My Birthday

A Typical Purdyville Birthday

We’re pretty big on birthdays here in Purdyville. My birthday was April 13th, and since it was a typical Purdyville birthday I thought I’d tell you about it, even though it’s been more than a month. Our staircase to the second floor is enclosed with a door at the bottom of it. The night before a birthday, someone makes a birthday sign that is taped to the inside of this door and signed by the rest of the family. In this way, the birthday person receives his birthday card from the family as he or she comes down for breakfast. Being Mom, I found three “cards” taped on the door for me. One was from Owen, aged four, who had laboriously copied
in his childish scrawl, and added half a dozen balloons, all in monochrome brown marker. On a piece of pink paper, Justin had written
in pencil, and had drawn a border of flowers around the whole piece of paper in purple marker. (I know they are flowers because some helpful soul made a notation to that effect, which was very useful when it was time to express my appreciation to Justin.) Finally, Titi used a calligraphy marker to inscribe the following sentiment on the back of a white piece of scrap paper:
May this birthday, and every
one after, be sunny enough
to garden…
(For those of you familiar with calligraphy, she used a Gothic font, similar to the masthead of The NY Times). Attached to this paper was a daffodil made out of crepe paper that she designed herself. As you can imagine, this was a pretty nice way to start my birthday.

Treasure Hunt

On the kitchen table was an envelope that at first glance looked like mail I had missed the day before, but was actually the first clue to a treasure hunt created for me by Arlie. (Now although homemade gifts are definitely a part of a traditional Purdyville birthday celebration, treasure hunts are not. But Cadie had asked for one for her birthday, and I liked hers so much I had dropped broad hints about getting one myself.) The introductory paper explained, “To honor your role/ As this family’s caretaker/ We bring you 12 clues/ For a riddlesome caper.” Below this was a stylized compass with the words “Compasses are hard to use, and this ones no exception; it points to places, and not direction.” circling around the inside edge. In the center of the compass was a smaller circle. There were blue triangles on this circle at all the compass points (north, south, east, west), except the one for north was green. The word “chef” was immediately below this green triangle. My first clue was printed in the middle of this circle: “Food is usually hot/ But sometimes not.” I correctly deduced that the next clue would be on the north side of the house—the laundry room, as it turned out. Our chest freezer was the only place where food was kept, and “not hot,” at that, and there I found the next clue.

I won’t tell you all the clues, but the most difficult one was probably “Tweezers and needles/ Won’t cut the cake/ Icepacks and bandaids/ No difference will make/ The cure is cheap/ Still, I sure do hope ya/ Know how to treat/ The dreaded EMMETROPIA. The very first thing I did was go to our unabridged dictionary and look up emmetropia, which basically means “normal vision.” According to the compass, the clue was located in the living room. Hmmm… what in the living room had to do with normal vision? I finally had to concede that I was stumped. Arlan told me that he never anticipated that I would look up the word before I got to the living room. After that it was easy. Where would I look up emmetropia in the living room? Why, in the Merck Manual, of course. Emmetropia, page 1979. Yup, there was the next clue. All the clues had a compass point highlighted and were at least loosely based on one of my roles as mother; all, that is, except the last clue. This one was based on my role as navigator, but all the compass points were highlighted. The clue read, “This one’s just for you;/ You get to choose./ Where will you go?/ What will you do?/ Use a map/ To get a clue.” My prize, which was an 8×10 photo of the family, was in the glove compartment of our minivan. The treasure hunt took me most of the morning.

Other Birthday Traditions

Another firmly established birthday tradition is no home schooling, no chores, and unlimited computer time. Various family members volunteer to do the birthday person’s chores. The children are usually limited to three hours of computer game time per week, so this is their chance to indulge. I was happy to participate in this tradition, though I actually didn’t spend much time on the computer that day, because my parents and my grandmother stopped for a visit on their way to visit my sisters further north. Another birthday tradition for the younger children is balloons. Balloons make me very nervous; they strike me as time bombs of noise that could go off at any minute, and I am perpetually tensed up expecting the worst when children are playing with them. My older children are well aware of this quirk, and persuaded the younger ones that it was a greater gift to me to not have balloons.

What would a birthday be without presents? Some presents are wrapped the day before, but most are wrapped and put out on display throughout the birthday, sometimes even minutes before they’re opened—and they are opened after dinner and dessert. A few presents are always wrapped in some kind of plain paper so that the younger children can “decorate” them with crayons, markers, and the like. Titi takes great pride in wrapping gifts beautifully; Arlan takes pains to make sure you can’t figure out what’s inside. Most of us are happy to get some sort of paper around the outside with a minimum of aggravation and wasted tape.

