Saturday, September 18, 2010

When you least expect it: Birthday Wishes

My birthday is coming up, and for many years, it brought with it a sense of excitement. The crisp smell of autumn leaves, one of my grandma's angel food cakes, and birthday surprises. Presents!

I still remember some of the birthday gifts that excited me most: Once, my grandparents sent me a five-dollar bill in my card, which I used to buy a six-pack of soda, because my mother only rarely let me have soda, and certainly never bought it in glorious six-packs. When I was ten, my aunt gave me the soundtrack to Grease. I still have that double-record set in my garage. And so on.

I also remember the things I didn't get - most importantly, a Barbie Dream House - you know the one, with the elevator that you could put Barbie on and then turn a hand crank to take her to the top floor. I didn't have Barbie dolls because my mother thought that Barbie symbolized the kind of materialistic, superficial woman that she didn't want me to be when I grew up*. I wanted one in the worst way, and for the longest time, but I never got it.

As an adult, I tried to compensate for this grave shortcoming by buying my own daughter Barbie dolls, but oddly, as an adult, they seemed a little less enticing and a little more - well, crappy. The Dream House no longer has an elevator and it's made, inevitably, entirely of pink plastic. Emma was decidedly uninterested so instead I overcompensated by buying her American Girl stuff, dignifying each purchase by reminding myself that, after all, they're "educational.*"

There was something else I always wanted, but never really admitted to myself that I did: A birthday card from my father. Or maybe a phone call. I don't think I even allowed my subconscious to hope for as much as a gift - although one year, about 15 years ago, I found a note on my door from UPS that they were attempting to deliver a package that required a signature, and the ZIP code was from the Los Angeles area, his last known place of residence. Every day for a week I raced home from work to try to catch the UPS man, and after a few days of missing him and coming home only to Attempted Delivery Notices, my anxiety reached a fever pitch. I called a friend and cried. And she told me that the package was from her: She had sent me a gourmet chocolate pizza, and there she was apologizing for upsetting me so much with this very expensive and thoughtful gift.

I wish I could tell you it was delicious, but that's not the part I remember.

This year is different. One of the emails my father sent me included a copy of his US Social Security card, issued shortly after my birth, with my full name and birthday written in the margin. I wasn't sure he even knew what my birthday was, but he did, and I asked him for the thing I wanted: Please remember my birthday.

I want a card, from my father, on my birthday.

He has mentioned a couple of times that, having missed 40 birthdays of mine, he has a lot of catching up to do, and at first I got excited about this: I'm getting presents! Maybe I'll get an iPad! or a car in the driveway with a big red bow like in the movies! Or ... or ...

So this week, a box showed up on my doorstep, with a gift inside, neatly wrapped by the nice people at Amazon, with a card. I put it on the table and looked at it. I put it on my desk and looked at it. Emma asked if we could open it; I said No.

A bouquet of flowers arrived a couple of days later from my father, and I put leaned the still-wrapped gift against it, like part of the display.

When you've wished and hoped for something your whole life, and then it actually arrives, the thing itself can easily be a disappointment - like Barbie's dream house, whose elevator (according to my friends who had one) didn't really work and which obviously hasn't improved over time. And since I don't want to be disappointed, I don't want to open the box.

I got the thing I always wanted, and here it is: A box, neatly wrapped, with a card on it that reads "Happy Birthday Jessica." 

*Sorry, Mom.
*They come with books that she doesn't read, because they're boring.

1 comment:

  1. You have no idea how happy your "father" posts make me. And, your friend is 100% correct. I don't know if you remember the Barbie Dream House that Allie had but it was a piece of crap even way back we had to keep it faced to the wall to keep it from attack by the cats and little sisters...I always love the wrapped Christmas presents under the tree so much more than the chaotic aftermath of gifts that may or may not be used. Enjoy your package!


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