May 20, 2011 ~ I’m pretty sure most mothers feel the same way as I do about their children’s birthdays. The date on which they are born will always be ranked right up there with any national holiday if we are asked about its importance.
Most children find themselves surrounded by a room full of extended family and friends as they plunge their chubby hands into their very first piece of birthday cake. It’s their first real experience with the paparazzi.
We may spend outrageous amounts of money on party themes as time passes, trying to outdo what was done the previous year. Choosing the perfect cake, picking the perfect venue, and deciding what goes into the loot bags can be quite an undertaking, but we love every minute of it because we love our kids and we want to make sure they know they are special.
So what do we do when we realize our precious child will be deployed on his birthday? With multiple deployments being common, I would imagine that most of our troops have spent at least one of their birthdays deployed. They might be so busy that the day might pass without them realizing it, but that is not the case here at home.
When my son was deployed for his 19th birthday, I was planning weeks in advance. It was very important to me that he receive something special to impress upon his mind that we missed him, loved him, and were so incredibly proud of what he was doing.
A month before his birthday, I began shopping for his favorite snacks and items that he had been requesting. He was living out of a truck in the middle of nowhere in the Middle East so there was no need to send him anything in the categories of electronics and keepsakes. I really wanted him to have a birthday cake so I searched online and found a recipe for a jar cake. I made a couple of those and he told me they were good, but I’ve always wondered if he was just being nice.
His box included candles, confetti, streamers, as well as party plates, cups, napkins, and hats for eight of his closest buddies. We included eight loot bags filled with the crazy party favors he loved as a boy. The box included tons of pictures we had taken and placed in a 4×6 photo album. We decorated the photographs with funny mustaches and expressions of love and humor.
Every year, on each child’s birthday, I put “Happy Birthday” banners and signs all over our house. I put them up early and made the family stand in front of the biggest banner for a photo. We even got our dogs to be still long enough to pose for a picture wearing party hats. I figured these photos would put a smile on his face.
Even with all of this planning, it simply wasn’t enough. We decided to make a video for him. With my ten year old in tow as the videographer, we took our camera with us everywhere we went. We found several of his friends and had them give him a shout out and we even made a crazysegment where we tried to reenact some of the goings on at home such as how excited we became when we realized we had received one of his letters in the mail. After checking the mail, I ran up and down the yard waving my hands with excitement while my youngest filmed me acting like a crazy woman. The neighbors outside at the time still look at me like I have three heads on my shoulders. Truth be told, I don’t like to be on camera, but I made an exception so I could tell my boy how much I loved him and I didn’t even care what the neighbors were thinking.
I guess, looking back, I was trying to be in control of my son’s special day. I had not been able to do anything the previous year when he turned 18 at Boot Camp, and I just couldn’t let the Marine Corps dictate another birthday. In my mind, I was taking my boy out of the war, even if for only a few minutes, so he could open his birthday box and have his birthday party.
We mailed the box three weeks early to be sure that it would arrive. Mail was taking about two weeks and I was never sure when my son was going to be on base to receive mail. He was almost always outside the wire. I wrote, “Do Not Open Until Your Birthday” all across the box so when he called me a week early to say thank you for his box, I was almost annoyed with him for his inability to wait. Of course, he was never one to demonstrate patience so I glad to know that the war hadn’t changed him yet.
I still remember where I was standing when he called. It was so good to hear his laugh and know that our month long extravaganza had made his day special. His buddies were standing by to blow the party horns in the background and the memory puts a huge smile on my face whenever I think about it. I begged him to call me, if he could, on his real birthday. I needed to hear his voice that day.
Looking back, it may have been one of my favorite birthdays to plan. I remember every minute of every day that we worked to make his birthday special. It was a true outpouring of love from a family to their hero. He has never forgotten receiving that crazy box, nor has he forgotten the video footage of his quiet and shy mom running around the yard like a lunatic.
On his actual birthday, we took another picture of ourselves in front of the banners which had been put up again that day. We also enjoyed his favorite birthday cake and ice cream. His youngest brother blew out the candles and I forced the family to sing the birthday song just in case he didn’t call….but he did call. We got to hear his voice and he got to hear ours though he will be the first to tell you that our family will not be auditioning for the next season of American Idol.