What Another (gulp) Birthday Taught Me

Writers often use life events in their stories because they are the perfect settings for drama, the stuff all good stories are made of. Weddings, funerals, birthdays, retirement parties…it’s all fair game. Characters come alive. Conflicts ensue. Add alcohol, loaded expectations, cheesy music, and voila! The perfect scene for chaos story is born. Or, in my case, reflections.

It was my birthday recently. πŸ™‚

This is us. Me and my musketeers.


We went to dinner at a nice place, which we don’t normally do on our budget. For once, we ordered everything – appetizers, salads, steaks, even desserts. We tried everything. Twice. One of us had to unbutton our jeans. Not telling who. πŸ™‚

So I always tell my kids – no gifts, please – just a handwritten note is all I want. But they are teenagers now, with jobs and bank accounts and minds of their own.

My daughter made me open her gift first as soon as we sat down. It was a sparkly gold phone case – way too expensive for her budget as a newly working teenager. I gasped – oh my God, this is way too much for you!! But I had to stop because she was beaming at me from across the table as the story behind it tumbled out. On her break from a seven-hour shift at a local fast food restaurant, she ran across a busy four-lane road to get to the store, buy the case, race back to the restaurant, and wolf down a quick bite of food before she had to get back to flipping burgers.

My son gave me a coffee mug with a squirrel and a “Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed” saying on the front for my beloved coffee, puppy salt and pepper shakers (he adores dogs), and a Hallmark card, his first Hallmark card to me ever. (He said he did it this year because he is 18 now and this is what adults do.) But he surprised me after by whipping out a handwritten letter and sliding it slyly across the table. No pictures because “I’m not a picture guy, Mom.” The waitress came by as I finished reading it.

“Is everything okay?” she said as she placed my wedge salad loaded with bacon and bleu cheese with flourish before me.

I blinked back tears and nodded. My kids laughed and my daughter said, “Don’t worry, she’s always like this on her birthday.”

The next morning, I strutted around the kitchen in my jammies and favorite slippers, jamming (do people say that anymore??) to music on my new sparkly phone and cuddling my new coffee cup as my sleepyheads hung over their cereal bowls filled with Lucky Charms.

“Mmmmmm!! You know what, guys?? I think this might be the BEST cup of coffee I’ve EVER had!! I think it’s this new cup!! And my phone – do you know, I think I actually hear BETTER on it now!! It must be the sparkles.”

What can I say, I like to live life in double exclamation points and all caps in my old age.Β Their eye rolls and smirks told me everything I needed to know. πŸ™‚

It is one week later and I am one year older. I sit on my porch at dusk surrounded by the tallest evergreen trees I have ever seen. It is Chicago spring now, which means it’s cold and it’s gonna snow tomorrow. An owl hoots out in the woods behind the house. Funny, he usually only comes out at 3AM and hoots right next to my window. Bastard.

I am thinking about how grateful I am.

The past four years have been tough. Divorce – even though it was my choice – heartbreaking as we undid the ties that bound us in every possible way. Medical issues for one child…life issues for another. A layoff somewhere in the middle. Starting a business from scratch. Two moves in three years – showing the kids the first new house I’d rented, trying to put a cheerful face on the whole thing as my girl burst into tears and my boy sat stoic, saying nothing but a quiet “okay then.” We’ve had our share of fears and tears and life and everything else in between. No different from anyone else. But I remember those years most keenly at times like this. Mostly, I remember the nights sitting on another porch at another house, staring at this same moon, this same sky, wondering how the hell I was going to get us through it all. Where it would all lead.

Yet. Yet.

I sit here on this porch, on this night. I see the same moon. Same night sky. And everything has changed.

I look at this picture of us and I see.

For anyone who is struggling in the dark, afraid, alone, battling things the rest of can’t see, know this: you will get through. Light will come one way or another. Keep going. Please keep going. You can do this. The world needs you. I love you. You are wonderful, just as you are. If you’re on the other side, please be kind. You never know the difference you could make. Our world needs so much more light.

Thank you, as always, for spending time with my words. πŸ™‚

PS I listened to this song on replay at a time in my life when I felt lost and alone. I needed inspiration to keep going and this helped me believe in myself, believe that I could get where I needed to go. Yeah, it’s cheesy. So? And get this: there’s science behind how listening to a song on repeat is helpful. You gotta love the science.

Music has always had that power for me – it helps me put my feelings into perspective and in time, words that are ready to share. Enjoy!

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