Monday, July 18, 2011

Birthday Adventures

Barbara: Birthdays can be a conundrum of shopping anxiety. First there’s the shopping part (what do they want, will they like it, and if they don’t, can it be exchanged, blah blah). Then there’s what I like to think of as environmental guilt (do they really need more stuff, is this something that will just clutter their shelf, their counter, their life). So for the last several years, I’ve taken to offering “special days”. It started with my nieces and nephew who live close by and then rippled further to include my sisters with whom we enjoy a dedicated “girl’s night out” in honour of all three birthdays, and now also includes my friends from time to time.

A “special day” still requires a certain amount of courage, especially if you don’t know if the person will 100 percent enjoy the activity you’ve chosen. But the biggest responsibility, ironically, is following through. The “chore”, if you will, is setting a date and ensuring you both keep it. I’ve seen many well-intentioned special days fall by the wayside because there was no clear follow-through.

For my nieces and nephew, I ask them to choose, or I suggest several options—and then get them to choose one. These dates have become annual highlights for, I think, all of us. Now, I have a small auntie confession here that I’m going to make because I think it’s important to set the tone: these beautiful children of my heart started off as very shy. They were not the kind of kids who would choose to leave the safe haven of their homes to traipse willy-nilly around town with their Mary Poppins-channeling aunt. But still, they humoured me on this one and I am in deep deep gratitude for their courage. And, despite any possible early misgivings or worries, all of us have grown to hold these special days near and dear to our hearts.

What have we done? Carnivals, basketball games, arcade halls, handmade ceramics, beading, pumpkin festivals, manicures, movies, book stores, all with the requisite junk-food indulgence either before or after. We’ve talked as much or as little as we felt like, and I’ve learned more about my dear young ones than any wrapped gift might have earned me. And they’ve learned about me too. And even as my nephew approaches adolescence now, he doesn’t seem to want to call an end to it. I think—I believe—we’re in it for the long haul.

But why am I spurred to write about this today? Well, because my best friend, Charlotte, is the queen of adventure-giving and she just took me on a birthday adventure that I not only loved, but that taught me something about myself as well. Over the years, Char has taken me to author readings, to see Leonard Cohen (omg), to plays and musicals, and even to a Spice Girls concert where by some fluke of luck we ended up on the floor, ten feet from the stage, baby Brooklyn (Posh’s kid) and his nanny sitting in the seats ahead of us. Yes, Charlotte is goooooood.

Well, yesterday, Char told me to wear shorts and a t, sunglasses and a hat, to wear sunscreen and bring a thermos of water, and that I needed to be ready at 10:45 so we could get to this year’s birthday adventure by 11:15. I had NO idea where we were going. Everyone was curious; Deb even asked me to let her know what Charlotte's adventure was as soon as I got home. 

So I’m guessing and wondering as Charlotte drives us to a well-known local inn and parks (brunch? the spa?). We make our way to a wooded lot (a hike? a fair?). And there stands a young man before a group of about 20 people, instructing them (us) on how to KAYAK the Humber River!!

I’ve never kayaked. I knew it was fairly straightforward, but still I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that my heart started pounding, my insecurities began fluttering, and my imagination filled with images of myself soaked and exhausted, barrel-rolling into the murky depths. But all for naught: it was easy, and wonderful, and a purveyor of surprises. Surprise because I was, dare I say it, pretty good at it, and surprise because I had no idea that nestled behind all the residential houses and streets of west-end Toronto there was a hidden eco-system of naturalized river and ponds just bursting with geese and ducks and cormorants and kingfishers and cranes and snapping turtles and deer and coyotes and 12-inch blooming lilypads!

By the end, I was soaked—but with well-earned sweat. I felt so exhilarated and happy and proud. Thanks, Char, for surprising me in more ways than one! And, even though I treasure the beautiful gifts that require unwrapping (hello, jade earrings), there’s something to be said for those gifts that come “user-friendly”.

Deb: First off, CHARLOTTE ROCKS! That is the greatest gift. What a wonderful adventurous surprise! I think it is a gorgeous tradition you have with the nieces and nephews and I am sure they don’t want it to stop because is FUN, TANTE BARB!

