In connection with the American Cancer Society’s recently-launched “Campaign for More Birthdays,” members of the Silicon Valley Moms Group of regional blogs participated in a “Birthday” Topic Day on August 31. Birthdays are a big deal to me, and I decided to write about one that was particularly significant (although cancer isn’t part of the story).
My mother died of complications related to early-onset Alzheimer’s ten years ago today. I’ve written about that before, and this year I thought I’d commemorate the day by remembering what I hope was a more cheery occasion in her life. As we do every year, my sister and I will also be remembering her by participating in the Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk in Thousand Oaks, CA next Saturday, October 17.
The child in the photo is my nephew, my mom’s youngest grandchild, and was taken four years ago at his second birthday party.
I’d like to think that my mother’s 34th birthday was a milestone one for her. That’s not a number usually associated with anything special, but that particular March 29th, 45 years ago, was the day she became a mom.
Mary Ann had sensed from the beginning that her first child would arrive on her birthday. When her doctor predicted a due date of March 20th, she responded “It can’t be before the 22nd, because that’s when the insurance kicks in.” Apparently insurance companies could count; she and Eddie had married on June 22, 1963, and childbirth wasn’t covered if it occurred less than nine months after the wedding date – it was a “pre-existing condition.” In any case, she was sure the baby would be born nine months and one week after the marriage.
The day before Easter, March 28th, the young couple moved into their new apartment in the Bronx. When Mary Ann awoke in her new home the next morning, she wasn’t sure she would make it to Easter Sunday Mass – going to the hospital seemed like a better idea. They drove to Yonkers and checked her in. Childbirth was a very different process for most women back then, and during a period of “twilight sleep,” Mary Ann’s first child was delivered at 11:55 AM: a full-term, although very tiny (four pounds, four ounces), baby girl. In celebration of the birth and new mom’s birthday, Eddie and his mother came back to the hospital with a birthday cake, but neither mother nor baby could eat any of it. After meeting his new daughter, Eddie told Mary Ann, “She’s your birthday present. You should pick her name.” The name she chose honored the baby’s grandmothers: Mary Ann gave this very small baby the very large name of Florinda Elizabeth (the first was her mother’s name, the second was Eddie’s). Because the baby was so small, Mary Ann didn’t get to bring her birthday present home until two weeks later.
I think of birthdays as personal holidays, and I always take a vacation day from work on my own – that’s my birthday gift to myself. But my birthday has really never been truly “my own” – from the very first, it was “our birthday.” If you buy into astrology, sharing a birthday – even one separated by thirty-four years – should have made my mom and me a lot alike; I think it actually did, and I think those similarities were at the root of many of our conflicts. Setting myself apart from her meant fighting against those similarities for a long time…and later on, taking even more time to turn back and embrace them.
My mom had the last of “our” birthdays ten years ago, and even prior to that, it had been years since we’d celebrated it together. Still, sometimes it feels strange to think of it as just “my” birthday now, especially since she had it first. She used to say that I was the most memorable birthday present she ever got. I’m sure there are times that it was lucky for me that I was non-returnable.
Originally posted on the Los Angeles Moms Blog, 8/31/2009