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A Very (COVID) Birthday

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, my mother threw me a surprise birthday party. Well, the “surprise” part didn’t happen. My neighbourhood friend Kenny sort of gave it away early on. We were playing at his house a few days before and he couldn’t help saying “I’m so excited! I can hardly wait! Oops!” covering his mouth and giggling. I knew something was up.

On the day of the party, my mother sent me across the street to play in the park, while she secretly decorated the back yard. When she called me home, she put a blindfold on me and took my hand to lead me outside to the yard. It was very still and quiet, until I heard a giggle. Yep, it was Kenny. He just couldn’t keep quiet.

My blindfold came off to reveal all of my neighbourhood friends gathered to celebrate my birthday. It was a wonderful day.

Birthdays are a far more complicated event for parents these days. Theme parties, dress up parties, movie parties, adventure parties…you name it, there’s a way to make a kid’s party out of it. It’s exhausting to think about.

But this year…

Yes, this year, it’s a whole different story. Suddenly you can’t just book a party room at the movie theater, or arrange for a pool party at the rec centre for your kids. Even something as simple as my little surprise party in the back yard is better left for another time.

There have been some pretty inventive alternatives, though. Decorating the front yard in birthday balloons and paraphernalia, for instance, so that people can honk and wave happy birthday. Or sending your child an “animal gram” in the form of a video created for them with their favourite animal.

A birthday parade is a big hit this year, with friends and family decorating their cars and driving around in a fancy show. There are even virtual scavenger hunts and, in some special cases, the local fire department will drive one of their big trucks by the house and turn on the siren as a birthday wish.

My oldest adult daughter’s birthday was not ordinary this year, but not because of COVID. It took place back in mid-February, before there was any thought about Armageddon. We were in Hawaii, where she had never been, to celebrate a special year of accomplishments for her. We even went to a Luau the night of her birthday to celebrate. All was well in the world, and it turned out that she had the most normal birthday out of all of us.

Because by the next birthday in our household, my husband’s in early May, we were full fledged into the pandemic. I wasn’t ready to go into the mall to buy a card yet, even though the mall had opened by then. I ended up creating a book of photos from a big trip we took a couple of years ago, and making the card myself, the one pictured here, after researching some ideas online. We ordered in some food, had a little cake with candles, and did our best to make it normal.

This past week, my other daughter and I had our birthdays a few days apart. We’re in a different kind of birthday routine now, adjusting to a new way of doing things. In fact, it’s my birthday as I’m writing this. I’ve spent most of the day doing what I love to do, writing and painting, so it doesn’t take much to find my happy place. But right now there’s some whispering in the kitchen, and a match is being lit.

Something’s going on.

I swear, I can hear Kenny giggling…

The Writing Bug

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This morning I decided to weigh myself. It was a bad decision, but also a good one in a totally unexpected way.

We have a scale in our carpeted bedroom, one of those digital scales…you press your foot on it to turn it on, and then once the 00 shows, you step on it. I have had trouble getting it to work lately, and I think it’s near broken. It keeps showing an error when I step on it (maybe it means I’m just too light to be weighed? Nah…), so I have to put a book under it so that the surface it sits on is hard enough to register.

I grabbed a book that was large enough for it to sit on, a black binder. It worked, so I got on it and up popped the numbers.

Ugh.

But my weight, thankfully, isn’t the subject of this story. The black binder is.

Inside are the pages of my father’s autobiography written a number of years before the onset of his dementia. I have three copies of it now. They used to be at his place, but he’s in a care facility now so I have inherited all but one copy that he keeps there. He was not the first to write one; his father, my grandfather wrote his story a number of years before that, and that’s where the whole thing started.

My Auntie Edie, my father’s sister, loved to write poetry and, inspired by my grandfather, she also decided to write her autobiography.

I found out a few years back that my grandmother used to make up songs. Although I never met my grandmother (she passed away a few years before I was born), it gave me a bit of a connection to her since I eventually became a songwriter myself. My father’s brother, who is a professor of political science at Boston University, is also a writer. He has co-written a number of books on various political subjects over many years. So for me, the urge to write seems to be in the genes. 

As I put the scale and the binder away, I thought again about my Dad and how it was a wonderful thing that he had written his life story down. My girls will read that thing one day, and my grandfather’s story too, I thought, and I’m going to write one when I’m a little older, so they’ll have an awful lot of reading to do. 

My mind wandered into the future, past a few generations or so. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one of our future ancestors (is there another name for future ancestors?) had a whole library full of autobiographies to go through? That would be a precious thing to some. I know it would be to me. 

I shook off my depressing weigh scale incident and got on with my morning, ran a few errands and then I sat down at my computer to find an email from my cousin Karen through Facebook. I got a little tingle up my spine as I read it. I never realized that she was a budding writer too; she was sending me a link to her first blog entry which she completed just today. Is that what you would call serendipitous?

As it turns out, over the years she has been encouraged by others to write, just as I have.

And now, here I am, writing about writing. I don’t consider myself a great writer by any means, but I have always felt this urge to communicate something and it seems my life has become pretty much about that.

First I wrote songs, then I kept a journal, and teaching guitar, which is what I presently do, is a way of communicating too. I am fascinated with how people learn, and I’m always looking for a better way to explain something. I drive my kids nuts with my habit of saying the same thing about ten different ways, until I feel like I’ve found the “right” expression.

I write three blogs…this one, a music news-related one, and a songwriting one. So I definitely have a writing bug. I love a good story, and a good storyteller. There is an art to it, one which I feel like I’m only just beginning to understand.

So I’m happy to see that I’m not the only one of this generation of my family who writes. My cousin’s daughter and one of my daughters also appear to have a writing streak which means it may very well carry on down the line, just as I was imagining this morning.

That is, AFTER the depressing weigh scale incident…

IJ

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