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The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything

Happy Birthday to me!  I’m posting this at the end of a very long day, so by the time anyone reads this I’ll be in belated birthday status, but still, yay birthday!

Birthday flowers that Quinn picked out at the grocery store while I was at work today:

I have nice birthdays of the past to reflect upon (coming in 6th at a Rubik’s cube competition on my golden birthday when I turned 14 comes to mind, getting a whole crate of grapefruit from my grandpa once, and parties with long dresses as a little girl when my dad used to conduct an annual poise contest where my friends and I would walk around the house with books on our heads–all good times).  The birthdays when Ian was deployed were the hardest.  But the birthday that taught me the most about perspective was back in college.

Nearly every Sunday during the five years I spent getting my bachelor’s degree at Ohio State, I would enjoy the day with my Grandma in a nearby suburb of Columbus.  She would drive down to the campus and pick me up, and at her home I would do laundry, sometimes practice or study, but most of the time just hang out and play Spite and Malice and enjoy the wonderful dinner she would make.  Grandma used to cook my favorite things and delicious desserts, and even have on hand a bowl of freshly washed grapes or other snack for when I walked in the door.  I was always welcome to bring a friend, and when I met Ian he became a regular guest at Gram’s table on those Sunday afternoons.  Sundays at Gram’s kept me grounded during my college days and they are some of my warmest memories.

One year in Columbus my birthday fell on a Sunday and I was depressed.  I had to work in the morning and it made me grumpy.  I sat behind the art counter at the local campus bookstore getting more irritated than usual at the people who couldn’t seem to read labels on products themselves.  I was bored and feeling unappreciated.  I wanted my birthday to be special.  All we were planning was dinner at Gram’s, but we always ate dinner at Gram’s.  How was that supposed to feel different from any other Sunday?  How was that special?

I remember trudging home through slush after work and feeling sorry for myself.  But as I walked I thought about it, and it hit me:  My regular Sunday was better than the average person’s birthday.  What more could I really ask for?  A home cooked meal made with me in mind, sharing the day with people who love me, fun, maybe a nap, and clean laundry to take home wasn’t enough for me?  The more I thought about it, the more ridiculous I felt that I had spent any time at all feeling anything but grateful.  How obnoxious and stupid.

So I was happy when Grandma picked up Ian and me and I drove us back to her house.  And when I pushed the remote to open the garage door, there was my parents’ car inside.  They had driven down just for the day.  It was my first (and only) ever surprise party!  My mom thought that seemed like a pretty lackluster means of being surprised by spotting their car first, but I assured her there was nothing second rate about it.  I was thrilled.  And then an hour later (because they are usually late to family events) my uncle and his family arrived, and it was like getting round two of a surprise party.

It was a wonderful party and I enjoyed it thoroughly, but I was glad that I had come around to appreciating the day before I realized people had gone to extra trouble.  It’s too easy to become acclimated to good things.  We often think of ourselves as becoming callused to harsh realities, but I think it happens both directions.  When you never go hungry it’s hard to appreciate the miracle of being fed every day.  I have a house, I have a job, I have my husband and kids all together….  Those things are hard to see clearly when you look at them all the time.  We get desensitized to the good as well as the bad, and I try to be mindful of that.

Last night as I was shutting off the lights downstairs to go to bed I hesitated in the kitchen and wondered if I should make myself a cake.  I wound up flipping through a binder of my Grandma’s recipes a came across her rice pudding.  I loved her rice pudding.  It’s complicated to make because it cooks for a long time on the stove, and when it moves to the oven in a casserole dish it rests in a pan of hot water, but it’s full of raisins and nutmeg and it’s delicious.  I stayed up late and made a batch and helped myself to some for breakfast this morning.  I miss my Grandma.

As far as birthdays go, this one was not action packed.  I went to work and rehaired violin bows and straightened bridges and set up a new rental viola.  When I got home Ian had started dinner and he took Aden to her violin lesson while I finished making the food and set the table.  We ate one of those fast meals where we weren’t coordinated enough to have everyone at the table at the same time but that’s okay.  I got to eat with everyone in turns.  I got a couple of nice presents from Ian’s mom, a Valentine made by Quinn presented to me in crumpled paper, and look at these amazing watercolors my mom did of me when I was a baby!

My kids still use that ducky blanket in the first painting, and I own that green lamp now in the second one.  Those were a pretty amazing birthday surprise.  Aden made me a necklace and a beautiful card.  Apparently she also made me a special breakfast a couple of hours after I left for work and was heartbroken that I wasn’t home to eat it.  I told her tonight that I appreciated her thoughtfulness and that one day she would make a great mom.  She looked very proud.

So today wasn’t out of the ordinary.  Not even the gifts, really, because the kids make me things all the time and my mom doesn’t limit her kind presents to special occasions.  Particularly after watching so much shocking footage of the tsunami in Japan over the past couple of days, it’s hard not to treasure the most ordinary of circumstances.  I had a truly average birthday.  I can’t think of anything more special.

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