This coming Saturday is my wife’s birthday. We are currently wrapping out heads around how we’ll spend the day and also what kind of present to get for her. She’s already rejected going to a fancy restaurant for a meal that would exceed $100. I’ve since offered her an item off her bucket list for a present, along with a nice dinner at a moderately priced neighborhood Italian bistro. One of the presents is a fun gift that I will enjoy seeing her have. The other, however, is one that screams of self-serving spousal chauvinism. Think cleaning devices and kitchen appliances. My fear is that she’ll choose the latter gift, mention it to everyone she knows, and all of this will result in a situation where friends and family assume I ginned it all up under a diabolical mask of “making the little woman happy.”
Gifts can be a field of land mines sometimes.
For the record, I’ve never really been a fan of birthdays. My own usually falls somewhere just before Chanukah. During childhood this resulted in the unstated but still practiced habit of my parents to combine the two events. The birthday present was almost always a token gesture, given along with a declarative assurance that something even more grand was just around the corner in time for the upcoming holiday. Hope sprung eternal.
Yet when the glorious day arrived, let’s just say the Festival of Lights was more about latkes and candles than it was about the treasures found in the annual Sears Wish Book. That whole “a present for each of the eight days” thing was still a good decade away from being a practicing reality.
“What’ll it be, apple sauce or a sour cream topping on your pancakes? And let’s hurry this along. Your father wants to watch Huntley and Brinkley in a few minutes.”
Good night, Chet…
My later, more enlightened self is actually quite thankful in hindsight for the memories of a predominantly noncommercial religious holiday in December. At the time? Well, let’s just say I wasn’t so enlightened.
Gorgeous and I each bring different birthday memories into this marriage from our previous ones. Her ex regularly feigned ignorance on the big day, resorting each year to making a joke about it being Christmas instead. Mine went to the opposite extreme with a desire to make more of it than I really wanted. My stated wish was that she not make too much of a fuss. I wanted a low-key day. By year two of our marriage, with my not specifying any desired present, pleading for absolutely no party, and wanting only a simple dinner at home, I can still hear my ex’s plaintive cry of, “For God sakes it’s your birthday! What is wrong with you??!”
These days, my birthday week is when I annually remove myself from Facebook and temporarily close my account. While I was at first flattered and overwhelmed by the sheer number of birthday greetings I received, in recent years I’ve become weary of the surface and compulsory nature of the ritual. People with whom I have only a remote acquaintance, perhaps they might have sat next to me during seventh grade biology class, wish me a hearty happy birthday alongside all of my actual friends and family members. I recall one year staring at a birthday message from a Facebook friend for a full five minutes or so until I realized that he was the graduate student I met briefly at a former neighbor’s backyard barbecue six years before. I think he’s now teaching philosophy at some college in the southwest, and for some reason we still haven’t unfriended one another. So in order to avoid such strange interactions, I remove myself from the site for a week or so.
With my own siblings, I still make the effort to mail out a birthday card in time for them to receive it on their actual day. I will then follow-up and make a phone call to wish them congratulations, and also to remind them that they are still older than me (that joke just never gets old). I arrange for this in a methodical way each year with repeating reminders on my smart phone’s calendar to buy the card and mail it out a few days before the actual date. I like to be organized about it.
My siblings will in turn contact me on my special day too, though not usually in the same fastidious manner. One sister likes to send a well-intentioned text message; another will make a phone call; and the third without fail will call to tell me how she bought a great card, but sadly it’s still sitting on her desk awaiting to be personalized and mailed. It’s actually turned into a campy tradition, though one that’s embarrassing for her. As a joke, she’ll in good spirits send it to me about four or five months later. Their phone calls I love to receive. The text message greeting from that one sibling? Not so much. Come on, Sis, really? But hey, as John Lennon famously sang, “we all doin’ what we can.”
Still, spousal birthday celebrations should be different. Even your humble and most decidedly jaded blogger can understand that. Your spouse is the person to whom you give a sole and unrequited love. The unique way in which the day is celebrated should be a testament of a shared affection. After all, as we get older the number we have left become even more precious.
Our plans are still formulating for this Saturday. My only rule is that Gorgeous needs to let her clients know ahead of time that she will be unavailable. One really should not have to work on their birthday if at all possible.
What remains, however, is the matter of the gift. Please-oh-please-oh please, don’t let her ask for a vacuum cleaner. If that somehow get out, I’ll never hear the end of it.