I, as anyone who reads the blog or has known me for more than five minutes, knows, LOVE my BIRTHDAY! I never quite understand why the world doesn’t stop to bid me HBD wherever I go. I can’t wait for it to begin and I never want it to end. Birthdays should be magic. We arrived after all, on this planet to live and love and grab on to every sacred moment. Our birthday is the day which give thanks for being here. How wonderful when others give thanks for us too. 

PS Charlotte and Barbara tried to take some commemorative photos of their adventure, but just ended up looking like drunken serial killers, so...


  1. Drunken serial killers!!! LOL get out of here! You ladies crack me up!! But I have had my share of "non-conventional" birthdays. This year my sis (Holly) and I celebrated the big 21. We ate out to eat, watched the movie Up, laughed and talked and had a great time. No, alcohol was NOT involved.

    It seems like birthdays are revolved around so many stigmas and stipulations (like for 16th people get a car, or 21st you go out and "party.") It's nice to know I'm not the only one who breaks out of the norm and just has fun the way I want to. By the way kayaking is really fun, isn't it? Thanks so much for this post and hope you had a good birthday, Barb!!

  2. So true, Kelly. I love the description of your birthday celebration with your sis. So great. And often we remember and appreciate these special celebrations more than the STUFF anyway, right?

  3. My birthday is Halloween so it is always a celebration. I hear from people who remember that day and my birthday combined. I, too, have done special outings with my nieces. They are in their 20's and one is 30 and we still go to lunch whenever they are in town. When they were kids and I would watch them overnight we always had breakfast for dinner. Once they said if their parents died we would do this everyday. 2 of the three laughed one cried thinking about the possible demise of her parents. They call me for advice from time to time and we are very close. My sons are close to my sister as well and the 5 grandchildren just went to Peru on the largesse of their grandmother (my Mom). No wives, no boyfriends just the 5 cousins for a celebration. They had a blast. So if done right family can be the greatest gift. Thanks for sharing your birthday story and your friend Charlotte rocks. Also, I need to mention that my family and friends have stopped giving gifts as we all need and want for nothing so we do lunch or dinner now.

  4. Madge, Halloween is an AWESOME event to combine with memorable birthdays! And I love your traditions too. I so believe it helps the village raise the child (even if it's for the shortest time). And so glad to hear your nieces and nephews still love their special days in their 20s and 30s.

  5. Hee - kayaking is fun. I used to do it on a pretty placid lake, though. I have white water rafted, though, and I imagine kayaking on rougher water is similar to that.

    As to birthdays... meh. I like doing fun things for other people! But in my family, birthdays have always been sort of ignored after we hit adulthood. We'll text or call each other, go out to dinner if we're all in the same state, but that's about it.

    I'm not opposed to fun, but with my friends scattered over the globe (the life of a freaking academic), I consider myself lucky if we all remember to contact one another on the actual date of birth (especially once you factor in time zones)!

  6. Barb, I would have wet my pants with fear if a friend had surprised me with a kayaking lesson or trip. Honestly. But I'm glad you had a riot, and thanks for reminding me that it's the things we do with our loved ones, and not what we give them, that they most cherish and remember -- and so do we.

  7. As usual..a feast for my eyes and mind...Im truly becoming addicted to these blogs..and for heavens sake..dont ever cure me..Im loving it too much!!! : )

  8. Oh, I love this philosophy of a special outing--that is great. And kayaking sounds WONDERFUL! Barbara-I'm so glad you loved it! Nice to have a friend who pushes your boundaries a bit.

  9. Barbara, I may be a bit envious..I'd love for someone to take me somewhere special for my birthday..

    A few years ago, we were invited to a pirate party for my youngest nephew's birthday and since my family loves to have fun, we all came to the party dressed up as pirates.
    There were eye patches and fake tattoos for everyone, we all enjoyed ourselves and nephew had a great birthday.

  10. I SHARE my birthday with my cosin. She was born june 15th and I was born june 12 so it's cool that we get to share it with each other.. It sounds like you all have wounderful outings on your b-days. Birthdays are always special,and because I get to share it with my cosin it makes it even better,because we are so close.


  11. Love that! And we've begun doing the same the past few years. Instead of "stuff" we give experiences. I buy my kids Disneyland tickets, Magic Mountain, Concert or baseball game tickets. I'm taking my BFFs to a comedy night. Took my hubby to Salsa Boot Camp with me...Making memories is so much better than storing more "stuff".