But I am getting ahead of myself, because before the presents we have the birthday meal. The birthday person gets to pick out their dinner and dessert, and while I can’t say we spare no expense, certain dishes are allowed that normally would not be because of the expense. For my birthday dinner I chose Chicken in Wine Cream Sauce, long grain and wild rice, and Antipasto Bowl, and for dessert, Dark Chocolate Souffle Cake–with ice cream, of course. I guess you could call it “healthy gourmet,” as the chicken, the salad, and the cake were all recipes out of Cooking Light magazine. Titi cooked this delicious meal.

Now, on to the presents…

A few days before my birthday, Owen said to me, “Mom! I’m making two flowers for your birthday!” “Oh, don’t tell me!” I said. “I want it to be a surprise.” “Okay. I’m making two secrets for your birthday!” And sure enough, when I opened up the scrap paper and tape conglomeration, there was a small cut-out piece of pink paper with two flowers drawn in brown marker.

Evan gave me two presents, both of which are long-standing birthday traditions. Bookmarks, ranging from scribbled pieces of cardboard to cross-stitched Bible verses, are a mainstay of gift-givers strapped for cash. The bookmark Evan gave me was covered with cloth, which Evan had stitched closed himself under Titi’s tutelage. Certificates are another favored gift from the giver with more time than money. The certificate usually provides labor and is geared towards the recipient’s needs or desires. As the quality of our publishing software has improved, the design of the certificates has gotten ever more sophisticated, or at least, complicated. Evan gave me five certificates for watching Caleb for half an hour. Each one had a pair of binoculars and a photograph of Caleb. Another five certificates were for freezing one grocery day’s worth of chicken. This one requires a little explanation. We buy our chicken in large economy packs. The chicken breasts are quite large, so each is cut in half and skinned before freezing. Leg quarters are split between the drumstick and thigh and also skinned. This job usually falls to me, but sometimes it seems hard to find the time to do it. These certificates have a picture of a chicken, knife and fork in wing, chasing a rather worried looking boy.

Collin and Cadie both painted me pictures. Collin’s was a watercolor of a forest by a lake. Cadie used acrylics. One of her paintings was of daffodils; the other was a mountain scene. It is pretty hard to paint a picture around Purdyville without Mom seeing. I understand a card table was set up in the basement for all artistic endeavors. Cadie also gave me some certificates for help with garden work and babysitting Caleb. She also continued another long-standing birthday tradition: the unfinished present. I was given a certificate for decorated flowerpots. Somehow, the flowerpots hadn’t yet been purchased, although Evan, Justin, and Owen all put up money for them. There was some confusion as to what kind of pots Mom liked and where they could be obtained, compounded by the fact that the idea was cooked up at the last minute.
Arlan, Titi, Justin and Owen all worked on my garden pants. This started out as a pair of my comfortable jeans that had holes in the knees. Justin and Owen decorated patches for these pants, using fabric paints with Titi’s supervision. Titi sewed the patches on in such a way that they could hold foam inserts. Arlan purchased a set of kneepads specifically designed to be inserted into knee-pockets. Now, when I kneel to weed—instant kneepads! Oh, and this was another unfinished gift. Titi finally had the patches sewn on by Mother’s Day.

Probably my favorite present was a set of magnets Titi made for me. Using magnetic sheets made for inkjet printers, she scanned in photos of each child at toddler age and made each into a magnet. She also scanned in each child’s name in an appropriate font. So there are eleven photos and eleven names on the refrigerator, and guests are challenged to match the correct name to each baby picture. I have no difficulty matching them up, but I like to see all those little smiling faces on the fridge!

Rundy is busy finishing a do-it-yourself magazine rack that never got done by the original do-it-yourselfer.
Teman’s certificates used to be eagerly looked for amongst the presents. His standard gift was six all-chores-for-a-day certificates, although in my case it was giving the little kids baths. However, Teman has started working full-time and seems to have more money than time these days. His certificate to me basically forgave a debt I owed him. Our collective seed order was charged to his credit card, so he was paying for my seeds and asparagus plants. Apparently, he had first tried to order me a garden tool from my favorite company (Lee Valley ), but they were out of stock. True to his own tradition, Teman didn’t make his own certificate—he had Titi do it.

My dear husband gave me two shrubs that were on my must-have list. I won’t bore you with the names, but they were ones that cost more than their size would lead you to expect. When it comes to gardening, I have champagne tastes and a beer budget.

One tradition that may not be obvious to you is that of the two sisters helping their brothers with presents. This, of course, is more necessary with the younger boys than the older ones, but they all seem to need assistance from the girls at times. Consequently the girls’ contribution to any birthday is always more than it seems. Every birthday is a mini-holiday with the special meal, the release from home schooling, and the unlimited computer time. (Even though the unlimited computer time is for the birthday person, the others often get to play against him on a second computer, or at the very least have fun looking over his shoulder as he plays.) Oh, yes, and those balloons. Just think, we have thirteen extra holidays every year!