Think back to when you were young, do you remember any of your birthday presents? Chances are you may remember one or two, but if you think about those gifts, they are probably memorable because of the emotion attached to them. The only one that sticks out in my mind is a Snoopy radio I received from my parents. I loved that thing! It had terrible reception and a tiny speaker, but I loved it because I loved Snoopy, and my parents knew that I loved Snoopy. The radio was probably a cheap radio, but if I had received a sophisticated high-end radio with ten times the features and superior quality, I doubt it would have meant as much, or even have been remembered.
When I think about my birthdays as a child, the things I remember the most, are not the gifts that were given to me, but the things my parents did for me. My strongest memories are attached to experiences that evoked the strongest emotions. Things that made me feel loved, things that often didn’t require any money at all, are the things that have been warmly preserved in the cherished corners of my mind…and heart.
One of my fondest birthday memories is from my dad. He created a “Today is Christine’s Birthday” sign, and he would put it out in our front yard on every single one of my birthdays. Every birthday, I would get my photo taken by my sign. It made me feel special.
As I grew older, and became a teenager, I became a little less enthusiastic about the ritual, but even those years created important memories that I look back on with sincere fondness. I remember one year being embarrassed of the “Today is Christine’s Birthday” sign that my dad would put in our yard. Flexing my “independent teenager” muscle, I decided I would hide the sign before my 16th birthday so it couldn’t be displayed in the yard to announce to the whole neighborhood that it was my birthday. I can still recall how my dad looked as he searched everywhere for that sign.
As it turns out, I didn’t hide it well enough, because he eventually found it. I pleaded with him, “Please Dad! Don’t put it out in the front yard”. In what I momentarily thought was a very tender gesture, my dad agreed that he wouldn’t put the birthday sign in the yard… instead he marched up and down the street holding the sign and shouting “Today is Christine’s Birthday”!
As mortified as I was as a teenager, I am so glad my Dad took the time to make that sign and share with everyone that it was his daughter’s birthday. As I reflect on those birthdays today, I recognize, even more than I did back then, how much my dad loved me and how much he wanted to show the world that he was proud to have me as his daughter.
In addition to the annual “Birthday Sign” from my dad, I hold very dear birthday memories from my mom as well. Every year on my birthday, I would always wake up to a bud vase set next to my bed. My mom would cut some simple flowers from our garden and position them carefully alongside a written note that read “Happy Birthday Chris”. This was such a simple gesture, but it happened every birthday. I can still remember the soft scent of the flowers that were left each year letting me know that I was loved.
Every year, for my daughter’s birthday, I follow the wise example of my parents and focus more on some simple experiences, like those that created such a warm tapestry of childhood memories for me. I want to help create anchoring experiences born from simple, sincere, acts of love that will hopefully evoke emotional recollections of years gone by. This year, my daughter woke up to this:
I am not advocating that all gifts must be banished for birthdays, or that every present must be handmade or grown in a garden. But in today’s world where there are so many materialistic messages that persuade us to focus on “stuff”, to spend money to get the shiniest toy or the most expensive trendy trinket, it is important to stop and ask ourselves if we are giving the most important gifts; the gift of love, the gift of time, the gift of a home that is a refuge from the pressures of the world. These are the true treasures of life, treasures that will forge memories for the future, allowing us to remember the simpler days of our youth.
I think when my daughter is older she probably won’t remember the things she got on her birthday. Instead I hope she will remember the flowers she woke up to and the way it made her feel, a reminder that she was loved. Perhaps on a distant day, when life get’s somewhat stormy, these memories will provide a saving souvenir that in life, sometimes we need to do more than just “stop and smell the flowers”, sometimes we need to “wake and smell the flowers”.
(written by me with some MAJOR help from my husband Steve – Thanks Steve!)