the love of my life, and I hope we get to some day celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary.  Life is good.  Money is tight and unemployment sucks, but I can’t help but see the proverbial half-full glass.  

I thought about all the birthdays I’ve had in my life as a TCK.  My mother went to great lengths every year to create a memory for me.  For my first birthday in Japan, she made an enormous crepe paper poster of a flower, with a hole in the middle cut out.  All of my party guests had their pictures taken with their faces in the flower.  The next year, she ramped it up with a party at the Tokyo American Club, with a Japanese magician who pulled a LIVE GOLDFISH out of my father’s suit pocket.  I don’t know if she was competing with all of the other mothers: one party I went to was a Barbie fashion show, complete with a mini catwalk and an emcee.  We all took turns “walking” our dolls down the runway.  Nevertheless, I always felt that my parties were the best.  Mom was a Jackie Kennedy look-a-like, and she always threw a party (even a kids’ one) with grace and elegance.

For my 11th birthday in Brussels, Mom somehow was able to get me a Hostess Fruit Pie.  These were my favorite childhood treat, but unavailable in Europe.  I don’t know if she had a friend who had commissary privileges or what, but I remember how happy I was to have it, as the sugary crust melted in my mouth and the lemony filling infused me with deliciousness. 

My 12th birthday in Brussels.  I am the weird one trying to make my cake into a crystal ball.

And it wasn’t just my birthdays that were memorable.  One year we celebrated my dad’s birthday on a freighter in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on the way from California to Yokohama.  We bought him some men’s hairspray as a joke.  Who knew that in a decade or two, men’s hairspray was de rigeur for most of the world’s male population? 

The first birthday I spent away from my family was when I turned 17.  Mom and I flew from Manila to Brussels, where she dropped me off to spend a few days with my best friend from the 6th grade.  Mom continued to London.  I hadn’t seen my friend in 5 years, even though we had remained pen pals and I was so excited to see her.  I went back to my old school with her, and reconnected with many of my old buddies.  But when my birthday came, I was depressed beyond all measure.  I wasn’t with my family, I was homesick, and I was so far removed from those days in Brussels.  When we had lived there, I was outgoing and friendly, but events in the intervening years had changed me.  My friend woke me up that morning with a beautiful necklace, and I was grateful, but I was sad and adrift. 

My eighteenth birthday was, of course, one of the most memorable.  After being uprooted from Manila in December of my senior year, my parents flew me back in May to graduate with my class.  It was a week of partying and laughter and no rules.  I had a dishy blind date to the prom, and we danced and reveled in our youth. 

Graduating with my class in Manila.  Note the very big smile.

The summer after my freshman year in college, my parents called from Singapore with the news that they were moving back to the states.  Having my folks that far away had been difficult.  I got a phone call once a month, while my roommate would talk to her family practically every day.  When everyone else went home for the weekend, I rattled around the empty dorm feeling sorry for myself.  The news that Mom and Dad were moving stateside made me literally jump for joy. 

I think mothers should be celebrated on their children’s birthdays too.  After all, where would we be if not for our mothers?  Thank you mom, for my very first birthday, when you did the hardest work of all!  And thank you for making each and every one of my birthdays, wherever they were, extraordinary.

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