My Nanny (Grandma) never forgot a birthday. Like … ever.
She had a very low tech kind of way to it as well, which was maddening and efficient. She bought a calendar (one of those virtually mythical paper sort that you have to search a little to find now – unless you are at Business Depot). She very neatly wrote in the name and the year of the birthday on the calendar and she would hang the calendar in her kitchen. When one year would come to a close, she would buy another calendar and transfer the data over in very neat, blue ink.
The birthday card from Nan always arrived on time too. It wasn’t until the very later years that sometimes they’d arrive on the day, or maybe a day or two behind. By the time that started happening she was well into her seventies and I thought “Damn it! Why can’t I have my shit together like Nan?” It was one of many very ladylike things I loved and respected about her. And she always smelled like Red Door perfume, had perfect hair, dress pants and a fancy blouse and cute earrings on. She was a class act unlike my own mom who (despite the ability to be nice and likable about 15-20% of the time) thought that sweat pants and profane sayings on t-shirts were “the shit”. But when we drove to Toronto to see my Nan, we had to dress up to go to Swiss Chalet. One did not go out with Nan (even to a family style chicken restaurant) looking like grubby, unkempt folks. It was one of the few times I ever saw my own Mother “try” to be pretty and I often felt it was out of comparison to her very svelte and beautiful twin, Patricia.
Comparisons between siblings suck. And it’s not right to expect two sisters to have the same strengths or appearance. Or personality. Nor should they… right? People always wanted my sister to be traditional and responsible like me, linear in her decision making instead of her “fuck you I’ll live my life the way I want to” attitude which I secretly admired greatly (and later emulated when parents no longer cared whether I lived or died). They made me a perfectionist. I wanted to be the free spirit that my sister was, and she got thumped for not being a tight-ass perfectionist who got A+’s in English while I got thumped for not being as thin, or confident as she was.
I got thumped for having the anxiety and emotionality of a frustrated perfectionist and my need to control the uncontrollable. She got thumped for being unwilling to shoulder burdens that were not hers to shoulder. And I loved her for her ability to shrug off that unfair obligation. It took me 41 years to get to that stage; she learns faster.
My reminder to always treat my step-son’s by edifying their individualism. The responsible and sensitive Lucas with the high spirited and wild Logan remind me of the contradiction in personality between Kim and I. Neither personality type is better than the other… they are both unique and wonderful with independent strengths. Childhood memories (good and bad) serve a purpose… they help you remember how it felt and help me to adjust when I forget. Or when I feel compelled to wish both kids were the same and forget to revel in the creative beauty of their unique personalities.
I’m still learning this Step-Mom stuff… and so far this year I have learned that the independent Logan needs even more of my reassurance. He just pretends that acknowledgment means less to him… because he hides his vulnerability with a witty intelligence. His behavior has been very challenging since his health crises began and both households are working on “straightening him out” with the help of his teacher. Our boys are smart. One simply craves structure and the other is fine creating his own (and objects to rules that aren’t his). I was like Lucas so I get him. I became more like Logan as an adult, and I get him too. And my goal is to make them feel loved for who they are, not who others expect them to be, while challenging them to become their own personal best.
And I pray every night to remember the things that hurt the most from my childhood so that I never make them feel the way I did. So far I think, so good.
We went out for my niece Kaitlin’s birthday last night. She is a Leap Year baby so technically, she is only two. She is something like the daughter I tried to be at her age (but far more girly). Helpful, caring, generous, artistic and nurturing, she is often the one watching out for her siblings and younger second cousins. I remember being the older cousin/sister and the responsibility I felt. She is an intelligent, beautiful and wonderful girl.
I dressed up. I had jeans on but my hair and make-up were done. I had some cool little earrings I put in as I was heading out the door and a new black leather jacket, with matching knee high black leather boots. I did an eye-booger check in the truck and saw “polished” and thought briefly of my Nanny. My house is clean, my laundry is done and put away. She would have objected to the pets running everywhere (I like little legs following me whether human or fur-ball). My lipstick was stained and semi-permanent (you know the stuff you need a belt-sander to take off … I hate reapplying or leaving lipstick on a wine glass).
And while as a kid and tomboy I never felt ‘pretty’ enough to be in Nanny’s family I looked up at the sky and smiled.
“I ended up far more put together and girly than you probably imagined possible Nan. But I never remember birthday’s. I’ll work on that this week.”
Immediate friends and family are going to get an address confirmation, age and household birthday request this week from me as I update a calendar in Google (I don’t really do paper that often anymore). I will then enter the information into a spreadsheet in Google Drive so that … device #fail will not obliterate my list (as it did last year). God bless the cloud. Then I will enter these dates into my personal calendar and set reminders two weeks before … to get, sign and send a thoughtful card.
She didn’t have a lot of money but sometimes the card would come with a $10 or $20 bill (something that probably wouldn’t work these days with mail and gift card theft). But perhaps a short little letter or poem to the person, letting them know that no matter what the distance, they mean something to me. Enough to be remembered and loved-on with a simple card.
I think in this fast paced world … that means something. Time. Our relationship means enough to me that I want YOU to feel remembered on your birthday because you matter and pondered on the gift that is my relationship with you in this life.
And this was the first year since 2007 that I did not write a birthday post to my sister… on my blog on January 19th. But it is the only birthday (with the exception of my own) that I never forget. I have this feeling that I could be 99 in a nursing home and still remember January 19th. It’s not so strange if you knew my heart…
We are the people we want to be, not ever just what we were or have been. And what matters is the “now” not just for your own personal happiness… for sharing that to the people who are part of your soul while you are still lucky enough to be able to make them smile with something as small as a card.
Or telling them that you love them… and really, really miss them and think about them every day.