It was my mother’s birthday this past Sunday. Happy birthday, mom! (No, I won’t tell you how old she is and no I won’t tell you how old I am so you can do dodgy math either. Age is just a function of chronology and has no bearing on the person you are within. Also I’m super bad with numbers so I frequently forget how old I am, never mind anybody else.) But it was mom’s birthday and in thinking about her birthday I started remembering my childhood ones and how many awesome parties and cakes I had. You know what the common denominator in all those amazing birthdays was? My mom. Which means it’s story time.
At one time - I was much younger at this point, let’s say seven or eight or some kind of young-ish number like that - I was quite involved with Care Bears. Kids these days might not even know what Care Bears are which is tragic and wrong. Care Bears are, essentially, bears that care. They lived in a cloud city called Care-a-lot (back in the day TV didn’t involve a lot of nuance) and each bear was a different color and featured a different symbol on his tummy that embodied the emotion (or ‘care’) that the bear was responsible for. Grumpy Bear was blue and had a rain cloud on his tummy. Good Luck Bear was green and had a four leaf clover on his tummy. Etc. I had Tenderheart Bear, who was brown and had a giant single heart on his tummy. I was pretty solidly into the Care Bears so for my birthday that year mom made a Care Bears cake. Only it wasn’t a cake in the shape of a bear. How ordinary. It was so much better than that. It was a half-circle cake on end and iced in rainbow colors and on top of the rainbow curve stood little Care Bears - one for each guest at the party. And mine was Tenderheart because he was mine and he was the leader of the Care Bears therefore he was the best. Mom understood, of course, as all mothers instinctively and patiently understand their children, that I was bossy and often needed things to be my way and she knew exactly how to cater to that without excluding the other kids at the party. It’s [redacted] years later and I still remember that rainbow birthday cake.
Frequently, because I was a particular child (or, if we’re calling a spade a spade, “picky”), mom would go to the trouble of making angel food cake and then decorating it in some specific way because that’s how I liked it best. Angel food cake was my favorite and I liked those shiny sugar balls used in decoration so those were often dotted over the icing. Mom understood that. She never forced me to have a cake from a store whose ingredients couldn’t be accounted for.
At my parties I remember we’d usually play games. Mom would prep these games in advance so they’d be tailored to my specific tastes. Did you ever play the game where you’d have the name of a character or person on your head and you’d have to ask questions of the other players to figure out who you were? We’d play that only every character would be a character I liked and I would end up as Nancy Drew or whoever my all-time favorite character was at the moment. Mom always knew who my favorites were, too, even though ‘favorite’ was often a mercurial ever-shifting title that could change in the blink of an eye. She must have been partly psychic. She was never wrong.
Sometimes mom and dad would take me out to a special lunch for my birthday. I have always loved downtown - the tall buildings and bright lights of cities have always been my Patronus - and since I grew up in Vancouver mom would make a reservation at a revolving restaurant overlooking the harbor and mom and dad would take me and my best friend Cassandra there for lunch dressed in our finest. Cassandra’s mom made her and I and our Cabbage Patch Kids matching ‘fur’ coats so some of the photos feature that exquisite sartorial foursome.
This ability of mom’s to make special days memorable and just right extended past birthdays into other holidays. Halloween, for example. For a period of time growing up I was obsessed with both fairies and princesses. This would manifest itself as a kind of sparkly Hydra come Halloween when I would decide not to decide and be a fairy princess. Thus mom spent time making me a pointy princess hat capped by a flowy swath of material and a set of matched wings and sequined-encrusted gown. Another time I wanted to be a butterfly so she made me wings and antennae for that. (You know, my childhood costuming is starting to sound a lot like Mariah Carey’s discography.) Mom would let me borrow her makeup and didn’t try to talk me out of being a fairy princess (again) or, if memory serves, a princess bride (not to be confused with THE princess bride). There were always lots of photos of me in the costume and me with Cassandra in hers, too, for posterity. Mom carefully documented all the events and friends of our lives. Dad was a photographer as well but he mainly documented all the natural things we were near and around - you know, like red ant hills and sunsets and flowers and lakes and seagulls and whatever - so I’m fairly certain that dad would agree that had it not been for mom there may only exist a number of photos of us per year that likely would not hit double digits.
At Christmas I would frequently find my gifts wrapped in theme paper. Sparkling silver or Mickey Mouse or Care Bears or whatever the fixation of the year was. At first this was attributed to Santa’s keen sense of the likes and dislikes of Nice Children but later I realized Santa, if he even existed, didn’t have a clue and that the parade of Mickey Mouse wrapped gifts was because mom knew Disney made me happy. Just like mom knew having the biggest stocking because I was the oldest would be once in awhile be necessary and whether my sister cared or not I’ll never know but the most enduring Christmas photo I have to this date is one of me with my giant stocking and my sister with her half-sized stocking in footie pyjamas by the tree. Her facial expression is dubious but mine is blissful and I’ve got an arm around her like I’m half-consoling/half-bragging over the stocking differential. Of course come Christmas morning my stocking would be just full and hers would be overflowing so the differential was, in actuality, negligible because mom always understood equity.
The memory parade all started with mom’s birthday. Happy birthday, mom! I hope it was half as happy as all the times you made mine amazing. Maybe I didn’t thank you then - probably not, actually, because kids are notoriously self-absorbed - so let me thank you now, years and years after the fact. Thank you for every birthday and holiday and cake and sleepover and friend’s birthday you remembered and character’s name you knew and quirk you catered to.
I really did love that Care Bear cake.
- Corinne Simpson