I’m not a fan of birthday cake, not even the icing. Buttercream or ganache – it doesn’t matter. I’d much rather have a tuna melt on whole wheat with a little coleslaw on the side, even if tuna melts are not a birthday tradition.
This rarely goes over well since everyone else seems to want to eat birthday cake. When I say there’s really no need for a trip to the bakery or to the market for Duncan Hines, they look at me askance, as if my preference were some kind of heresy. Since I don’t want the bad karma, nor do I want to deny them the opportunity, I embrace the cake ceremony nonetheless, making a wish and blowing out the candles with a smile on my face, keeping the visions of melted Pepper Jack to myself.
My lack of affection for the cake notwithstanding, I am a big fan of birthdays. Yes, they mean I’ve aged another year. The child inside me jumps up and down anyway, relishing the good wishes and the cards and the little surprises, even the princess birthday balloon my husband places in the bathroom so I’ll see it first thing in the morning.
Oh, sure. I wouldn’t mind if new grey hairs would stop appearing on my head like dandelions on the front lawn. And yet. We humans get only two modes – stop and go. I’m grateful when the tally of my years on earth continues, thank G-d, to add up.
When one of our sons turned 12, I drove to his school to drop off a tray of cupcakes, which he requested for a class celebration. Someone in the office remarked with knitted brow that he was really too old for a birthday party, as if there were an age cut off for enjoying cupcakes, if cupcakes are your thing.
You’re only too old for a birthday celebration when your time is up, I mumbled under my breath, articulating for the first time what I’ve felt all along.
Still, her remark and her underlying judgment chafed the whole ride home. I wrote her a pleading email to say there is too much tsoris in our world. What’s wrong with the boys enjoying a few cupcakes and wishing a friend Happy Birthday? Besides, I added, how do you teach a child to appreciate the blessing of time without also encouraging him or her to celebrate its march forward? She agreed and said she’d never really looked at it that way before.
This past week, we celebrated my birthday by taking a long walk in the park and stopping for lattes on the way home. All the while, I waved to the little girl jumping up and down inside me, still glowing from the princess balloon that greeted her earlier that morning. At long last, I felt comfortable enough in my own skin to say I’d prefer we didn’t have cake.
Years have passed since that incident with my son, who still likes cupcakes, as it happens. Everything I believed that day holds true now. I feel it with an urgency, an immediacy that at first surprises, then steadies me. A birthday is an opportunity to express gratitude, and I’m thankful to be here.
Now please pass the coleslaw.
Photo credit: Robyn Lee