And so here I am, starting another trip around the sun, as they say. I don’t like going public with this, not because I’m hiding my age – I graduated from Bishop Kenrick in 1979, so do the math. Age (and its advance) never really bothered me. I always thought getting older was better than the alternative.
No, what I like to avoid, and this is written by the true introvert I’m proud to be, is attention.
I understand the irony – by writing a column on my birthday, I draw attention to it. But please, if you see me at church or at the grocery store or at Special Olympics (essentially the only places you’re most likely to meet me), don’t feel obligated.
I’m doing well. Seriously.
I remember my mother saying “Christmas and birthdays are for children”. When she said that to me when I was a child, I didn’t understand the whole meaning. She always said she didn’t need anything. Little Cheryl never understood that. I’m doing it now. My mother always said that if there was something she wanted or needed, she would get it herself. What why ? Kid Cheryl always wondered. Cheryl, the tall one, understands.
I told my two older children NOT to get me anything – that I wanted them to put that money in to offset the cost of our recent adventure – it was the best gift I could have ever had ask. But I know for sure one thing I get – something that says “Elvis is my co-pilot”. In a nutshell, I had to drive a car on the opposite side of the road from the opposite side of the car, and my nerves were a bit messy at first. Then we found my lifelong favorite Elvis (and my former future husband when I was 5) on Kaitlyn’s Spotify (and a motorist’s prayer card in a gift shop), and from then on, I drove like I was born for it (OK, that’s an exaggeration, but me and my kids and the rental car all survived without a scratch).
As my birthday approached, I thought a bit about why my birthday wasn’t more important to me. I remember when I was a kid, I was counting down to that August day. Even as a teenager and young adult, this day was among the best along with Christmas and the last day of school (or final exam).
When I joined the legitimate job market – meaning I traded in for a full time job as a sportswriter (with real benefits and regular pay) from 3 or 4 full time jobs partial – I usually worked on the most “special” day. The highlight was logging into the computer as he wished me a happy birthday. Then I would go out and cover an adult softball game or a Perky League game, and it was business as usual. And I was good with that.
As the drop-down window of my birth year crept further and further across websites, I thought of those first birthdays – the ones with only 1 digits, the ones where there was still plenty of space between those candles on the birthday cake. What was so magical about those birthdays in my memory? I must have gotten some great gifts (much like those legendary Christmas gifts such as the Barbie motorhome and the ABA basketball). But no, I really couldn’t think of anything.
Then it hit me – I looked forward to those birthdays, those celebrations, because I had the freedom of a child – no summer school, no job, no bills, no problems. The only thing I was responsible for was me, making my bed and those pesky trophies my grandma made me dust every day. Don’t judge – my dad had at least 10, then my sister and three brothers all had at least 5 each and even I had a few. And they were all on display in the living room. Again, do the math.
But that was it – my bed, those trophies and maybe a run to the store for milk and bread (which, literally, was about 40 yards from my house if I cut across Rittenhouse’s field). So that wonderful freedom that comes with being with my loved ones – that’s what was so wonderful about those first birthdays.
As the birthdays progressed, more and more of the closest and dearest people disappeared. Friends who impacted my life in ways they never would have – and in some cases in ways I’m only now discovering. The family members who taught me the right way to live life. And my husband, who gave me my home and my family – the things I treasure most in my life.
It’s no wonder, then, that I think of these first birthdays as the birthday goats. The GOAT of all birthdays was the party I had the summer before 8th grade. About 7 of my closest friends in St. Pat’s piled into our basement for a sleepless sleepover, a sunrise walking tour of North Norristown, and a whole lot of aggravation for my grandmother. It was terrifying.
My 16th birthday – this one celebrated with new high school friends added to the list – and I had my learner’s permit.
And one of the first birthdays Jim and I celebrated together – we went to Saturday night mass at 5:30 in St. Pat’s and then to Philadelphia for an incredible and memorable dinner at a waterfront restaurant. He even bought me a rose from a street vendor (OK, I had to push him, but still…)
That’s the thing, then, isn’t it? Memories. These are the real birthday presents I received, and now squeeze them tight. These birthdays have created gifts that keep on giving.
And my current birthday? The plan I have is to cook a good dinner (I don’t trust my kids) and get my kids cleaned up (I’ll trust them for that effort). And the only gift I would like? A bit of downtime after a week of work, paying bills, chores and groceries. As stated, I am an extreme introvert.
Also, after having my own children, I realized that the person being celebrated didn’t have to be the one who was born; it should be the one who had to go through the birthing process.
With that in mind – happy birthday, mom. And thank you for all these beautiful gifts that I carry in my heart.
Email Cheryl Kehoe Rodgers at firstname.lastname@example.org.