I saw my name in bright lights early. I had hit the big time by the time I was a pre-teen. While some child stars had to wear Vaseline on their teeth and skin-tight flammables before a leering Ed McMahon, my fame came easily and without Aqua Net. It also came annually. Every day, as the family Suburban made the voyage to school, we passed the Dairy Queen marquee. One day a year – November 30th – that luminescent billboard boasted my name with a birthday message. Sure, there were years they’d run short on letters, resulting in “Hpy Bdy Ern”, but I was temporarily famous nonetheless. Not everyone in our Ozarks town had a mother who ate enough Blizzards to earn that kind of clout with the Dairy Queen store manager. Combine the exhilaration that comes with seeing your name on a board usually reserved for advertising $2.99 Combo Meals with my mother’s penchant for festooning my door with toilet paper and streamers, I was one step short of wearing a tiara and a sash to homeroom. When I was in high school, it was en vogue to have balloon arrangements from your friends and family delivered to the Principal’s office. If one were really lucky, the Mylar assortments would be delivered not all at once, but staggered throughout the day, so that all of your classmates could witness the frequency with which you were paged to pick up your packages. I’d feign embarrassment and false humility with eye rolls to all staring at the helium rainbow hovering overhead while really hoping I’d qualify as a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Birthdays changed once I’d left my mother’s house and forfeited the benefits of Blizzard addiction. My college friends attempted to replicate the grandeur, but not even the local Chinese Buffet infamous for Hepatitis breakouts and ludicrous menu misspellings would co-op their sign with my birthday message.
Once marriage and my own family arrived, my birthday devolved to a non-occasion. The first birthday post-children culminated in my husband encouraging me to run out to pick up a cupcake while he watched the baby. I read once that Katie Holmes had cupcakes delivered to her movie set on her birthday, but I bet that was after Tom Cruise had all the vanilla beans in Madagascar sent to the most renowned pastry chef in Paris who personally baked those cupcakes and walked them (transatlantically) to the birthday girl. I had hoped that would be the dark blip on my birthday radar, but the following year was even worse. G’s dog had gone through a particularly heavy shed during the summer, leaving me grumbling about living with Cousin Itt and owning a vacuum with a motor meant for a blowdryer when we needed one with the horsepower of a Boeing 747. G’s interpretation of these rants was that I would really appreciate a more robust vacuum…for my birthday. Alas, for my 30th birthday, he bought me a Dyson.
A goddamn Dyson vacuum. Had he not returned it within moments of unsheathing it, I would have hung myself with that patented Air Multiplier technology.
You pragmatic types to claim you would love to receive a cleaning implement for your birthday, think twice. Christmas, or the Lunar New Year, or Victory over Japan Day are all suitable holidays for these gifts, but your birthday is not. After enduring two back-to-back pregnancies while still working, I was expecting nothing less than a cruise, the Hope Diamond, a singing telegram from Madonna, or the dedication of a newly discovered constellation in the solar system.
This year is shaping up a little like Vacuumgate. My birthday is today and I would normally have something to look forward to – at the very least a major appliance to return – but G is out of town. An important business trip has whisked him away to a function that sounds a lot like a high school Model UN trip. The circle of dear girlfriends I’ve left behind since moving to Maine was always accountable for taking me out to a celebratory dinner no matter what stood in our way. I was so delusional with fever one year that I started a fire by placing my menu on the tabletop candle, but not even arson was going to keep me from breaking birthday bread with my friends. The distance of the Northeastern Seaboard will, however.
In lieu of dinner, I had planned to take advantage of the 60 minute foot massage and pedicure at a local spa one of my closest friends had sent. My feet have not been attended to since an August pedicure, which left the Vietnamese woman sloughing and puffing in dire need of trail mix and a Gatorade. I’ve been wondering if OPI made a nail color to match the purple hue of my daughter’s latest black and blue when G burst my birthday balloon. “Isn’t a foot massage going to put you into labor? That’s what that pregnancy book said. You should hold off on that with me out of town this week.” See, G read about 4.5 pages of a pregnancy book to prepare for the birth of our first child, and from it he walked away with two nuggets. The first is that he should never, ever, under any circumstances offer me a foot massage. The second is that some women experience an enhanced libido during pregnancy. Both assertions are complete bullshit, but I have learned through three pregnancies now that I’m not going to have my sore and aching feet rubbed. He’s learned that he’s not going to have something of his rubbed.
Without a husband, or my mother, or those friends, and with heels that have fissures the size of the San Andreas Fault, this year feels more like a Tuesday than a birthday. If you ask my kids to name the person of honor, they’ll respond jubilantly with ‘Dora!’ or ‘Santa!’ To capitalize on this, by the end of the day I may be wearing a red velvet hat or a backpack with a monkey on my shoulder. Regardless, we will be visiting a Dairy Queen after dinner where I will point to the marquee and tell them about the time their Mama was a birthday queen and local celebrity. Even if it was just for a day.
(Tell me about your birthdays – good or bad).