I do love my birthday, I love celebrating all month as my friends take me out for a dinner, or a picnic and a hike, or a nice chat. Things have changed a bit, though, because my birthday is no longer just about me. My first granddaughter, Sadie, was born the day after my birthday, on the 3rdof July. So far, we’ve always been together for our birthdays, except the first one when I met her a couple of days after she came into the world.
Flying over the fireworks in Philadelphia on the fourth of July, I felt the excitement of coming home, not a family home where I grew up, but to my aunt and uncle’s mansion, where I’d actually have the run of the place for a few days (I could write in an empty room on the third floor, I could play their grand piano) before heading up to New York City to help out with the baby. I was, of course, thrilled about Sadie, and as always, to spend a little time with my son, Gabe, and his dear wife, Holly. That she’d taken the subway to work on a Friday, returned home and gone into labor that night so as not to miss an extra day of work, was rather unthinkable. Strong and determined, perhaps having a say in the fact that Sadie would have her own birthday, rather than having to share mine.
As I was riding in the hired car, trying to recognize places in the dark to tell the driver, this turn, no that one, I got a call from Gabe.
“Mom,” he said, “come right away.”
“But don’t you want a little bonding time first, like you said? Won’t I be intruding on that?”
“No. We need you now.” In the background I could hear Sadie trying out her new lungs.
Nothing was wrong with the baby, Holly was a good as could be expected, it was just that they didn’t know what to do with an infant in the 103 degree New York heat in their third floor walk-up with a barely functioning air conditioner. Nor did I, really. But I was an extra pair of hands, and another person who loved them above all else. So I rounding up a train ticket the next morning and went up to Manhattan.
Now we sometimes celebrate the birthdays with Sadie’s young cousin, Henry, who shares a his special day with the country. Three days of parties, lots of kids, swimming pool, presents, dinners, family, friends, and all that. Wonderful, exhausting, hilarious.
I do love July, but no, I would choose May.
By May, taxes are a fading memory, winter likely banished for another year, summer, just around the corner. It all stretches before us, delightful anticipation of the warm season. Trees are leafing out, the mornings are early, the evenings long. The temperature perfect.
May Day, birthdays and remembrances, celebrations in the northern climes. My ancestors likely danced around the maypole up in Finland and Denmark. Danced with joy because the ice was finally thawing. When I was a child and my father was alive, his birthday often fell on Mother’s day. Then we’d go to San Francisco and I’d eat those pats of butter served on chips of ice in the white-table cloth restaurants on Fisherman’s Wharf. My mother might get a special present, a surprise I was in on. At the end of the day, I would sleep in the Station Wagon’s back seat on the way home.
These are lots of reasons, but perhaps May seems the best of all possible months because of Gabe’s birthday. His due date was my father’s birthday, but he came near the beginning, not the middle of the month. I remember those last couple of days before he was born. We’d been up to mountains, and perhaps that little walk started the labor. The lilacs were still out when we finally ventured downstairs and I was newly in love with a baby.
This year we’ll go to California for Gemma, my second granddaughter, whose birthday falls two weeks after Gabe’s. I was there for that birth too, caring for the almost three year old, Sadie. Holly was pushing her on the swing right up to the end, hoping to bring it on. A brave one, that Holly.
By then, the lilacs will have faded here. Their glory is so fragile, so temporary, so illusive. What continues? What root, what essence after the bloom is over? That is the lesson of the lilacs. They seduce us with their brilliance, then go quietly dormant, only to return for a few sweet days the next year.
A trip to California means coming home for me. My birthplace, my original homeland, though no longer my home. I smell the ocean, see the palm trees, and the feeling washes over me: comfort, childhood, safety in the back seat of the family car with my parents laughing in the front.
Warm days, cool nights. The beach, shopping, spotting the beautiful people, and their creative clothes. Maybe I’ll get to eat some oysters, have some fresh lemons from the tree. A little girl sitting on my lap while we read a story. Another one performing her song, a long walk with Gabe, a fancy meal out, a long car drive, a museum, a quiet moment with my computer. Dance classes for the girls, a gift for Gabe, one for Holly if she’ll let me. Shoes, always shoes need to be bought.
I used to be that little girl sitting on someone’s lap reading a book, unaware of my future. Now I’m the grandma with the little one sitting on me.
And the lilacs bloom on.