Originally published in Chicken Soul for the Soul: Family Matters in 2008
There is still no cure for the common birthday.
Is it a curse or a blessing to have your birthday close to the holidays? I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s a blessing because we spend half the time celebrating the birth of Christ and the other half celebrating the birth of Becca (that’s me). It’s a curse because I spend half the time agreeing with my mother that it is better to give than to receive, and the other half wishing that I could have a normal birthday, like the kids born in April.
I didn’t always feel that way about my birth date. It all started one November, about ten years ago, after my mother read an article about a little girl in Florida who gave all the birthday presents she received each year to the homeless. Mom decided that her little girl should do the same. However, my mother, being the innovator that she is, wasn’t content to just copy someone’s idea; she was going to expand and improve upon that idea.
“Honey, I’ve been thinking. You already get so many presents for Christmas… you really don’t need that many more for your birthday. It’s only two weeks later. Wouldn’t it be nice for you to do something for your birthday for people who don’t have as much as you do? You already get so much, and you have parents who love and care about you, so it’s time for you to start thinking of other people who are less fortunate. How does that sound to you?”
What could I say? To an eight-year-old, her argument was infallible. I agreed, and her brilliant plan was set into motion. The next few years, my birthday invitations were accompanied by phrases like “Come prepared to bake brownies for the homeless” and “Bring some fleece material to make hats and scarves for the homeless.” The year I turned eleven, my mother’s inventiveness reached all new heights when she presented me with an invitation that read: “No GIFTS NECESSARY!” (No gifts?!) “Instead, please bring a package of any type of men’s underwear to donate to the homeless shelter.” (Men’s underwear?!)
Everything came to a grinding halt. No presents? I had gamely gone along with the brownie baking, the scarf knitting, and the hat crocheting because, although they weren’t typical birthday activities, they were still fun, but the idea of having a birthday party with no presents was just a little too much for me. Mom relented slightly by altering her sentence to simply say: “Please bring a package of any type of men’s underwear to donate to the homeless.” But, still, men’s underwear? She explained that while shelters have a steady stream of donations, for some reason men’s underwear was one of the least frequently provided by donors. We would be doing a great service by providing them with some underwear. Fine.
The very next day, she took me to JCPenney to pick out a package of men’s underwear for my donation. She left me standing alone in the aisle as she browsed through the packages, checking for things like price, cotton percentage, elasticity, durability — you know, the boring stuff. I tried to participate. Really, I did. But I was easily distracted by more interesting things, like counting the tiles on the floor.
When I ran out of floor tiles to count, I tried again to marshal my interest. I firmly directed my eyes toward the underwear packages, and surprisingly enough, my attention was caught. I gave a quick glance around to see where my mother was, and then inched closer. Who knew that there were pictures of men modeling the underwear on the underwear packages? If someone had told me that, I probably wouldn’t have argued about coming! I never saw the packaging on the underwear that my dad wore. Come to think of it, I had never actually seen a
guy in underwear before. These pictures were so… interesting. They were all so… so… handsome. And muscular. And… my gaze dropped to the only clothed part of the models. Whoa.
“Becca? Where are you?” called my mother as she came around the corner, stopping as she saw my wide-eyed, open-mouthed expression. Following my focus, she sighed with a grin.
“Oh, dear,” she murmured as she steered me out the door.
The next day, I had a chance to see the birthday invitations printed out by our trusty computer right before we sent them to my friends.
“Please bring a package of any type of men’s SOCKS to donate to the homeless.”