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Celebrating my Special Birthday

The perfect gift – A Memory Book

Published in ChicagoNow, September 8, 2015

I was really anxious about turning the “Big 7-0” on Labor Day. I expected it to be a particularly hard birthday. Getting excited about this milestone had been challenging, to say the least. I was ushering in my eighth decade of life, and that meant I was officially old. So unlike turning 40, 50, or even 60, I did not want to commemorate this event. “No big party” was my mantra.

After my mother died in April, I had another reason, the real reason, to dread my upcoming birthday: She wouldn’t be there to celebrate it.

If she were still alive, she would have made a huge deal over my “special” birthday. She would have wanted me to come to Detroit to celebrate it with her. She would have wanted a party complete with a cake. She would have given me one of her special jewelry items since shopping was hard for her. I would have protested each of these gestures but secretly loved them. I have to confess that, like my mother, I have a thing about celebrating special events, especially birthdays, especially for other people. Just not this one.

My family and friends honored my wishes, so rather than one big blow out celebration, I ended up with several. My birthday started in July with all of my kids and grandkids gathering here. We had a lovely dinner, followed by a day that included herding 16 people, eight of them kids, to the beach and various local parks. Awesome to have everyone together. That was one very special gift.

Because I wanted to get out of town and relax on my actual birthday, my husband, daughters, and six of my grandchildren schlepped to New Buffalo, Michigan Labor Day weekend. I’m not sure steam train and speedboat rides, hot beaches, and a steamy indoor pool with six very enthusiastic grandkids were relaxing events, but they were certainly fun. That was another very special gift.

At dinner, I received a memory book filled with birthday tributes. What my husband and children wrote made me cry, but some of these comments from my grandkids turned my tears to laughter:

  • “I love to play with Grandma’s hair and going to the beach and Sky Nails.”

  • “I love climbing on your lap no matter how big I get.”

  • “Grandma does what I want. She even plays American Girl dolls and is the mean one.”

  • “I like to cover myself with a blanket when we Skype because it is funny.”

  • “Thank you for taking me to the American Girl Doll store and helping me find Grace.”

  • “I HEART Gramma. Your birthday is a BLAST.” (Accompanied by a drawing of a rocket creature.)

  • “Gramma is nice and not mean and fun. She buys me milk and bubbles.” (Not bad for two-and-a-half.)

Now that book was the most special gift of all.

Throughout all of these celebrations, I felt my mother’s presence. Her legacy, passed down through generations, was there. Celebrate. Eat cake. Give gifts. Make the folks you love feel special. Yes, I missed her card that would have arrived a week early; her phone call on my birthday; her Facebook birthday wishes for me on her timeline, not mine; and the celebration she would have had when I visited her.

But as this birthday celebration continues with a few BFF get-togethers in the next couple of weeks, I feel lucky to have reached this age in good health with so many blessings in my life. Thanks to all who made turning 70 less “terribly strange.”

Can you imagine us years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange to be seventy…
— Paul Simon


by Laurie Levy
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