The Birthday Girl

I entered my mid-forties yesterday on a cold, drizzly Tuesday. It was Beth’s day to co-op at June’s school, which is my very favorite kind of weekday. I’m on my own from the time Noah’s bus comes at 8:20 until around noon when Beth and June return, and then Beth usually works from home in the afternoon. There was work I could have done, but it was my birthday so I decided to read instead. A couple years ago I asked Beth to look for a social history of the beach for some gift-giving occasion and she bought me The Beach: A History of Paradise on Earth ( It looked really interesting and I never read it. While it’s definitely popular history and not an academic tome, it’s still a bit denser than what I usually read these days (causing me to fret about what has happened to my mind in my five years as a stay-at-home mom). But more importantly, the chapters are discouragingly long. I can read the longest books—twelve hundred page novels don’t faze me—but only if the chapters are short. I like to feel confident I’m going be able to finish a chapter before I’m willing to start one. So anyway, with the end of June’s school year rapidly approaching, I thought I should seize the day and the book. I started reading on the porch, decided it was too cold and moved to the bed, decided I should really be getting some exercise if I was going to read inside and moved to the exercise bike. I spent over two hours reading and went from less than a quarter of the way through the book to almost halfway done. The book is full of interesting tidbits (I liked learning more about Victorian bathing machines— but spending over two hours reading about the beach did cause me to wonder why it was again I was not there right then.

After lunch and June’s nap, we all headed over to Noah’s school for our meeting with Señor S because a parent-teacher meeting is what every middle-aged mom wants to do on her birthday. No, really we did it because Beth was home for the afternoon and it was convenient. It was a challenging meeting because time was short and what Señor S wanted to talk about was not exactly what we wanted to talk about, but we did learn some valuable things. First, that he’s not as strict about the papers on the desk as Noah thought he was. He said he only discards student work if he finds it on the floor with no name and then he said Noah’s been better about turning in his papers this week. Of course, Noah has his focused days and his unfocused days—like everyone, but more so—so I wasn’t sure a few days of remembering meant much. Anyway, he didn’t seem as concerned as we thought he would be, so we were able to tell Noah later it was important to keep trying to remember to turn in his work, but not to be anxious about it if he didn’t. I suggested taping a checklist to Noah’s desk to remind him of what he needed to do, but Señor S seemed to think it would make Noah feel singled out, so I don’t know if he’ll do it. When we turned the conversation to the aggressive behavior we found out he did mean Noah bumping into people and stepping on their feet. I tried to explain he probably didn’t mean to do it, but I’m not sure Señor S believed me. I’m not sure I’d believe myself in his shoes—I thought I sounded like one of those parents who think their kids can do no wrong. But we did suggest that pointing his behavior out to him, “You are leaning on So-and-So,” or “You have stepped on So-and-So’s feet,” and asking him to apologize might help make him more aware of his impact on others and help him become more considerate of their feelings. Señor S agreed to try it.

What Señor S mostly wanted to talk about is how brilliant Noah is. I think he used that word at least three times. We learned Noah actually figured out the formula for the area of a right triangle all by himself last week, which Noah failed to mention when he was telling us about it, and that now he’s eager to learn how to calculate the area of a cylinder. Now any parent would like to bask in these kinds of anecdotes, and I will admit they were nice to hear, but knowing our son, we know that being smart won’t necessarily help him to act in socially acceptable ways and remember to turn in his schoolwork. I think I was more satisfied with the meeting than Beth was, but in any event we did get some take-home messages for Noah on both issues and I felt that was important.

We got home and I opened my presents—a gift card to Border’s, a t-shirt and a book, a new backpack and metal water bottle, a promise to get my Birkenstocks resoled, candy and a framed picture of June frowning (she selected the photo herself). My sister’s presents came in a box addressed to The Birthday Girl, which I found amusing because her business —Word Girl—has the same name as the PBS cartoon ( and The Birthday Girl is a character on the show, but I don’t think Sara actually knows this. Or I hope not, because the Birthday Girl is one of the villains. She insists every day is her birthday and expects to get her way all the time because of this. When she’s crossed, she turns green and grows as big as a house and starts trashing things. In one of my favorite Birthday Girl episodes she is upset about having to share her so-called birthday with the Earth on Earth Day and starts uprooting trees. Sometimes when the children are being too insistent on getting their own way or refusing to share, I tell them not to be like The Birthday Girl. Here’s a clip from the show if you want to see her in action. It’s five minutes long, but the first scene, the one in the park, is all you really need to watch–

After presents, I got Noah started on his homework. My aunt Peggy, my mother’s youngest sister, had a conference in D.C. and we were meeting her for dinner at America ( in Union Station. This meant leaving the house at 5:00 and it was 3:20. Noah managed to read the last three chapters of The Westing Game, play “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring” on the recorder five times and do three long division problems in an hour and five minutes. I was impressed and relieved he was so quick. There would have been more math, he said, but the copier was broken. Normally, I feel for the teachers who have been struggling with this balky copier for years, but for once I thought it was just as well. Noah was able to have a little downtime—he watched Word Girl—and we left.

I don’t know if it was because we skipped the kids’ normal outside playtime so Noah could finish his homework early or what, but both kids were really badly behaved just before we left. They were fighting over a toy and when we hustled them into the car they were both sobbing. I wondered how long they would keep it up but the answer was not long. We passed a graveyard on the drive over and June wanted to know what it was, which led Beth and Noah into a long conversation about burial versus cremation. I almost put in that Grandpa Steve was cremated, but then I decided against it, not sure I wanted to deal with the inevitable follow up questions.

At the restaurant, the kids were both a bit antsy and needed to be taken away from the table for walks twice, but we had time to eat—I got baked macaroni and cheese with some steamed vegetables to dip in the sauce—and time to chat with my aunt and for her to update us on her daughter Emily, son Blake and grandson Josiah. She said June and Josiah could be siblings, they looked so much alike. We hadn’t seen Peggy in a couple of years so it was nice to catch up.

At home we had cake and ice cream and put the kids to bed. When we went to bed, Beth asked me if I had a good birthday. I said yes, but I was also a little sad because I’d moved on, gotten a year older, and my Dad never will. I thought about this on the kids’ birthdays, too, but their excitement about turning four and nine pretty much swept me along and overrode any melancholy. I guess forty-three is not as thrilling.

So, I’m still sad today, but I’m not planning to rage against the universe, demand special treatment or uproot any trees. Yesterday I had some time to myself, a good book, a good meal, time with family including a visit with a member of my far-flung extended family. Life goes on; we all get older. That’s how it should be. It’s better than the alternative anyway.