This post is off tone from my normal ones.Not a whole lot of funny here, unless you count the stupid turkey bobber on a stick thingamijiggy. Today I’ll be wallowing in self-pity. Just thought I’d give you fair warning.
Today is my birthday. I had to stop and do the math to figure out how old I am. 37. That doesn’t bother me – I’m not a birthday crier, lamenting the aging process. But I’ve never been one for going bonkers over my birthday either – only one ritual, really. I have neither worked nor attended school on my birthday since I turned 10. Given its proximity to Thanksgiving, it was often pulled off just through the natural holiday off, but the rest of the time, I just plain old skipped out.
It’s not like I ever really did much. Just stayed home, hung out with my family. When I was younger maybe a lunch out with my Mom, as I got older it was the morning calls from her singing Happy Birthday into the answering machine at 6 AM. There was always a flower delivery from Mom and Dad, and cake time with them in the evening.
And really, I don’t like cake. So this became my father’s project. He’d either schlep the 40 miles round trip to get my favorite pie (banana cream) from the diner down on the coast, or make the one cake I do like, from scratch. Cottage Pudding Cake. It’s a dry, minimally sweet cake that has a light flavor on its own. It comes with a hot glaze poured on just before serving – a rich topping full of warm flavors – cinnamon, nutmeg, clove – in a base I’ve never been able to identify.
This is the first year that my birthday is not going to be that comforting, mundane celebration. I kind of feel like I’m floating in the midst of a day of ambiguity. The old is over. Now what?
My mother, confined to a nursing home and in the very early stages of dementia, ordered flowers. They arrived Wednesday. But unless you are very specific when ordering flowers to be delivered the day before Thanksgiving, the florist will assume that it is to be a Thanksgiving centerpiece. So ugly yellow, brown and orange flowers arrived, complete with wheat stalks and sparkly turkey bobber on a stick thing got dropped off by a beaming delivery girl. If you touch the turkey’s head, it bounces up and down, making his tail feathers shake.
Worse than the arrangement itself, is the fact that I have to pay for them. My Mom seems to be having a terrible time grasping the fact that she only has $40 each month to do things like this – the State takes the rest of her money to cover her care at the nursing home. Her money is gone by the time her phone bill is paid and her hair is done.
Quinn sang Happy Birthday to me this morning, but my Mom’s call skipped over birthday wishes altogether – she complained about more headaches, expressed her fears of dying and dissolved into great, grieving sobs as she talked about how hard Thanksgiving had been without Dad.
Dad died in February, in the midst of a full-fledged delusion period for my Mom, and at the end of a decision-making string that makes me feel as though his death was, in part, my fault. Intellectually, I know it was not. But I can’t help but feel if I’d pushed harder, been more insistent, we could have caught the Cancer in time to treat it. And Mom feels like she failed him by not being in her right mind when he died. So we both grapple with more than just the grief of his passing.
With Dad gone, there will be no pie, no Cottage Pudding cake. My husband has to work, so there’s no one to schlep to the coast. And no one else even knows what that damn Cottage Pudding cake is.
Quinn thinks I should have a Humpty Dumpty cake, but I just don’t have it in me to spend the hours it would take to produce that.
So today I am trying to fill the quiet. Haircuts for Quinn and I. Lunch with a friend at my house. Maybe grocery shopping later. Dinner out with my husband and son, cake there, just to appease Quinn.
Next year, on my birthday, I will be a grown up. I will have gone through an entire year of being without my Dad, of caring for my Mom as she struggles through all of the changes in her life. I will be more equipped to handle the differences. I will know what to do.
But this year, I am stuck in the middle. Part of me is little girl, tottering around in high heels and lipstick; missing my Dad, missing the Mom I used to have and playing at knowing how to manage life. The other part of me is old, with no energy to celebrate. I’m mad at the 23 family members who showed up for Thanksgiving, but can’t be bothered to see Mom. Cynical enough to assume that my brother won’t even remember it’s my birthday, and my best childhood friend won’t care. And knowing that even though my husband will try to make my day, he can’t.
Not this year. All I want is for my Mom to stop crying long enough to sing me the song, and a hug from my Dad.