It's a family joke that Samantha can't have a birthday cake that isn't ruined. It's kind of my fault. On my special day, when I was old enough to realize that it was being forgotten, I would wait until the evening, just to see if anyone might remember, then when they didn't, I would mention to my mom, in an offhand way, "Just thought you might like to know...I was born today--oh yeah, nevermind--you were there." Then she would be consumed with guilt and try to throw a cake together before I went to bed. Naturally, it would always fall, or be frosted while it was warm, or break apart because she was hurrying--I'm so glad my children are not like me. And honestly, even when my mom tried (there were a few years), the cakes either tasted bad, or looked terrible. I tried not to take this personally.
For a few years I decided to feel sorry for myself and bemoan the fact that I was forgotten. I have a little brother, who felt terrible that no one remembered. During those years, I always received a well-chewed, much loved plastic dinosaur wrapped in tissues. It was always the same dinosaur, since I managed to return it to him within the next 365 days. When he was old enough to recognize that his gift was unappreciated, his generosity ceased.
One beautiful birthday, I realized that the status quo was in place--it wasn't changing. I became philosophical about the whole thing, and decided I would celebrate in my own way. I had a special place in the mountains that was peaceful and quiet. I would pack myself a snack of sorts, take a book and an old blanket with me, and I would go to my place for an hour or two, and treat myself to some alone time (rare in my large family). Then I would sing myself the birthday song, reflect on my year, choose one or two rather outstanding events that made me happy, and go home. It felt peaceful, and I no longer tried that "guilt" thing with my mom, which was helpful to our relationship.
When I turned sixteen, I had been friends with N. for almost a year. She came to my house the night of my birthday. She had presents. She said, "Everyone needs presents on her birthday! I love presents!!" There were six. Nothing expensive--just personal. Each gift had a note, an explanation, a joke. Some were things I would never use. I am not a pack rat, but I have kept them all these years. It didn't matter what the gifts were, my friend was telling me that she loved me, that she celebrated my birth, that she was happy I was here. N. has no idea how important that small gesture was. She did that on the day that my "special place" was the high ledges near my home. The day I walked to the edge, thought about flying, changed my mind and walked away. She reaffirmed to me that I needed to live.
Darrin has never understood my family's attitude toward my day. Birthday's in his family are major celebrations. I received more cards and gifts from Darrin's family in the first year of our marriage than I received in a lifetime in my own family. It frustrates Darrin when he asks me what I want for my birthday. I can't think of anything. I don't think that way. I finally told him that the only things I ever really want are roses and going out to dinner with him (and sometimes our kids are invited, as well). For his birthday this year, he purchased another expensive tech toy. It makes him very happy. He doesn't understand that I don't equate "birthday" with "getting stuff". That's not how I grew up. I still treat myself to alone time. I still do one thing, just for me. I still reflect on my year, and choose a couple of outstanding events that have made me happy. Darrin says that's sad. I just think it's me. It's who I am.
Yesterday, my mom was looking at the calendar while I was working on her computer. She said, "Oh, your birthday's tomorrow. Well, happy birthday, just in case I forget." I said thanks. And, true to form, she has forgotten. But Darrin won't. He'll bring me flowers. And if he forgets, well, I'll buy them myself. Everyone needs flowers on her birthday.