I was born in Autumn in North America, September 25, 1856.
Oh, wait… no. That was my great-great-grandfather’s birthday, as witnessed by this baby announcement card to my mom from her Gram Shorts. Let’s just say I was born sometime in the 1970’s. 😉
Before I get on with today’s post, I would like to take a moment to note that I was apparently a brilliant and physically exemplary child (as I’m sure my brother and sister will attest ;-). I was a good little narcissist this morning and looked at old photos and making myself boo-hoo and pout and miss my mom, because how can you have a birthday and not want to celebrate the person who gave birth to you? And I miss my family, who are the only ones to still call me “Marla Jane” and rhyme it with “pain…in the neck”.
Especially when, browsing through the scanned pages of my baby book, I find all these amazing accolades from her. Apparently (and really, I don’t know what happened…or maybe I do) I was quite ahead of schedule as a baby:
And, I was a writer from a very young age, and also, apparently, a traveler. I don’t know about that musical pitch part. It depends on who you ask. If you ask Mr. Cribbs, our Junior High Musical Band Director, I really flubbed my dubb on a French Horn solo at regionals (although I suppose that was more to performance anxiety than pitch.)
It was strange this morning to wake up having a birthday in a different season; my first birthday in South Africa. I excitedly checked my Facebook page. No matter how far from home, I always know that crazy Facebook world will be there to greet me.
Facebook was silent. No birthday wishes except the one early birthday wish I received from a friend yesterday. Then I remembered it was not yet my birthday in the states, and my South African friends were not yet awake (I’m up before 5 with Kurt).
I didn’t know how to get my bearings: both my hours and my seasons are off.
Depending on who you ask, it’s now Spring here, or it’s Summer.
Yeah, yeah, you can point to the equinox and say, “but..but..but…” BUT even those definitions have been changing, so instead of thinking “vernal equinox” or “autumnal equinox”, “summer solstice” or “winter solstice”, we are to think in terms of “ascending and descending equinox”, and “northern and southern solstice”. I actually think it makes a lot of sense, but I’ll probably always call them as I learned them first.
But the astronomical (yes, “astronomical” because let’s leave “astrological” completely out of this) terminology isn’t really relevant to casual conversations in South Africa. It reminds me of the way seasons are discussed in North Dakota, where all the residents say there are only two seasons: “winter, and preparing for winter.”
In South Africa, many of the residents I’ve met explain that they consider their seasons as a few months of winter, a couple weeks (some even exaggerate to “days”) each for spring and autumn, and a long, lonnnnnng summer.
That’s relativity, and I like it.
As for my birthday, I used to think of it like the mixmatched crayons in a handmade box my dad made; every year the world I knew turned to burnt sienna, goldenrod, burnt orange and mahogany. It was time to look for pumpkins and plan our Halloween costumes. In school I was immersed in swimming and running, and when I hit the dirt roads near Marion Center I would lose myself in the sound of only my crunching feet, the smell of leaves and earth, and well, also manure.
Instead I am looking at the first roses blooming on our bushes, and inhaling the heady scent and irony of our Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow plant wafting in through our windows. Instead of running, I strength train and do my best on the elliptical, and consider whether or not to have arthroscopic surgery, knowing this bone-on-bone arthritis and this put-away-wet body will never run again the way I once did, anyway.
It was hard to watch Kurt leave for work today. I wrapped my arms around him tightly when his alarm went off. I followed him like a puppy as he got ready for work. I followed him to the gate and even clung to that when it was closed. I was afraid to be alone on my birthday. I never know if it’s going to be a day that I can’t let go of the past, or a day I’ll embrace the future.
I could have asked him to take the day off and he would have, but every day he gets off work is precious, priceless even, and I want each one to take him someplace new and different. There will be plenty of time to celebrate a birthday on a weekend.
He placed something on the table before he left, and told me I couldn’t look at it until after he was gone. It was an easy wait, since all I wanted to do until he left was just hold onto him. When his carpool picked him up, I walked back in the house, past the table. I looked at the piece of paper covering whatever was underneath. It was lumpy and no larger than the paper itself, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.
I decided to tease myself a little. I prepared my morning cup of jasmine green tea, and just sat looking at the blank piece of paper.
I debated waiting until after I returned from the gym (if I went), maybe even until lunch, or for the last thing before I went to bed. I love the anticipation of a gift, but always fret the post-gift emptiness of not having the person here to hug or thank, or just be with me. Having a gift sit there, unopened, gives me the fullness of expectation and holds the person with me all day.
I know…I’m weird!
But I decided to open it, mainly because I knew he would want me to, and because I was sure that whatever else was there, words from my husband would be in there as well, and nothing can move me like the simple strength of the way he loves me.
It is the most perfect present he could have ever given me, especially for my first birthday in South Africa. He took a piece of paper around the construction site he’s working on, and asked people of different nationalities to write Happy Birthday. He labeled each one with the language. The only ones he didn’t label were the languages he knew I would recognize.
And he made me a card, with cherry blossoms on the cover, and my two favorite guys inside.
I smiled and made myself to go the gym, where as soon as he swiped my membership card, the worker greeted me with a loud, cheery, “Happy Birthday, Marla!” I said “What does it say on that screen, anyway?” He smiled and said “It’s a picture of a big cake.”
I did 45 minutes of HIIT-HARD cardio, got my first birthday message on my phone, and returned home to find nearly a dozen posts on my timeline welcoming me to this…my, uh, er…30th? year of life. (And if you believe that age, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you as well.)
Thank you, friends, for the Facebook, email, phone and in person wishes. Happy Birthday, indeed. Definitely one to embrace the future.
Okay, so you know I can’t completely let this pass without the opportunity to tell you about a few of my favorite organizations. A truly special birthday gift for me would be if you would consider raising awareness for, or donating to one of these organizations related to writing/arts and travel/wildlife: