Yesterday was my husband's birthday. He turned 46. We've been married nearly 14 years, and finally, I think I got it right. Well....I could have gotten it a titch righter, but I'm on the right road.
For years, my husband has requested a simple, low-key, no-fuss birthday. At first, I just thought he didn't know what he wanted, so I'd make dinner reservations at nice restaurants, invite people over and cook over-the-top meals.
He was always very sweet about it.
And I was always exhausted when it was over, which I figured was totally normal.
But as the years have gone on, and as we've been through many birthdays together now, I see that he knew (all along) exactly what he wanted. So this year, after a cross-country move and as he settles into a new job, I kept it the lowest of low-keys.
I made a cake from a box in his favorite flavor, with dodgy chocolate frosting from the store-bought carton. My daughter baked the cake. I frosted the cake. Our son decorated the cake.
We got him cards, which we bought from the store rather than crafting ourselves, hauling out our various craft bins and glueing, coloring and decorating them to death.
I didn't even have time to get him a gift (it would have been a bottle of bourbon) because I was at parent-teacher conferences all day and busy baking the cake and hauling kids to activities.
As I frosted the cake last night, not even bothering to cut off the rounded top of each layer or work my way through a legitimate crumb layer (I just slathered that stuff on with wild abandon), I thought how much mental energy and effort I've expended over the years trying to get things just right.
I wanted the cakes to look professional. I wanted the gifts not just to be wrapped but to be thoughtfully presented, with satin bows and mindful paper. I wanted the table to be set, candles to be lit and wine glasses gleaming.
I thought, as I finished off the frosting layer and licked the spatula, about the birthdays of my childhood. Remember the cakes we got as kids? The ones hand-iced, from a box, with sprinkles half-hazard and askew? Maybe they were even rectangular cakes in one of those pans with a carrying lid, Tupperware if your family was on the upswing.
Our moms didn't have time to hand-pipe flowers in the shape of the number of our years because they were on the phone, the cord stretched as far as it would go across the kitchen, drinking a Tab cola.
The cake I made last night smacked of those old-school days.
I made one of my husband's favorite meals: black beans, chicken and rice. Tortilla chips were the side accoutrement.
We ate dinner, hustled our daughter to ballet lessons, came home and ate cake and laughed at the store-bought cards.
It felt good.
It also felt a little bit bad, like I hadn't done enough or maybe I should have made time for that bourbon or maybe I could have made it just a tiny bit more festive.
But no. Not for him. He is a low-key, keep it simple type of guy. And finally, I'm able to honor that about him rather than trying to fill in the gaps with my own expectations.
The last thing my husband said before we cut the cake was, "On my way home from work, I was happy to know I was coming home to this. Just my family. That's all."
I think society has gotten a little crazytown with holidays, birthdays and everything in between. Maybe the best gift we can give someone is simply honoring that person's request to keep it simple.