Updated: See My Goofy Picture at the Bottom
Today is my birthday.
I don’t say that so everyone makes a big deal about it. I only mention it because I’ve been thinking lately about why most of my life I’ve spent this particular day each year waiting to see who would remember, yet avoiding the internet, telephones, and the mail. What an odd thing to do, now that I really think about it. And on the back of a motorcycle yesterday, I had plenty of time to dissect why I hate most holidays, but especially Christmas and my birthday.
Growing up, my birthday always fell around the time that we were packing up and moving to a new place. My mom was a master packer/mover, and it literally took her one day to get us organized, packed, and loaded. Frankly, it was kind of an incredible sight, but it was also kind of depressing for me. We almost never stayed anywhere long enough for me to make friends, and being a “summer” birthday girl, there weren’t any birthday parties, with the exception of my sixteenth birthday. And, I am pretty convinced that my Aunt Pamela was behind me actually having a Sweet 16 party, not my mom. We happened to be living in Harlingen for that birthday, and for once, I had quite of few friends from the private school that I had known since we were all small. I remember my Aunt Pam asking me what I wanted to do to celebrate my birthday that year, and I have no idea what my answer was. What did it matter what I hoped for? I figured we’d get a cake and some ice cream, they’d sing to me, and I’d get a present from my Aunt and Uncle and my Grandmother. All of these things were more than we ever did when we lived away from my mom’s sister and mother. Most of the time, Mom would bake a cake a few days after my birthday, promising that the next year would be better. But when it came to my aunt, she wouldn’t dream of not getting me a present. She was always good about things like that.
I knew my mom wouldn’t be able to afford a gift for me for this birthday either, but would promise that next year would be better. Growing up, I can count the gifts I’ve gotten for my birthday on one hand. And most of them came from other family members, but not my mom or stepfather.
It isn’t about the gifts or parties for me, though. It was about feeling special…like someone was glad that you’d shown up in this world, and wanted you to know it. And so, each year was a painful reminder to me that even mom didn’t think much about the day I showed up in this world…And I was her First Born Kid!! In fairness to my mom, though, she was from just as broken a childhood as me, and her family didn’t make a big deal about her birthday either. I think she’d be surprised to know that I always felt this way, and probably a bit guilty as well. She was raising five children, all very different and very demanding in different ways, plus not getting much help in any of the areas of her life from her husband, all the while making a little bit of money stretch to pay for just the very basic needs we had. Birthdays were just not a priority when it came to all that she was trying to balance.
Believe it or not, I didn’t get bitter about it, even as a kid. It was sad, but normal at my house. I didn’t get parties, but neither did the other kids in my family, and to me that was even worse. My two brothers and two sisters are actually quite a bit younger than me, and to see them disappointed when they were little was just mortifying. They seemed always to hope they would have a birthday party with all of their friends, or wish for a specific toy, but I only remember them getting one or two parties the whole time I lived there. They did get presents, though. Their grandmother (we have different fathers) was always faithful about sending gifts to them no matter where we were, and as they got older, those presents were pretty much what they would request. And they were always wonderful gifts, so that made the sting of their birthday disappointments less potent. But, for my brother and I, who weren’t the biological grandchildren, it was a rub in our faces. We usually got socks and underwear for presents…A keen reminder that we didn’t belong to that family.
Anyways…enough of the sad stuff..
That Sweet 16 birthday party was a surprise party for me, and it always brings back good and bad memories. The happy memories were that all my friends, including Audra, were there, and my cake was Garfield the cat, and we had a pinata, and I got a lot of presents. The only bad memory was that my step-grandmother asked me if I was a lesbian because she’d never seen me “go around” with a boy. And she wasn’t asking innocently…it sounded like a snide accusation. But, I didn’t know what a lesbian was, and by the time she explained it to me in a way my rather innocent mind could understand, I was so freaked out, it took me sneaking a shot of vodka or whiskey, I forget which, to calm myself back down..
This isn’t my step-grandmother. It is just a keen likeness of how I remember her….
I never knew my step-grandmother all that well, having only met her a handful of times, so her opinions about me were not only not welcome, but downright insulting! At first, I sat there with my ears turning red, knowing that if I opened my mouth, no good thing would come from it. But I wasn’t going to let this woman accuse me of anything when she’d only ever even seen me less than 5 times ever. It was the principal of the matter. I started off calmly… I told her I wasn’t allowed to date, so it wasn’t like I could bring guys around. But, I lost control of my calm exterior quickly, and I told her that I’d had a few boyfriends, none of whom I wanted around this f***** up, freak-show of family I was in. By the last words, I was semi-shouting, and standing up. I know. There was nothing Godly about my reaction. I was just hoping to have one nice birthday party, and it seemed like this step-grandmother just wanted to ruin it for me. All in all, though, it was a pretty tame response considering I had just found out that there was such a thing as same sex sex, which I evidently gave the impression I was into, by an old woman who I always thought was cold, bitchy, and stuck-up (because she always talked about how much money she had, and how she was going to be buried by her dead husband, not my grandfather). She never did anything for me to reassess my initial opinion of her, and that very moment, she actually proved what I’d suspected since the first time I’d met her..she was just a mean woman; she was attending my party to see if she could ruin it, nothing more. Even now, I’m surprised by these kinds of people, who take some kind of joy in hurting someone else. It isn’t something I ever want to empathize with though. It is just pathetic to hurt anyone else for amusement or sport.
