We have a tradition in our house. Whenever someone in the family has a birthday, the rest of us put the birthday cards, the celebratory birthday coffee mug and a birthday centerpiece on the kitchen table, so that when the “birthday person” comes down in the morning, it’s right there for them to partake. After the cards are opened, the person takes his morning drink (whether it’s coffee, juice, or water) out of the mug. The centerpiece is there to add a festive mood to the occasion.
I recently celebrated a birthday. As usual, the cards and all the trimmings were waiting for me on the kitchen table. I opened the cards when everyone else came down, then took the first swig of my coffee from the birthday mug.
Over the years, birthdays have been celebrated but differently from when I was younger. I can remember when I was a kid, my parents would try to hold my birthday party on my actual birthday or as close as possible. My parties back then were usually family parties, with my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents all there to help me celebrate another year of life.
But as I’ve gotten older, it’s harder to do something like that now. With four people in the house and four different life schedules, it’s sometimes hard to find the time when all of us can get together on a particular day, even if it’s just for a few hours. It’s usually the kids’ schedules that are the most inflexible.
On this particular birthday, besides the cards and the birthday accessories, I found a bag on the table, a gift from my daughter. I opened it up and found a baseball cap. Not just any baseball cap – a Kean University baseball cap.
When my daughter was a junior in high school, the family visited colleges together with her, and I made it a point to pick up a baseball cap from every school we went to, even if she didn’t attend there.
To me, the Kean baseball cap symbolizes my daughter’s commitment to higher education. A few years ago, I sat her down and explained to her that life at that point in time was a lock-step process. She had a goal in mind (to be a teacher), but she needed to accomplish a couple of steps first before reaching that goal and moving onward towards a good job and a great life. The baseball cap symbolizes that she was serious about her education -- one of those steps in the process -- and took my advice to heart.
My son’s gift was seeing him perform on stage. He had one of the lead roles in the Mater Dei Seraph Players production of “Freckleface Strawberry, The Musical” that ran over the course of my birthday weekend. Every time he takes the stage (he’s been in nine plays while at Mater Dei Prep), I just marvel at his abilities. Not only is he a good actor, but a good singer and dancer, too. I’m not really sure where he got all these artistic talents from, but wherever they came from, I’m certainly grateful.
I’m also grateful he’s here as well. With the medical problems he’s had as a child, some kids would never have made it to their first birthday. Because of that, I just appreciate his performances onstage that much more. His life to me symbolizes what he’s overcome and his talents show me the potential of what could be in store for him in the future.
My wife's gift to me is our home -- the way it's run and managed. It serves a purpose in everything that we do in our family life. It is our temple, where we all come back to celebrate, to work things out, and to reconnect when our different life schedules allow us to.
So I didn’t have my birthday party on the exact day of my birthday (it was dinner out a week earlier when everyone’s schedules meshed). But the gifts that I got from my family meant more to me this time around than in any other year in a long time.
(You can also follow Kevin Cieri's blog on his Facebook page, "Jersey Shore Retro" as well as on Twitter @jsretro).