Had I been clever, I would have published this essay a week or two before Memorial Day in order for it to be “relevant.” But, alas, I am not so clever and I held onto it for a while. Because…I don’t know…maybe it’s a little bit more personal than I wanted it to be. But I guess that’s the deal with blogs, right? They are supposed to be personal. So here we go:
This year, as it does every so often, my birthday fell on Memorial Day. When I was little, Memorial Day weekend meant three things:
- Birthday cake would be present.
- School would be on holiday.
- The pool would be opened.
And that was about it. Those three things pretty much made up my world and nothing else really mattered. If I am to be embarrassingly honest, it really wasn’t until I started dating my husband, who was an Army officer then and is now in the Reserves, that I made the connection to the seriousness and somber nature of this holiday. Yes, we learned about it in school. Yes, my parents took me to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. But nothing really hit and stuck in my blissfully ignorant and sheltered mind until I was attached to someone who was attached to the military. Until I heard stories. Until I put faces to names. Until it became personal. I was in desperate need of an education.
I’m sure I don’t need to educate you. If you didn’t already know, I’m sure someone on your Facebook page posted about Memorial Day and how it’s different from Veteran’s Day , which is why some get irked when you thank a veteran or say “Happy Memorial Day” during the course of this holiday. Again, if I am being embarrassingly honest, I am sure I have done the latter as I enjoyed an ice cold beer while making small talk poolside to someone at a BBQ, completely engrossed in my long weekend of freedom.
But that’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s not about me. I had gone years centering myself around this holiday when it was anything but, when it is really about all the people who aren’t here and all their mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers, and sisters, friends, and relatives who are, and who are remembering them this day and all days with a hole in their heart the size of which I could never in my life imagine.
Something else I have realized, even more recently (read: since becoming a parent), is that my birthday, no matter what holiday it falls on, isn’t even about me. And you may not like this but I don’t think your birthday isn’t about you either.
Who is it really about?
It’s about the people who welcomed you into this world. It’s about those people who actually remember in great detail, even if it was decades ago, that day. It’s about those people who held you in your arms on that day and looked at each other in complete shock and total love and thought, “Holy Crap. I can’t believe we’re parents.” No one went through more fear, pain, anticipation, joy, tears, on that day than those people.
It’s funny that it took having a child to make me realize how unknowingly selfish and self-centered I was as a child. I don’t remember once thinking to myself, I wonder what my mom is thinking about this day? All those parties. All those presents. All that fuss. All misplaced.
My birthday, especially my birthday this year, was not about me.
So on the weekend I would normally refer to as “my birthday weekend,” I took my son to the end of our neighborhood where, luckily for us, a large procession of Rolling Thunder participants gather to head off to DC to take part in the yearly ride. It caught me, seeing so many motorcycles line the road for miles, each one to me representing someone’s son, someone’s daughter. And as I looked at my son eating his Cheerios with one chubby little hand and pointing with the other, awestruck at all the bikes, I selfishly thought, “I can’t let you go. I won’t let you go. You aren’t allowed to make that sacrifice.” (But there I go again. That’s not about me either, is it?)
And later that night, I spent a quiet evening with my family, in particular, my mother, whose day it really was. And I was beyond grateful, for so many reasons.
And on August 24th, when my son turns two, you better believe I’m going to enjoy my day. (And my cake.)
So the next time you see some outrageous celebration for a one year old on your Facebook page and you think to yourself, “This is ridiculous, that baby is never going to remember that ornate cake or that stupid tutu,” you just bite your tongue. Because behind every over-the-top, completely unnecessary celebration, there is a mother behind it that deserves it 100%. And she gets to have her cake.