I know people who try to hide their ages, which makes no sense because if someone wants to know how old a person is, all he or she has to do is click a mouse. It also makes no sense because most people look approximately the number of years they happen to be.
I include myself in that category; I look the age I am, which is 52. Tomorrow. And I am thrilled to be 52, in no small part because turning 52 means I've lived 10 years longer than my mother did.
I was 4 when my mother died, and to a 4-year-old, 42 can seem pretty old. Even as a 7- or 8-year-old, when I tried to process where my mother had gone, I would tell myself, "At least she lived a long time." I laugh at that now, of course, as I realize my mother was so, so young when she died. And it makes me unspeakably said that she wasn't able to raise me, let alone meet my children.
As I was growing up -- and this is a weird thing that probably is common to kids who have lost parents -- I assumed I would die when I was 42, too. When I hit 43, I almost felt guilty. I no longer feel guilty, but I'm hyper-conscious of the fact that I truly didn't expect to still be here, and that I need to get things done.
"In case I die before Christmas," I said to Kevin the other night, "Scott's Christmas gifts are in the dresser. Caroline's are in the dresser and the closet."
"Why do you say things like that? You're not going to die," he responded.
And I answered, "You never know." Because you never do.
Because my mother was too sick to be concerned with leaving things behind for me, she didn't. I don't have a single picture of us together. I have precisely one baby picture of myself. When I think too hard about this, I really don't understand it, and it confuses and frustrates me. So I compensate by storing things -- memories -- like some sort of pre-hibernating animal.
My kids have drawers and albums of photos. They have journals I kept when they were babies, and essays about their first days of school. I have jewelry to pass down, and special articles of clothing, and -- even though I can't really cook -- a recipe or two.
I hope to not have to leave for a while. But when I do, they'll know I was here.
And I guess that's why, even at my advanced age, my birthday matters to me. It's tangible proof that, unlike Athena, I wasn't sprung from the head of Zeus; my birthday is proof that I once grew inside my mother, and that she gave birth to me and held me and loved me, and that we were connected for four years.
Because December 10, 1962, is documented as having occurred, I know she was real. I'll take that knowledge over any trinket or candle. My birthday is between me and my mom, and I hope that wherever she is, she remembers.