Pen and Ink Possibilities: A very happy birthday to you

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By Kirsten Laskey

Birthday parties have always been a big deal in my family. Since I was young, the dining room is always decorated with streamers and balloons and we are given the privilege of selecting the dinner menu, served on my great-grandmother’s hand-painted china.

When my sister and I were little, we always requested a spaghetti dinner. When we were older, it was my mother’s triple layer chocolate cake that we constantly chose for dessert.

Besides presents to the birthday person, my mother handed out goodie bags for each member of the family.

There were, of course, “those special” presents – the bathroom cleaning device called a Scumbuster that my mother received and the fez my sister and I gave our father. My father wore his present with pride throughout his birthday dinner while my mother, slightly less than pleased with her rather mundane gift, quickly disposed of the Scumbuster at the nearest big box store.

It wasn’t just the material details that made our birthday celebrations so special it was the fact that we always shared them with each other. My sister and I had birthday parties with our friends but mostly our parties were close-knit, family affairs.

When my sister had her birthday on Thursday, I realized there is nothing better than adding more family to the festivities.

Along with her husband and three kids, my sister and I gathered at our parents’ house to celebrate. The event seemed louder and busier than past parties because there are now more of us.  However, even though the family has changed and expanded, some things still remain the same.

There were still streamers and balloons to mark the occasion. It was clear that my oldest nephew and niece selected the balloons. Because my nephew loves superheroes, he chose for the occasion balloons with pictures of Spiderman, Batman and other comic book legends. My 3-years-old niece, chose balloons featuring Hello Kitty as well as a balloon that bore the message, “Thinking of You.” I am sure this particular one caught her eye because of the pattern of colorful butterflies.  Also in keeping with tradition, my niece and nephew received goodie bags filled with stickers, glow sticks and temporary tattoos.  

Plus, even though my sister asked for Italian sausage, she said she first considered our old birthday dinner standby, spaghetti.

But best of all was that my sister’s children embraced the family’s eagerness to celebrate a birthday.

My nephew requested his mother sit in a particular chair because she was the “Birthday Girl” and he and his sister repeatedly wished their mother a happy birthday.

They even enjoyed the family tradition of belting The Beatles’ song, “Birthday” and the Carpenters’ “Close to You.”

It can be chaotic with eight people crammed into a house. We bump into one another and sometimes it is challenging to get a moment of calming silence. But when there are eight voices joining in for a rendition of “Happy Birthday” or when my sister opens up cards handmade by two of her children - one featuring a red-kneed spider and another depicting a multi-colored heart - these details truly make that birthday a happy one. It’s nice to see the guest list grow for one of my family’s favorite reasons to have a celebration.