Thursday, September 18, 2008


Last weekend I had the best birthday I've had since - well, probably since I lived at home with my parents. My mom has always been great at birthdays.

I was sitting with the other moms and nannies at the side of the pool during Ellie's swimming lesson one morning this summer when the talk turned, as it inevitably does, toward husbands.

"Your birthday was Saturday, wasn't it? Did you have a good weekend?" I asked the mom next to me.

"It was very nice," she replied. "I've just about gotten used to not getting a present from my husband. But this year, he took me to the nursery so I could buy some plants for the garden and did his annual one day of helping me outside, which I really appreciate."

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the middle of another group of women sharing funny stories about their silly silly husbands, and I tossed something into the ring, I don't remember what, Paul dyeing all the laundry pink or overfilling the dishwasher or something that had a funny-in-hindsight result. I got the response I respected: Hah! You're so lucky that your husband knows where the washing machine is!

Our therapist looks down upon the common practice of spouse-bashing. She likes the idea of a united front, speaking about each other with respect. She's got a really good point. Which seems better: passive-aggressive comments to friends, or straight-forward discussions with your partner?

Sure, on one hand you get that moment of we're-all-in-this-same-crazy-boat-together. But on the other hand, you have the chance of actually improving things.

Last year, after another hey-that-was-my-birthday, I had a very specific talk with Paul about what my mom did for our birthdays growing up, why it means a lot to me, and, some "I feel loved when" language.

Guess what. It worked! See, birthdays were different in my husband's house than in mine, growing up. We have different ideas of normal, of special-day. And my little stories of what my mom did, which seemed like broad hints to me, were just stories to Paul, not how-to lessons. But when I told him what I really wanted, he listened, took notes, and made it happen.

My birthday started out fabulously when Paul woke up early with the girls and took them out to get doughnuts and Starbucks to bring home. Later that morning, we all went to the 48th annual Kirkwood Greentree Parade, then Paul took Ellie to gymnastics and Ada and I came home. I wrote an op-ed piece and sent it off to an editor, then Paul made me a delicious sandwich for lunch. Since the girls had early naps, when they woke up we all headed down to the arch. Ada's long been fascinated by the arch and both girls were really really excited by the experience. Ada's still talking about it. "Mommy! Mommy! Arch! Climb up! Tall!" She makes big stomping motions with her feet, emphasizing the journey up as though she climbed the stairs herself (in reality, there's a tiny, egg-shaped elevator crammed with 5 Mork-style chairs). Too, too cute. "Daddy hold me! Look out da window!" Ellie says.

The next day, we'd intended to have a few friends over for dinner, but as we had no power, Paul arranged a dinner out. He also contracted with the bakery who made our wedding cakes to make a delicious carrot cake for my birthday. Perfect! I could have done without the sombrero serenade at dinner, but other than that, the whole weekend was great.

Many thanks to my thoughtful husband! In return, I promise: never another clown for your birthday.


Lynnie said...

I try not to join in on the "husband bashing" thing when I hear it. For one thing, my husband is awesome. I could go on and on about his excellent qualities, but it might nauseate someone out there! Also, I like to believe in a better reality for people in male/female relationships out there. I like to believe that we can understand each other, communicate well with each other, respect each other. I don't want to buy into the whole Mars/Venus thing. That seems so depressing!

Happy Belated Birthday!

RobMonroe said...

Happy Birthday! I'm glad it was special, even without power. :o)

(And Go Paul for keeping notes. They're probaby in spreadsheet format, BTW.)

Jessica said...

Oh, the cake is lovely and your day sounds like it was, too. I, for one, loved Paul's birthday clown ;)

Happy [belated] birthday, Sarahlynn...miss you.

Sarahlynn said...

Jessica, I miss you, too! I hope things are looking up.

Lynnie, I think you should run that risk! (Of nauseating someone.) It's just so . . . refreshing to hear happy stories!

Rob, I know he keeps at least some notes in draft form in his email. And since I log through his email to get to shared thinks like our Picasa web albums, it's a constant struggle not to peek!

Tracey said...

What a great birthday! My family unfortunately followed Paul's in terms of the lack of special in birthdays, and now it's hard for me to imagine what TO do. In my house birthday consisted of an envelope with a card and usually some money left on the dining room table, and going out to dinner somewhere THEY wanted to go on the next weekend. Whee.

I much prefer D's traditions, which we are working on adopting, where the birthday person gets their choice for breakfast, as much as possible for lunch, AND dinner in addition to making a big to do etc. I'm working on getting used to it, but I think it will make a huge difference.

Have I mentioned I shall be 40 in a few short short months? :)

Sarahlynn said...

Yep, my family celebrates birthdays a lot like D's. A whole day of You Are Special pampering! (For me, sadly, pampering usually involves food.) It just feels great - perhaps especially as a mama - to have a whole day that's about you! Of course, it's always about the kids, too. But still, a whole day of thinking first about what you want to do, what you want to eat, where you want to go. And it turns out that - given the choice - I really do want to do family stuff (Greentree Parade, arch) most of the time. A nice reminder of why I wanted to have kids in the first place.

40! That's a big one! I hired a clown for Paul's 30th (he's a few years younger than me) and would be happy to give D her name as a recommendation, if she decides to throw you a carnival! ;) We did nothing at all to mark my best friend's 40th last year, at her insistence. But it turned out OK - she had a much harder time with 39 for some reason. 40 was cake.

Chrystal said...

Your celebration sounds wonderful.

I've never been good with that kind of attention. I can only wish that one day I turn into one of those "It's my BIRTHDAY!" type people. More often than not, I lean towards forgetting it even exists. Dang, that sounds sad.

So, yeah, I envy you for that. I actually do like "fun."

paulboal said...

Rob - not and Excel spreadsheet... Google Notebook. Even geekier!

ccw said...

So glad you had a wonderful birthday!

My mom always did birthdays as a big thing. I in turn do my kids birthdays as big things. Mr. MFBA's family did not do this so he easily fell in to making my birthday a big deal and loves that my family does the same for him.

Happy Birthday!!

Chris said...

Happy Birthday! Sounds like you had a great weekend, how wonderful that your DH heard you and went out of his way to give yo the special celebration you deserve!

Sarahlynn said...

Chrystal, I'm not exactly an "It's my birthday!" person, but I really love my partner to . . . quietly make a big deal out of it, pamper me a lot. It's great; you should try it!

CCW, it's so great that Mr. MFBA is so on board.

Thanks, Chris!

Patty said...

A belated Happy Birthday to you! (Mine was Sept 13th too.) I just found your blog through a link to your posts about the candidates and diabilities. It's very interesting so far. Thanks for posting it.

Sarahlynn said...

Welcome, Patty, and thank you! I was born on a lucky Friday the 13th, actually. :) Happy BirthMonth right back atcha.