Whew. Yesterday was page out of The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Birthday! We celebrated my mother’s 65 brave and generous years on this earth—an event well worth a little morning-after syndrome. This, of course, makes it sounds like we went on an alcoholic bender, but au contraire—we were able to overdo it solely on birthday tartlets, Thai food, and jigsaw puzzles. We are very talented this way.
A few months ago, I saw a cardboard crown at a local stationary store. It was very exciting—with lots of color and sparkles and the words “Birthday Queen” stamped on it. I loved the idea so much that I decided to make one similar to it out of leftover cardboard and to decorate it with magazine clippings and colorful paper scraps I have saved over time. The result was quite loud, but also, I think, rather spectacular. My idea was that it could be passed among my family and friends to be worn on each of our respective birthdays.
I presented the crown to my mother yesterday morning, and I was impressed when she decided to wear it on our walk . . . but I was also pestered by a niggling sense of uneasiness as we paraded around the neighborhood. I couldn’t help but ponder that most horrible (and un-audacious) of thoughts, “What might the neighbors think?” I didn’t want my mother to be embarrassed, for anyone to make fun of her or snicker, especially since I was the one who had started the whole thing! I wondered too whether I would have the nerve to wear it on my birthday a month from now.
Given the fact that it was before 7 a.m., the only person we saw on our early exercise was the lovely, aging, Asian woman who stepped out of her east-facing front door and greeted the morning by reaching her arms above her head and swinging them in a circle around her body a few times. She did not see us as we watched her perform what looked to be a daily practice, and I wondered how she felt when she finally noticed us and realized that she had had an audience during the execution of her private rites. Did she feel self-conscience? Or was she so comfortable in her own skin that she didn’t care? Or did our friendly good mornings and the fact that my mother was wearing a lurid, paper crown mitigate any notions of sheepishness?
I fervently hope she felt no discomfort because her actions, which, in her mind, could so easily have mutated into a cause for embarrassment, were such a gift to me. As I witnessed her expanding her lungs, inhaling the dawn, as I beheld her face directed gratefully toward the sun, her arms opening to embrace the world, I felt my own self expand, my own sense of gratitude enlarged by her communion with the sunrise. How much would both of us have lost had she seen us as she stepped out of her house and had, as a result, demurred? What a shame that would have been—certainly for me, but also, I think, for her and for my mother. I like to think of that beautiful woman doing it again this morning—and every morning. The idea makes me smile, lends me that sensation of openness and appreciation once again.
And I like to imagine that my mother’s wearing of her birthday crown made the other woman smile too. Maybe she thought of it again today as she opened her front door. Maybe, in that moment, she was thankful for my mother and for the color she has brought to the world.