“What do you want for your birthday, Mama?” My 11-year-old refuses to give up, no matter how many times I try to dodge the question. He warned my husband that he’d better come up with something mind blowing for my 50th. He thinks I’ll be disappointed if I don’t get a spectacular present.
Back in August, some big offers were put on the table. Like, really big. A car. A trip to Europe. I come from a family of ridiculously over-the-top gift giving. My husband comes from the school of “You like those boots? Good. Those are your birthday present”. No wrapping. No fanfare. And yet, despite his lack of training, he is ready and willing to lavish me with something fantastic this year if only I would just pick something. Which kind of makes me feel like a kid in the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Am I dying and nobody has told me?
All throughout September he nags me constantly to think about what I might want. And the more he does so, the more pressured I feel. I test drive my dream car but it isn’t all that. My milestone birthday is now less than two weeks away, squeezed right in between Halloween and the Apocalypse (aka the presidential election). Admittedly, I have been wishy-washy about it. Yes, of course I’d like a present. Who wouldn’t? But by choosing, that eliminates all other possibilities. If I don’t choose wisely I may never get another chance to have something really great. And that’s the problem right there; I’m focused on lack rather than abundance.
“Close your eyes and imagine it’s already November 4th,” he tells me. “Where do you want to be? Who do you want to be with?” I want to throw a party for myself, I think. My friend Holly does it almost every year. Two summers ago she hosted a girls’ get-together at her weekend house and it was epic. Every year when my birthday comes around I think of Holly and secretly wish that I could have that kind of celebration. When I’m hanging out with her, I am reminded of the me I was before I had kids, before I noticed every sharp corner and specious cough. Before my mantra was “no slippery socks on the marble floor!” I kind of miss that Laurie.
In early adulthood I had two favorite birthdays that were basically just get-togethers in clubs, my 21st at Neo in Chicago and my 29th at The Martini Lounge in Hollywood, where the guy who would become my husband and I made out on the dance floor. I decide to do a version of those parties this year. No speeches, no This Is Your Life. Just booze, food, bowling, and good music. I feel much relieved. Except there’s still the nagging problem of that gift.
How simple life would be if we could just go into Bloomingdales and lay down a credit card in exchange for our greatest desires? My second unpublished novel and the business card of a New York literary agent who expressed an interest in reading it (a year ago) lingers in my mind. Now that would be the perfect, everlasting gift. You can’t take it with you, but having your words live on in perpetuity is pretty close. But getting a book published is not a gift someone else can give me. It’s about my own commitment, perseverance, and courage. Why courage? Because telling the truth in any art form is bound to piss a few people off.
In the midst of this revelation I run into a friend who recently solved her son’s problem in math. She got him tested and it turns out he has a slight processing deficiency. Now on tests he gets an extra five seconds per problem and all is good. I decide that is what I need: more time. Time to write, time to take my dog on a really long walk, time to watch both a feature length movie and the most recent SNL in one night. So, husband, all you have to do is go to the time store in the mall and buy me about 5 more years. That should do it. Or maybe 8. That’s a good round number.
I scoop up some tickets a friend is selling to Desert Trip, and take my family to the concert with classic rock legends Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, The Who, and Roger Waters. It is a magical weekend of peace, love and rock music. Like a West Coast modern Woodstock with good bathrooms and fancy food. I still can’t bear to take off the wristband.
My husband and I agree that the concert is at least a partial birthday gift. And, unlike the material possessions that fill my house and two storage units, the happy memories of it don’t take up any room. Just as the good vibes of Desert Trip are fading, the Universe delivers another special present, a different gift of song. My son leads the assembly at his elementary school, a rite of passage for fifth graders. He sings and plays The Eagles’ “Take It Easy” on rhythm guitar, accompanied by his ninth grade brother on lead. I’m amazed at the younger one’s generosity on stage; he is the natural showman but gives props to his brother’s string skills. My heart explodes with joy and gratitude. I got my premier gift. All else is gravy.