“Do you remember your favorite birthday ever?” she asked the other evening, anxiously awaiting my answer.
“Like when I was a kid, you mean?” I replied, trying to narrow the focus of what she really wanted to know.
“Just, I don’t know, anytime.”
(Hint: Such open-ended questions are always translation for “tell me a story from when you were little” except now they are older and they are more strategic in their questioning).
I pondered for a moment, because giving a six-year-old a behind the scenes look at your birthday bashes from the 1980s and 1990s could be a monumental moment.
You could bring up the fact that long before Pinterest, moms either made some sort of cake from home, or you went to the local grocery store and flipped through this hefty book of laminated pictures of various sheet cakes they could make. They were all sheet cakes, they were all in neon colors, you choose the character. But the cake had to match the plates, cups, and party hats.
This was before parents worried that the rubber band attached to the hat would pinch your chin. You just grinned and worried about that red line what was sure to appear later.
It was your birthday, and that was all that mattered.
Or how receiving an invitation to a McDonald’s or ShowBiz Pizza party was the real deal.
Creepy strangers dressed as a giant grizzly bear donning overalls, bouncing up to hug the birthday girl with her new hot pink fanny pack? What could be better. Or, playing “stack the hot cake containers” at McDonald’s and eating those Grimace and Hamburglar cake decorations that were made of pure sugar while you ruined your brand new pair of white slouch socks in the ball pit. Those were the days.
But, those were not my favorite.
At the time, I thought they were. But this June, I woke up to a box of dozen assorted donuts from Ralph’s Donut Shoppe, jumped in a minivan filled with my party guests that dominated the third row seating, and we took a drive to Cumberland Gap on this perfect summer’s afternoon, where we dined on chili dogs and the kids asked one too many questions about a wooden toy demonstration at a small museum.
Where I took a ton of pictures and was totally out of breath from both the laughter and the chasing. How we found this gorgeous antique wooden dresser that became my birthday present that now sits in my living room and displays dusty theology texts and aging lanterns.
And for supper, the husband and I enjoyed a rare dinner alone, confirming his goal that I did not enter the kitchen at all on my birthday. There were no candles, there was no singing, there was no sheet cake in the shape of a My Little Pony.
But that story?
That is the one I shared with my daughter. That is the birthday that, as of late, goes down as my favorite birthday of all time.
And she was delighted to have been a guest.
These days are the best days of our lives. We are trudging uphill, both ways, in the snow. Barefoot. And loving it. And one day, she will be loading her belongings, preparing to meet her future. And with one final burst of strength, her brothers will load that antique dresser onto a truck bed, to which she will flinch and say “Careful! Dad got Mama that on her 31st birthday. Do you remember how much we loved that day?”
As we bounded into the house and pulled in several bags of groceries, she glanced at me in hesitation and asked one final question: “Will you always get me a present for my birthday, even when I am no longer a child?”
Every year, dear. Every year. The best is yet to come.
Christie Elkins is a Campbell County native whose columns appear weekly on the Lifestyles page of the LaFollette Press. She’s a mother of three and a full-time blogger at www.mywalkwitheden.com.