Monday, July 11, 2011

Happy Birthday To Me

Today is my birthday.

My mother claims they almost named me Ford, because it  seems I was in a bit of a hurry to make my appearance and came precariously close to showing up in the car on the way to the hospital in Manhattan. Frankly, I don't remember. I do know I was delivered by the grandson of Sholem Aleichem. It says so on my birth certificate. Not that he was the great writer's grandson, but that his name was Sherwin A. Kaufman and everyone know he is the brother of Bel Kaufman who, at this very moment, is 100 years old and a working professor at Hunter College and everyone knows she is the granddaughter of Sholem Aleichem. Ergo....

I have a wonderful memory of my 4th birthday up in the Catskills. I remember colorful straw hats and plastic charm bracelets. Very Carmen Miranda. I remember sitting at the end of a wooden picnic table with all my friends and blowing out the candles.  And that’s about it for kiddie birthday party memories.

I’m not a birthday kinda person. I’m okay making a fuss for everyone else, but not for celebrating my own. I don’t know why that is.  Even writing about this makes me squeamish.

Steve once asked why I didn’t make a cake that I liked for my birthday. As opposed to what, a cake everyone else likes? Just in case he hadn't noticed, I pointed out I'd never made a birthday cake for myself and wasn't planning on starting.  

Do I mind? Nah, I don’t think so. And especially not now. Confession: I’m still in the "feeling guilty" stage of birthdays. I have them; Steve doesn’t. I'm told this is survivor's guilt.

Not having him around is still weird enough, but not having him here for these annual fetes is just wrenching hard.

Like last week was our anniversary. Every year, on July 2nd, I would wake him up and ask, “Do you know what today is?” and he would always open one eye, raise that eyebrow, and counter, “Nine more shopping days until birthday?”  I always laughed. 

But it was never about presents or dinners out or anything else. It was always about marking time. For every event we had a year-in-review conversation. And even in the worst years, we would always agree to “stick it out” a little longer in case things got better.  We did…they did...until that very last day to that very last moment when we knew we really were out of time.

Then there’s a minor matter of getting older.  In TITANIC, old Rose looks into the hand mirror retrieved from her stateroom and comments, “…it looks the same as it did the last time I saw it. The reflection has changed a bit.”  Yeah, well, my reflection has changed a bit, too, and sometimes I look at it and wonder, “Who the hell is that?” At other times I think, “It could be worse.”

So here I am, trying to figure out what happens next.  I’ve changed teams at my day job and am infinitely happier doing what I do well. Minnesota Public Radio has made me a regular contributor to their commentary page. I’ve gone back to researching a new book. I’m working on getting me back being a me instead of an us, and while it’s a challenge a year ago I thought impossible, now I’m thinking it might actually be do-able.

And for those of you who have known me a zillion or so years, the answer is yes; I am growing my hair out. That way, when I look in the mirror, I look just a tad more like me. And this just may be a good thing. 

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Day 
Keep your birthday expectations pretty low. 
That way, you're never disappointed, and if anything does happen, 
it’s a happy surprise.  


  1. Not easy to wish you a "happy birthday" after all those depressing thoughts, but I will anyway...

    Happy Birthday, WP! And many many more.


  2. You be grateful for your birthday! And I will be grateful that you are older than I am...

    Many happy returns!

  3. Ud 120! Thank you for a lovely, touching, poignant article :):)

  4. May your day be one of giving back and surprises received!

  5. Happy Birthday to you . . . and to me! I knew I liked you for your terrific writing and being born in New York, but born on 7/11, that's beyond cool. Cheers to you!

    It's okay.


  6. A few days late but I hope your birthday was a good day.

    I'm visiting by way of Brilliant at Breakfast. I like your postings. (I read the posts on the front page; will have to read older posts when I have more reading time.) I hope the column at MPR continues to be fulfilling for you.

  7. John in LafayetteJuly 15, 2011 at 7:35 AM

    Happy birthday! Beautiful, touching response to David Brooks today.

  8. I add another "Happy Birthday." Also from Brilliant at Breakfast.
    Your post brought back some good memories for me - though poignant. As a dear friend says, "it's all good."