Saturday, June 12, 2010

Thirty Four Years Ago

Today is my birthday.  I'm 34 years old, as of 5:25 pm.  Someone told me it's not that big a deal - just marks another cycle of the earth around the sun.  I told him that our mothers think about it very differently.
 (top row: mum and dad; bottom: kiki, tristan, me, nicholas, tot #1)
My mum always made our birthdays special.  We had a visit from the birthday bird - a small present left by our bedside, first thing in the morning.  I grew up poor.  A small present might be a new toothbrush or hair decoration.  Still, it was always the best way to start the day.  Usually school was out by the time my birthday rolled around, so I might have a friend over to play, or we would go to the community pool.  Sometimes we were camping, and once we were in a hotel room in Asheville, NC.  I turned 13 watching my siblings in a hotel room while my parents went to a work function at the Biltmore.

No matter where we were, mum added special touches.  If we were home, she made special dinners, with whatever kind of cake I wanted.  (More often than not, I wanted a huge chocolate chip cookie.)  My Nanny and Papa would come, and I'd have a couple of friends over, or maybe just one (Betsy Alice Ingrid Elizabeth Huff.)  I would be excused from chores, given a one-day pass on my messy room, and presented with the gift of pure childhood, at least for a day.

If we weren't home, mum still found ways to celebrate.  She'd gather flowers to put on the wooden picnic table at our campsite, or she'd have brought a special blanket or pillow for my tent.  I could choose what hike we took, or whether we went swimming.  We'd make s'mores and she wouldn't even admonish me about getting my fingers too sticky.

That birthday in the hotel room?  Mum sneaked a collection of petits fours out of the business dinner and put a candle in one for me to blow out.  (At the time I think I was resentful she didn't outright steal a priceless valuable or something, but I was 13.  What did I know?)

This is who my mother is.  She is someone who makes everything more beautiful.

3 generations: Mum, Bug and Me
If I grew up poor, my mother grew up vastly more so.  She clung to the idea that there can be special touches to any occasion.  We needn't just have napkins - they can be folded and elegant, even if they're just paper.  We needn't have plain ball-point pens - we can glue feathers on them to make them fancy.  We don't just keep chocolate in the kitchen - it's hidden in her dresser so that uncovering it when one of us went into her room for before-bedtime commiseration was a special treat.

I don't know where she learned such flair.  I know from experience it wasn't from her parents or siblings.  She overcame so much adversity and marginalization early in her life it's a wonder it didn't harden her, as it hardened the rest of her family.  But instead I have a mum who likes pink shoes, delights in finding wildflowers in the forests around her mountain house, who keeps youth eternal and makes life sparkle for the rest of us.

me and mommy
Thirty-four years ago wasn't just my birth day.  It was her initiation into motherhood.  I hope I wear it as well as she has.  I love you, mommy.  Thanks.


  1. You had gorgeous hair even when you were a kid... you look adorable.

    Happy B'day!

  2. God you are such a wonderful writer. I am tearing up. What a wonderful way to think about your birthday.

    It's my big sister's birthday today too. June 12th must be very special.

    Happy Birthday Aerin. May the next year be full of love and joy and may all the surprises be good ones! Lots of love to you xxx

  3. Whoever said it's just another trip around the sun probably didn't have the same kind of birthdays you had.

    We needn't just have napkins - they can be folded and elegant, even if they're just paper. We needn't have plain ball-point pens - we can glue feathers on them to make them fancy.

    That's a good lesson for every parent.

    Beautiful post, Aerin. Happy 34th trip around the sun.

  4. A beautiful love letter to your Mom. I had one like that, too.

    Happy Birthday, Aerin. I hope it's a day full of special touches, family pleasures, and most of all, magic.

  5. Your mother clearly has a gift for bringing beauty and joy to this world. Including you. Happy birthday, love!!!

  6. Oh man. Now I'm crying. That was beautifully written.

    Have a wonderful birthday full of special and beautiful touches.

    Love you!

  7. Thanks Aer! Happy Birthday little girl. At least you didn't say I not even going to be able to see you today because I am with you sister. But, we are thinking about you and have found a perfect present for you.
    I love you very much. Thanks for making my foray into motherhood - and grandmotherhood so wonderful!

  8. And now you get to be the magical mother. :-) Happy Birthday Aerin, may it be as wonderous as when you were little.

  9. That was a wonderful love letter. Happy Birthday.

  10. Beautiful post, Aerin. :-)

    Happy birthday!


  11. Beautifully written! Happy birthday to you, and happy celebration to your mum! (And hurrah for the Biltmore House! If only we'd known each other then--we could have met!)

  12. Belated happy birthday greetings — 34 years and 2 days is just as special, right?

  13. Happy Birthday, Aerin! You rock! You really do! I hope you have an utterly awesome year.



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