She was very taken aback at my language, as she considered herself a sophisticated, classy lady, and such language was beneath her breeding (and money, I suspect), but evidently was delighted with the proof that I was indeed trailer trash; as for my insulting our family, that didn’t bother her much as she didn’t much care for us “lesser” members of her new husband’s bloodline, of which she wasn’t part of. But, for my lack of respect when addressing her, she was just livid!! And she informed me that this was why she didn’t spend time with my grandfather’s side of the family. We were rude, crude, and disrespectful. I only heard rushing water in my skull while she lectured on, and in the end, she got the last word because I walked off while she was still scolding me, heading to the bathroom to analyze what had just happened with this strange old woman, process lesbianism and its ramifications in my universe, freak a bit about how much trouble I was going to be in when the old hag tattled to my mom about our little spat, and figure out how to steal a shot of vodka so I could go outside and enjoy my damn Sweet 16 birthday party.
I accomplished all of these things, and happily, I never saw my step-grandmother again. My mom was too horrified that someone thought one of her kids was a lesbian to care about anything else that was said or done. I skated by with only a vague frown about my use of the F word, but I think mom was secretly a little glad someone had finally gone off on the haughty new wife. Mom and my aunt whisked me back to my pinata and the step-grandmother was gone when we went back in the house a little while later. Another thing I think I have my aunt to thank for.. … Best.Birthday.Party.Ever.
As a mother and a wife, birthdays have gotten much better. My kids never forget my birthday, though Chef has forgotten once or twice, but quickly made up for it. I don’t always get a gift, but it isn’t because no one could be bothered. Gifts don’t matter much to any of us.
But without fail, even with my own little family remembering and celebrating for years now, I’ve always waited to hear from my mom, my dad, or any of my brothers or sisters.
My mom has always forgotten my birthday for at least one day. Always. My dad, who had been missing most of my life, has never forgotten my birthday, but could usually not find me to tell me he was glad I had been born. When he had a way to call me, he always has. I know my dad loves me.
I’ve heard from my sisters on a few occasions (once or twice) over the span of 20+ years, and never from either of my brothers. And always, by the end of the day, I feel sad all over again that most of my childhood family cares so little about me, or even each other. We are all so very broken by that life, we can’t even turn to one another for comfort and encouragement in these new, better lives we’ve made for ourselves.
Almost a decade ago, Chef and I moved here to Tulsa from Texas, and we did something that we normally never did. We started to make friends. We started letting people into our lives. It was very unfamiliar to me, but Chef had missed having friends to hang out with, and I soon began to enjoy the interactions as well. And birthdays suddenly became less of a Waiting For Disappointment days, and more of a day to enjoy the company of friends and family who did actually give a crap that I had been born.
A few years ago, my motorcycle club sisters threw me a surprise birthday party…I literally had no clue they even knew my birth date, much less would bother to get the word out to all the girls, without me finding out!, and gather for my party from not only Tulsa, but some smaller towns further away. I was so surprised, I wanted to burst into tears. I did tear up, and then I laughed for the next couple of hours. The whole time I kept thinking about the only other party I’d ever had, and how it had been a surprise party too.
Only this time, there was no mean step-grandmother to make me feel ugly or unattractive, taking pleasure from embarrassing me…
Although there was an actual bisexual at this motorcycle biker chick party, but I already knew what that term meant; I had long ago quit judging other people’s decisions for their own lives, so I didn’t care that a bisexual was at my party; I love that bisexual, because to me she isn’t defined by any one thing about herself — good, bad, or whatever; and she would never do something intentionally to hurt someone else just for fun. And best of all, I got to wear a sombrero, and I totally rocked it.
So, while birthdays started out kind of disappointing for me, they’ve gotten a fresh makeover in my mind over the last few years, and to turn over a new leaf, I’m not going to play the waiting game on a family that forgot me, and each other decades ago. Instead, I’m going to enjoy the people that are in my life now, and that includes all of you — my internet friends.
I don’t know that I’ve ever had any group of people pray for me and my family like you all, and it is without hesitation that I can promise you all know more about my life than any of my extended family does. And yet, you keep coming back, encouraging me, crying when I cry and laughing when I laugh. I appreciate all of you, and will never be able to express how all the kindness has helped me.
I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart!!!
PBOL Vickey still had a picture from my party…I’m not photogenic, but I think the sombrero works. Proceed at your own risk…. :-)