Birthdays, Love Them or Hate Them?

Candles spell out the traditional English birt...

Candles spell out the traditional English birthday greeting (Photo credit: Wikipedia) If my cake isn’t vanilla, don’t be surprised by my bitter disappointment.

I think my birthday is pretty special.  So special, in fact, that during my working career there has only been one year that I worked on the day of my birth. Every other year I have indulged in a minimum of my birthday off, though most of the time I extend it into a long weekend. (How, you ask.  A Monday birthday requires the previous Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off as well as the subsequent Tuesday. A Tuesday birthday requires the weekend, Monday and Tuesday off. A Wednesday birthday rolls into a premature weekend starting on that day. Get it? Good.)

On particularly significant years I like to spend my birthday on vacation. One milestone birthday was spent in Key West, last year’s festivities included a trip to Ireland. My birthday is probably the one time of year I indulge myself without guilt. It’s like I’m two years old again and the world revolves around me.  Makes me think of my nephew, Jack, who, on being told he was loved one day, said “Everyone loves Jack,” as if I was stupid for not knowing that fact. That’s how my birthdays feel. Everyone loves me and I can do whatever I want.

But, much as I love to pamper myself, I hate any sort of celebration initiated by others. I’ll tolerate a small family birthday party with a cake (but please make it vanilla) and a few presents (but, trust me, I have myself covered birthday-wise, there’s no need for anyone else to even try). I’ll smile and make nice if someone slips and tells the waiter or waitress it’s a birthday celebration, but don’t expect a tip if I get the birthday song or a lone candle on my desert and the attention of other diners.  It makes me uncomfortable.

If you check my Facebook page,you won’t find my birthday listed. I love the option of wishing my friends a happy day, but not so sure how to respond when I’m the one getting well wishes. Do I thank everyone individually? Post a group thank you to my timeline? Graciously accept like the Queen, but make no mention of the fuss? With so many questions tormenting me, it’s easier to let it slip by unnoticed.  Those of you who know when it is, your use of private messages rather than wall will prevent me from having to decide any of the above questions. Thank you.

I  make no judgement on those of you who like a big fuss on your birthday. I know people who do the slightly embarrassed, yet grateful “you shouldn’t have” when entering a surprise party. I’ve worked with those who are genuinely surprised and pleased when a birthday cake appears at the monthly staff meeting. I’ve watched fellow diners react with delight when the entire restaurant staff appears table-side to sing birthday greetings. None of those people are me.

I think of birthdays the same way I think of births. I prefer a quiet, private affair with attendance limited to those few who are directly affected. Though I admire those people who love the public hoopla of birthdays, I’m not one of them, and at this stage of the game, that isn’t going to change.

Toilet Paper and the Not Quite Empty Nest

English: Toilet paper, orientation "over&...

English: Toilet paper, orientation “over” (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Correct placement of roll.

The Christmas holiday has bestowed the gift of my adult children at home for a week as well as two additional dogs and a cat. Yes, it’s a little chaotic and crazy here.

My mother always says that fish and house guests stink after three days. I’m unsure if it is a cautionary tale meant to keep your house cold or to ensure there’s adequate Febreeze, but so far the stench has been minimal. Other than discovering one of my dogs is allergic to one of my daughter’s dogs and that when everyone in my family is in front of the wood stove for a picture, the wood stove pipe will spontaneously disconnect from the chimney, things have been surprisingly pleasant.

Except for the toilet paper.

English: Toilet paper, orientation "under...

English: Toilet paper, orientation “under” (Photo credit: Wikipedia). So incorrect it hurts me to look at it.

There is a right way to put on the toilet paper roll and a wrong way. You would think these two children that I raised would know this. In our house, the toilet paper roll has always unfurled on the front. Always. Trust me, anytime a visitor or passing toilet user has made the mistake of loading it backwards, I’ve promptly remedied the mistake. My lifelong dedication to this principle is unwavering.

Why then, does my youngest daughter replace the toilet paper backwards? Why would she think that dangling the end of the roll down the back of the holder is acceptable? Has she learned nothing from me all these years?

Of course my mother always told me to never go outside with wet hair or I’d catch a cold, and I do that all the time.  She also cautioned me against putting ice in red wine, but damn it, I like my red wine chilled.  My grandmother told me never to put hot meat on a cold plate or it would be shocked into toughness. I ignore that on a regular basis, too. But all of their recommendations were based on superstition, and the correct way to hang toilet paper is based on common sense and science.

Isn’t it?

And, not only that, but I forgive my children for so many other things. I don’t mind when they don’t squeegee the shower walls after bathing. I clean the hairbrushes without complaint (though wonder which one of them left gray hairs in there). I cringe inside, but shut my mouth, about the half filled beverage glasses left on side tables and the carelessly kicked-off shoes that create a mine field near the front door. I forgive so much, but, toilet paper? I suspect even Jesus would have a problem with that.

In case you’re curious, let me assure you, as a hostess, I am top notch. Their favorite meals (three bean chili, my special turkey stuffing, bread bowls) are consumed with satisfaction. The house is kept tidy and clean, in spite of four dogs and a cat. My television remains tuned to shows I would never watch (Jersey Shore, My Big Fat Gypsy American Wedding, and Catfish to name a few). I provide adequate outlets for their myriad electronic appliances. My car? Please, take it. It’s clean, maintained, and full of gas. All that I provide seems sufficient to ensure a guest would have no problem complying with my one, small request to put the damn toilet paper in the holder correctly!

Let me take one deep breath to center myself.

Okay. In their defense, they have shoveled snow, washed clothes, rinsed dishes, and even fed my allergic dog the 18 pills he must now take daily. The fact that one daughter, in an attempt to entice my dog to chew his fish oil gel cap, bit into the capsule herself and ended up with a face full of fish oil is a Christmas memory I’ll savor. Their thoughtful Christmas gifts (including an Ipod adapter for my car and a hot spot for the houseboat) illustrated how well they know me and my needs. Waking up to them shuffling around the house like zombies as they prepare their morning cups of coffee brings back memories of college breaks and the remembered happiness of having them here, tempered with the relief of knowing they would leave.

And, even though fish and house guests may stink after three days, the emptiness of my children’s leaving will last for many more. For a week, we dance around trying to get this new relationship right. We bicker, and pick at each other, and roll our eyes. We form and reform alliances over movies and music. We hide our resentment and disappointment. Then we hug it out and whisper i love you’s and i miss you’s and i wish you didn’t have to leave so soon. But, that’s what happens when children grow up.

Someday they’ll have families of their own. They’ll create their own holiday traditions and, I hope, I’ll have a place in them. Each holiday reminds me that this will always be their childhood home, but it isn’t the place they call home.  It reminds me that my time for making their rules has ended and now they make their own, and if that includes putting the toilet paper in backwards, there’s nothing I can do about it because I can’t turn back time. I can only turn around the toilet paper.

Empty Nests

Empty Nests (Photo credit: Sterlic)