I don’t know if it’s just me, but at the grand age that I’ve reached, birthdays have become more about the cards which are missing than the cards I receive.
I’ve tried to be cheerful about it. Tell myself that it’s just a day like any other, there’s no significance to it. That if I keep smiling, it’ll be all right and I’ll manage. I have videos of me crying over breakfast-time card-opening, though today I made it through to lunchtime before the cracks began to show. Two glasses of wine at the regulation ‘tea out’ haven’t helped, nor did my Down Syndrome sister singing Happy Birthday, Mum-like, over the phone. The double rainbow as we pulled onto the driveway was the final nail in the coffin, bringing to mind Eva Cassidy’s cover of an old Judy Garland song, playing as we watched the curtains close at Mum’s funeral.
It’s hard to feel special as one of 8 children. Somehow, though, on my birthday, something Mum did managed to do just that. I have absolutely no idea what it was, can’t recall her doing anything particular to make birthdays exciting. No parties, trips to theme parks, piles of expensive presents – nothing I can put a finger on at all. But damaged and ego-centric as she was, she believed that birthdays are magical, and within the means that she had – or, often, stretching out beyond them – she tried to make them so – both for me as a child and for the adult I became, always at war with her mother.
Only I didn’t recognise it at the time. Instead, it annoyed me. I spoilt her pleasure in buying me things by complaining about the fact that she had. ‘You really can’t afford this!’ I’d say, or I’d dismiss her gift as ‘not really me’, sure she wanted to mould me into the daughter she wished she’d had rather than the person that I was. Was a bit of an ungrateful bitch, truth be told.
I can’t tell you how many of the things I tutted over I’ve since come to love. Perhaps she knew me better than I gave credit for. Or else the glasses I’m wearing now have a particularly rosy tint. Who knows.
Whatever the truth of the matter, the fact that she’s not here to annoy me with sing-song phone calls, books I’m too busy to read and birthday cards sent over at great expense by taxi makes me sad. Nothing can stop it happening, at some point in the day. My family do all they can to pre-empt the sadness. Lovely though they are, it’s something of a lost battle. The lack of rationality to it make the rules impossible to follow, and nothing is going to eradicate the inevitable feeling of loss. The person who set up my expectation of what a birthday should be is gone and the earlier in the day I acknowledge that, the sooner I will get over it and the better it will be for all of us.
|‘Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high…’|