Spring is always busy at my place. My husband, daughter and I have birthdays within one month of each other, and our wedding anniversary is three days after that.
I had a realization this year. I consider myself a non-traditional person and I generally dislike routine. I wasn’t really raised to put much stock in religious holidays; I grew up with three women who had their our own tastes and preferences. As a result, I don’t have any “traditions.” Or so I thought.
Actually, my tradition (and my mom’s and sisters’ tradition) is going all out for birthdays. I meticulously plan each birthday in my family, dedicating weeks to advance planning. And it’s not like I hire someone to blow up the balloons—I do all the stuff myself, I love it.
My husband and kids are becoming increasingly helpful, because by now they know the the drill. There’s a menu, a themed cake, decorations, guest list, invitations, and a big pile of presents. Each birthday is celebrated twice or thrice: once on the actual day, once during the nearest weekend, and sometimes once more with a special trip or outing.
It sucks when a birthday is right after we arrive at post, when we hardly know anyone. It emphasizes how far away we are from our family and close friends. This year that wasn’t the problem, fortunately, but I still chose to do something private for my birthday: a 10-course dinner at restaurant Masque with my husband, wearing the prettiest, shiniest dress I have. My birthday is always attached to memorial weekend, so I leveraged my birthday credit into a weekend stay at arguably Mumbai’s best winery: Sula. I also brought a giant sack of my favorite treat to the office (Bombay Sweets chocolate bark).
Another key (and somewhat silly) part of my birthday tradition is the “birthday chair.” My husband understands this and, without any prompting or help, wrapped a chair in colored paper and cut out a three and a nine. Initially he was surprised that I (and many other Dutch people) are so open about our age, but I think it’s a healthy reminder of time passing by and making the best of each year, regardless of the number on your chair.
My daughter’s 6th
My son didn’t care about birthday parties until he was six, and the same was true for my little girl. She was so excited this year, it kicked me into gear. I chose a beauty salon theme, which she was fully onboard with (I asked an open-ended question about her preferred theme first but only gibberish came out). With her seven best friends, she got hand and foot massages, and professional facepaint. They made bracelets and ran around the house putting on tattoos, eating candy, and popping the 25 balloons her brother and I had blown up.
The next day, she brought her current favorite snack (Fruit Roll Ups) to school. On her real birthday, I organized another party with neighbors, serving tacos and cotton candy ice cream in cones. School was out at this point, so she brought a big bag of jolly rancher candy to summer camp, delighting the Indian kids with red and blue and green tongs.
My husband’s 45th
My husband is always a bit reluctant to celebrate his birthday. Being the oldest in our family, and among his siblings, he reserves the sole right to complain about getting older. He can’t think of any gift he wants until right before the big day (I do birthday shopping weeks in advance) and generally feels embarrassed about inviting people to come celebrate.
The part he enjoys is where he can dictate where we travel that weekend. He thinks of places I would be unlikely to pick, but at least makes sure it’s fun for the whole family. We went to a “hill station” near Mumbai called Matheran, which has beautiful views. We did some awesome hiking while the kids trailed us on horses, which were available for rent all over the place. The place is touristy but we were the only foreigners there. Especially my son received a lot of attention riding around on his horse all day with his foot in a caste—he’d broken it at a trampoline park the week before.
For his real birthday we went on a nice, though tense, family dinner. I hope later I won’t remember how excruciating it was to be in a restaurant with my children. They simply don’t have it in them to choose something from the menu, eat it without being endlessly distracted, climbing all over the place, being loud, spilling, and fighting over everything with each other. Why we still do it sometimes is beyond me—I’m an optimist, is my best guess. Each time I figure now might be the first time they’ll behave.
It still wasn’t enough. I wanted a party with adults and I love using the pretext of my husband’s birthday to invite a bunch of people over. Ultimately, I was able to convince him with one word: poker. Luckily for me his usual poker crew (read: older guys and military guys) weren’t in town, which meant we could invite our regular friends and have some relaxed, mix-gender poker fun. Maybe it was a little bit too relaxed for my husband, because we played very few round and took lots and lots of breaks, but he didn’t complain because he won most of the money.
Our 12th wedding anniversary
Wedding anniversaries are not part of my tradition, even after twelve years, and I’m so terrible at them I typically forget all about it until a day or two after. Same for my husband. The only anniversary we celebrated was at the 10-year mark, which happened to coincide with the lifting of COVID restrictions in West Europe. We did a glorious three-day bike trip along the river Vecht, which has much history and some of the best restaurants in the Netherlands.
This year, we weren’t going to celebrate it either. I received a text in the morning from my husband who was at the airport and happened to look at a calendar. The rest of the day we tried to keep the anniversary mood alive by making marriage jokes. It wasn’t until the evening when things got funny though; the guests we’d invited for the poker night found out it was a party for his birthday AND it was our wedding anniversary. One of my friends had baked a gorgeous cake for him and they sang and we kissed and it turned out wonderful.