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Food For Thought

May has way too much going for it, especially if you have a child in school. There are May Day, Mother’s Day, proms, sports award ceremonies, graduations, track meets, school programs, concerts and plays. (Do schools still have class picnics and senior skip-day?) And, in my family, there were birthdays to celebrate. Those birthdays were at the top of the list because they are personal celebrations for individuals rather than holidays for everyone or days set aside for large groups of people.
My two oldest children were born in May. It’s a nice time of year to have a baby. You can get them through those early checkups without battling extreme hot or cold weather. They can spend the summer in a diaper and light T-shirt, and they can get lots of fresh air while you putter in the garden and they nap near-by, safely in the playpen. Next summer, you’ll be busy keeping them happy and corralled while you struggle to keep up with the bare necessities of gardening.
Birthdays were always taken seriously when I was a child. There might not be a big party with all your friends invited, but they were important enough for presents, ice cream and a cake with candles, a special supper (or Sunday dinner if you were lucky enough for it to fall on that day of the week.) People sent birthday cards, that favorite aunt usually sent a present– or, when you were older, a check. There was often a special treat such as a movie or trip to the roller skating rink. One year, my aunt even sent me a singing telegram. The singing telegram was a big deal then, a new innovation that was an attempt to get people to send more telegrams as greetings rather than as a form of emergency communication. I was about eight years old and the telegraph boy was a middle-aged man who paced nervously up and down our front porch for several minutes before finally knocking and singing Happy Birthday to me in a wavering tenor voice. Poor man.
So, naturally, when I became a parent, I was determined to equal or out-do the birthdays I had known as a child. I always aimed for at least four gift categories. One was to be something for pure fun, a toy or game. Another, something for the mind such as a book, art supplies or challenging puzzle. Then there was to be something purely practical, maybe new clothes, but not just another T-shirt, something really special like that denim jacket with studs, or cowboy boots. And, always, the one thing they had been pleading for months– the current dream and heart’s desire (if within the family budget). Something like a new bicycle, a guitar or record player. I also decided to give up my mother’s traditional birthday cake (angel-food with seven-minute icing) and bake the birthday boy’s favorite cake– which one year was requested to be replaced with lemon meringue pie.
Lucky the child (and his mother) who has his birthday during the school year. By time my children were in grade school, it was practically expected that the birthday child would bring treats for all his classmates on his birthday. Having a party at home after school was no longer expected. Cupcakes were traditional, though cookies and candy ran a close race as something the child could take on the bus in the morning and Mother didn’t even have to make the trip. Sometimes there was punch or chocolate milk and I remember one mother bringing a large, decorated cake and a churn full of homemade ice cream.
With all the other additional things I found myself doing in May– the end of the school year, yard work, camping trips, etc., I decided that, even though May is an ideal time to have a new baby, it is not a good time to have any more birthdays to celebrate. My next child was born in June, which was the first day of summer that year and the hottest day ever on record for June. To add to my discomfort, the hospital rooms were not air-conditioned at that time. My fourth and final baby was planned for February.
After years of relatively calm, more grown-up birthdays which included girlfriends and special buddies, my birthday boys began to observe their birthdays in what they considered more adult ways, mostly by going out with their buds and working their way through the state’s supply of beer and pizza. It was no longer so critical that I remember the birthday and do something about it.
When that first grandchild came along, the responsibility for making birthdays special was handed down to the next generation and I got to be a guest at the birthday celebration. I didn’t even have to bake the cake. May is a lot more peaceful than it used to be.