When my 23rd birthday arrived, I had a 2-month-old son, a husband and an incomplete education. I saw my life mapped out before me: get a teaching degree while raising a child and work on making a happy marriage. Early that April day I had my doubts about the last one. I did not feel loved.
In my family, we celebrated birthdays in the morning. The birthday child came downstairs to cake and presents on the kitchen table – no matter how early everyone had to rise to accommodate my father’s need to leave for work at 8 am. In late April, my birthday mornings were full of sunshine and the happy anticipation of cake for breakfast! That was love.
Being a night owl, my husband couldn’t see the sense of such an arrangement. He told me that, much as he loved me, cake and presents would arrive with dinner. I had agreed, and then woke with the bitter taste of deep disappointment. Surely he’d only pretended he wouldn’t get my birthday surprise ready? After he’d kissed me good-bye and left, the apartment seemed cold and depressing.
The day loomed empty before me as I went through the motions of caring for myself and my son. His sweet gurgles and delicious scent didn’t put a dent in my self-pitying funk. Since my routine was to take the baby for a stroll before his mid-day feeding and afternoon nap, I headed out into the sunshine.
We lived in Osborne village in Winnipeg, an area newly minted with little shops of a distinctly European flavour. I usually loved walking along, looking at window displays of goodies priced well beyond our budget.
When I got to the bookstore, I decided to head in. Browsing through books has always been one of my favourite activities, even if that was generally at the public library. I left with George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss, feeling decidedly better carrying a birthday indulgence.
Back on the street, my eyes lighted on the lovely new pastry shop. Cake, yes indeed! I had a much lighter step as I pointed the stroller toward the bakery. With a book under one arm and a boxed lemon buttercream roll under the other, I spotted the florist shop. A bouquet of pink carnations, daisies and baby’s breath rounded out my little shopping spree.
That afternoon, once baby slept cosily in his crib, I brewed fresh coffee and cut a generous slice of cake. Sitting at my beautifully decorated table, I enjoyed the treats and dove into my new book. Absolute Heaven. By the time Roland arrived with the promised celebration, I felt indulged and sated. Everything afterwards was a big bonus.
My greatest gift of the day was learning that if there is a void within me, only I can fill it. So if I want flowers, I get them for myself. If I need solace, I check inside to find out what will provide it. I ask myself, ‘What will make me feel loved?’ Sometimes I can find it, sometimes I have to ask for it, sometimes I have to wait, but always, the blessings are there if I take the time to look.
The memory of my 23rd birthday always fills my heart with warmth and gratitude. That gratitude then leads to even greater appreciation of the many gifts life has seen fit to bestow on me: a grown son with his own lovely family, a satisfying career in education and 45 years of happy marriage.
Oh yes, the last part was helped along hugely by the fact that, for many years now, I’ve walked into the kitchen on my birthday to find a cake and presents magically waiting for me on the table!