Birthday Cakes and Afterthoughts

Ever since I can remember, the response to "My birthday is the day after Christmas," has been one form or another of  "Oh, that really has to suck." I used to argue the point as a child, especially when I was young enough to still be included on Santa's list because really, gifts from Santa, every relative in a huge family, and the parents kind of made up for the constantly combined gifts. I got older eventually and Santa Stopped bringing my presents. My refusal to get pregnant without planning the child's birthday to be as far away from Christmas as possible is probably more telling about what it's like to have been brought home in a Christmas stocking than anything else.

I'm the oldest of five girls and my sister immediately following me was born on December 23 just a few days before my second birthday. Trust me, I've made it perfectly clear to my mother that she should have seriously considered knitting during the month of March instead of working on procreating. Think of the children, lady.

Because we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve with our extended family on my father's side, my sister and I would jointly blow out the birthday candles on the shared cake, laughing every year as our names got jumbled because it was more fun that way, after our holiday meal. Our birthday gifts were then handed over as a means to distract us for a few hours. Tradition in our family dictated we open the presents under the tree at midnight, after placing the baby Jesus in nativity scene between Mary and Joseph, to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas. I'll be honest in telling you that all of this was lost on us as children because the chance to stay up all night and sleep all the next day was something we looked forward to all year just as much as opening our gifts to see what Santa brought us.

Nonetheless, that was how it went, and we eventually got smart enough to start putting the presents in pile for each relative around 11:30 so that the moment my tia had placed the baby Jesus in the  collective rip of wrapping paper signaled the start of the races. We'd stay up for hours playing with our new stuff; sisters and cousins trying to fight the sleep that would eventually see us nodding off into a pile of wrapping paper before we were shuffled off to our make shift beds. Morning always came late on Christmas day with dinner leftovers for breakfast (Mexicans are famous for scrambling anything in eggs and calling it a meal) and adults playing poker while we basked in the New Toy smell of as-of-yet-unbroken toys and games without any missing pieces, at least until my parents herded my sisters and me in the van so we could drive over an hour to my mother's sister's home for dinner with her side of the family. By the time we got back to my tia and tio's house that night, we were tired enough to not be kept awake by the always loud and sometimes louder jokes and resulting laughter while the adults finished their poker game and enough beers to rival the empties found on the floor after a college frat party.

Sometime around noon, our rumbling stomachs would be loud enough to stir us from our beds the next day. Tio would already have been up for hours and something scrambled with eggs would greet us for breakfast. The rest of the adults usually joined us later and dove into a steaming bowl of menudo to cure their hangovers. Sometimes I remembered it was my birthday before the first relative kissed me and wished me a happy day and sometimes I didn't. Either way it kind of didn't matter because I'd already opened my birthday gifts after dinner and before midnight on Christmas Eve. At least there was leftover cake.

I'm not telling you this to feel sorry for me, unless you are also a Mappy Birthmas baby, because then you are totally allowed to relate. My birthday is what it is, and even though the date isn't even singularly spectacular enough to refer to it as anything other than "the day after Christmas," only three birthdays in my entire memory actually sucked.

The most obvious one is my 30th birthday, which came just about four weeks after my father died unexpectedly. Then there was that Christmas when I was about ten and had begged and begged all year for a ten-speed bike. Points for you if you've already figured out why your father proudly putting together your new Birthmas gift in the living room turned out to be the world's biggest punch line until summer. But perhaps my favorite was the year an aunt took me to see The Nutcracker Ballet and I sat through the entire performance proudly playing my "air flute" on my lap during the appropriate parts. We were there because I had asked her to bring me because I was learning some of the music in concert band. And it sucked because I soon learned that my ticket was my Christmas gift and hers was my birthday gift.

The kicker was that we didn't even have good seats.

This year I finally realized I've hit that time in my life that children won't understand themselves until they, too, get to where I am. It's just a day. Another year. I hear most women turning 34 are like that, which makes your birthday and my birthday just about the same.

And for the record? Buttercup was born in June.