Birthdays seem to be a big deal in our family. A fuss was always made – they were never allowed to be just another day.
I have a brother and a sister, both older than me. My brother’s birthday is on 5th November which is Bonfire Night and when we were children there was always a bonfire and fireworks – because that it what you did having spent the previous month chumping for wood. But it was always made clear that it was my brother’s birthday and a cake was produced to his specification, reinforcing the message. One year he wanted a toffee cake and so that is what he got. Mum used a Pyrex dish and so it was a bit of a challenge to work out how to get the toffee out – using a hammer was out of the question. I think there was also an attempt at a football field cake – but Mum was no artist and cake decorating was in its infancy.
Me and my big sister share a birthday. Born on the same day in April but 6 years apart. And this, I think, is key to our continued obsession with celebrating birthdays. I know that birth dates are not exclusive but to have to share it with a sibling is not ideal. At least my sister had 5 glorious birthdays to herself . Bet she wasn’t too pleased about me disrupting any plans she had for a 6th. Over the years we have had to come to terms with our special day being shared with someone else – not always equally and not always amicably.
There was that time I had a tearful meltdown because I wanted to cut the cake myself rather than have to hold the knife with my sister. When my sister grew into teenage-hood she didn’t seem to want the same sort of parties as me – no blind man’s bluff, no egg sandwiches, no jelly and ice-cream. Instead it was all sophistication, sitting around chatting and listening to pop-music. My memory is hazy about how we negotiated this chasm – perhaps we alternated, perhaps we had parties on separate days. But those significant birthdays, the 16th, the 18th, the 21st. I had to concede – those were her birthdays. By the time mine came around we were no longer living together and so it was less of an issue.
We haven’t lit a bonfire on my brother’s birthday for years but nonetheless we try to celebrate. Well I try – I don’t think it is a thing for him now, as an adult. Last year I bullied him into inviting us over for dinner – a party of sorts. Sad to say there was no cake, toffee or otherwise, nor any Roman Candles or Catherine Wheels.
As for me and my sister. We have got older and mysteriously closer to each other in age. We now have a mutually beneficial arrangement in which we try to spend our birthday together. Somehow the gap has been closed and we now agree on what are the perfect activities to celebrate the day. Usually involving food. Having our birthdays on the same day is fun again, there are few tears and absolutely no tantrums.
But that is only latterly – older and wiser. There were years when we went our separate ways – there must have been. I know I always tried to take a day off work when MY birthday fell during the week and resented it sulkily when I couldn’t. Before that I remember my 18th – a family meal at a Greek restaurant – and that I spent my 21st birthday with student friends. We got drunk on sherry and I was sick after eating game pie.
It was years later when my sister and I finally consolidated our plans, having more dignified birthdays, befitting our middle-aged status:
At last, we are enough of the same age to enjoy OUR birthday.