birthday candles

A dear brother in our ward turns 99 today on the very ninth day of the very ninth month of the year. While that’s remarkable, it’s not as remarkable as the birthday boy himself. Still sharp and very alert, reminiscing about the Great Depression, World War II and a distinguished military career that included world-wide travel adventures makes for exciting conversations. Not one to live in the past, his range of experience and long life provide excellent views on life and current world affairs. At this point, the only surprise for him is that he’s still with us. For his many fans, the only surprise would be to see him dressed in anything other than his trademark freshly pressed white shirt, dress pants and a tie.

Several years ago at another earlier birthday dinner I asked, “What do you credit for your long and healthy life?”

He thoughtfully replied, “One day when I was a teenager out working in the fields with my Dad, he stopped everything, sat me down and said, Son. I want you to listen to this: The Lord gave you only one body. Take good care of it!’ And I have!

To me, that’s literally life-changing.

How I hope, as a parent, that I have imparted some kind of similar wise and lasting advice that my children will follow and benefit from many years from now. Whether I have or not, one thing’s for sure: we’ve had fun birthdays to celebrate their lives, as our friend has this year.

What are your family’s birthday traditions?

Now that all our five children are grown, we look back and are delighted that no matter what stage they (or we as their parents) were at when birthdays arrived, a few, simple, inexpensive things done every year made for very happy memories. It’s the consistency that defines a tradition. While we didn’t do as much as many do, they were easy, fun, inexpensive and made for great photos and even better memories that are well worth remembering.

1) A birthday breakfast and small present. Even if there was to be a birthday party or family dinner later, getting up to a mini-celebration put their minds at ease that today was their day. They waited upstairs to be called to the table, which added to the drama. A colored tablecloth (an inexpensive one I used just for birthdays) and candles in pancakes, waffles or muffins sets the mood and says volumes to a child. Even on a school day, those are easy things to do.

Usually there were more presents later, but one or two gift-wrapped things (often from the Dollar Store) relieves the anxiety of a small child’s need to “open a present”. It was amazing to us that no one out grows this! None of us are too old to be delighted by a birthday present at breakfast.

2)_ A box of their favorite sweetened cereal, just for them and a can of low-fat whipped cream. This was also at the breakfast table. We usually bought another box of cereal for the rest of the family to share, but this one box was “all theirs” to enjoy whenever they wanted for as long as it lasted. It is true that these cereals are “magically delicious” … and not very nutritious or what we wanted them to think of as “breakfast.” With that in mind we kept them magically unavailable for anything other than birthdays and Christmas, and our annual trip to the beach.

As for the can of whipped cream, it was an endless source of merry entertainment whether they filled their own mouths, put it on their cereal, muffins, or whatever. It was just one of those silly things that makes a fun time, and was well worth repeating, but just at birthdays.

3) The “You Are Special Today” plate. Given to us by my Mother many years ago, our red plate has marked special days for many years and has a cherished place in everyone’s hearts.   It was used all day on birthdays. For our son’s wedding luncheon, we used ours (that he’d eaten off of on special days throughout his life) along with a newly purchased one for his bride for their first meal as husband and wife. We then gave them the new plate as a wedding gift. . (They run about $30, but you can buy on eBay for much less than that. Just google “Red Plate”.)

4) The Birthday Bear. One of our finest traditions ever! I fell in love and bought a fine, old very large, stuffed teddy bear at a second-hand shop when our children were very young. We stored him with the Christmas decorations in the attic to appear only for birthdays. He presided at the birthday breakfast table in his own chair, frequently sporting some new item to wear that very day, i.e. shorts, a new t-shirt or some little piece of teenager jewelry. Or we’d dress him up in the birthday boy/girl’s own clothes. It’s fun to look through all the birthday pictures now, and see the evolution of sizes and fashions on that old bear.

When they were in elementary school, I’d arrange with the teacher for the bear to show up after recess in their classroom at their seat, or on the school bus for their trip home. I frequently tied some balloons to his hand and set him on the front porch, to announce to the world that it was a special day at our house.

5) Family Dinner, Activity or Party.   From the very earliest years we didn’t do birthday parties for friends every year. As parents, we did not want to set the expectation that this was a “given”, so we adopted an “every other year” policy. We felt was a nice way to establish realistic expectations for them and for us.

What we did do every year was a family dinner and Saturday activity. For their dinner, they chose the menu and what kind of cake. Afterwards we’d open the family presents.   For the following Saturday, the birthday child chose a family activity for all of us. What would YOU like to do on YOUR birthday?” has sparked many enriching conversations throughout the year. Birthday trips and outings to pick apples in the fall, visit the children’s museum, or swim at the indoor rec center in the middle of the winter makes for very special memories and photos.

My Only Birthday Regret: A Growth Wall or Board. You can google “birthday traditions” and get 1,000 ideas. I have to say I wish I’d thought to decorate their rooms, paint messages on bathroom mirrors or painted my girl’s toenails a crazy color while they were asleep.   In truth, however, the only regret I do have is that I wish I had set aside a wall, or a large piece of butcher paper, or a long board to mark everyone’s growth on their birthday, along with their signature. Of our five children, the youngest is now 20 a petite 5’2. The oldest is 32 at a towering 6’5. How I’d love to see all of that documented in one place, with their progressing handwriting

Golden Birthdays Back to our friend turning 99. For him and for our family, these are the most special ones! We call them “Golden Birthdays” where your age matches up in some clever way with the calendar, i.e., turning 10 on the tenth of the month. Or turning 99 on 09/09. There are no regrets here! We celebrate by calling it a “golden birthday”, and make it a great opportunity to talk about “golden” qualities “golden” experiences, interests, etc.

Not too many people know about “golden birthdays” nor do they know about the best birthday song ever. “Because He Lives I Can Face Tomorrow” is not in our hymn book, and not really a birthday song. But we sang it at recent gathering with many senior citizens. As I looked around and saw their shining faces, sensing the years both in their pasts and the uncertain years ahead, I heard them sing from their hearts about birth and death. It’s a song of a new birth for me, and perhaps it will be so for you, too.

Happy Birthday … to all of us!

(Words and Lyrics by Gloria Gaither)

Because He lives
I can face tomorrow
Because He lives
All fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
My life is worth the living just because He lives

God sent his son
They called him Jesus
He came to love
Heal and forgive
He lived and died
To buy my pardon
An empty grave
Is there to prove
My Savior lives

How sweet to hold
A new born baby
And feel the pride
And joy he gives
But better still
The calm assurance
That child can face uncertain days because He lives

And then one day
I’ll cross the river
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain
And then as death
Gives way to victory
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives

Because He lives
I can face tomorrow
Because He lives
All fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
My life is worth the living just because He lives

Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success – One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life, available at her website.

She has been providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success both online and in the Washington, DC community since 1999 presenting for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups.

She and her husband Bob are the parents of five children and grandparents of eight. They live in the Washington D.C. area where they are delighted to serve each week as the nursery leaders. Learn more about them and the herbal detox product they share at Meridian HERE