    What a wonderful adventure your friend gave you. Now that's what i call a GIFT!

  12. Well, Kelly 2, I've never done the white-water rapid thing. And it was a very placid lake. And still I was a bit nervous. But maybe the rapids are next ;)

    I'm glad this inspired you guys! And thanks for sharing your own adventures. Helle, that pirate party sounds so fantastic! And Hollye, I WISH Phil would salsa boot camp with me (maybe for my 50th). Lyndsie, sounds like you and your coz have it figured out, nothing like a shared adventure to honour both of you :)

  13. The participants ending up looking like drunken serial killers? Isn't that the sign of a good party?

    Barbara, your friend Charlotte is a genius! What a FABULOUS gift!!! I'm so glad you got to have that adventure.

    And, you really must try white water rafting. It is soooooo fun!!!

  14. Kayaking, huh? That sounds super fun, Barb! I've only been kayaking once, and it was quite nice!
    I like this concept of "experiences" very much! However, my birthday is in the middle of January, after Christmas and New Years'. If someone were to give me a decent experience, they might have to take me down south! Maybe I could celebrate my half-birthday instead, in July! :)
    Deb, after Barb talked about her birthday, you really should share something about yours! Pretty please? lol

  15. Barb, my first (and only) white water rapids experienced nearly killed me, so maybe stick to kayaking? ;)

  16. Sadly, Rigel, the pics were not after us having fun, but us trying to look all sporty for the blog!

    And Kelly 2, lol!! Thanks for that, phew.

    Beth, okay, since you asked :):
    So, we're in Antigua for my birthday and I'd suggested we have an adventure (see the common thread here?), so we booked ourselves on an all-day tour around the island on a catamaran. Well, the night before my day, my daughter starts feeling very dizzy (a bit of heat stroke). She wakes up feeling dizzy and insists we go without her. Of course, I couldn't really enjoy myself if my daughter is dizzy and by herself. So we cancel. Well, later we find out that the seas were really rough and everyone was puking off the back of the boat. Michele, meanwhile, had a morning nap and woke up feeling 100% and we had a lazy day on the beach, topped with an excellent seafood dinner and champagne, and ending with a local dance performance. It was AWESOME! (and then we made up for the lost adventure by taking a Jeep tour on another day that had as a highlight a snorkeling expedition with huge stingrays in their natural habitat. Can you say, Amazing?!) Thanks for asking, darlin'!

  17. Beth I have had many a good birthday. I guess two of my favourites were my Champagne birthday (54 years old and born in '54)which I spent in Florence actually drinking champagne and spending wonderful fun times and great meals and shopping with my boys. Also my 50th where I took 6 of my best friends to a spa for the weekend. When we got there, they had many many treats and events and even a video which they had shot for me and surprised me with. Barb was one of them of course. When we returned from the spa, we had a huge party at the gorgeous Carlu in Toronto. I wore one outfit for cocktails and another for dinner and dancing! I SOOOOOOOOOOO owned it. But I also love the in between parties where my husband makes me a lovely breakfast and I sit outside and read and play with the dogs and then go for dinner with my whole family at a wonderful fave restaurant.

  18. Barb, I love that you are able to have those special days with your nieces and nephews! Keep that going! I have some awesome aunts as well, who always made a point to spend some one-on-one time with me as I was growing up. It wasn't usually anything very elaborate, but just quality time together with them. I loved that then and it's something we still continue to do. It really has given me a wonderful friendship with each of my aunts.
    Now I try to do the same thing with my cousin, who is 15. We've always been close and we make a point to spend some time together just the two of us when we can fit it into our busy lives. Usually it's shopping or a movie, but the next thing she wants to do is have a "crafting weekend," where we will spend a whole weekend working on scrapbooking, beading, quilting, or any other projects we can come up with! She's a girl after my own heart!

  19. Barb and Deb, thank for sharing! And, if I can be honest, a birthday dinner with Colin could be an adventure! lol

  20. Oh, Deb, yes!!! The best birthday adventure ever! Okay, maybe not an "adventure" so much as a dreamy, wonderful, relaxing weekend at a spaaaaah. That was a highlight of life itself!

    Tomine (man, I love that name), thanks for giving me the other perspective on the whole aunt-date thing. And it's so great you and your cos have such a great system. Keep that up too!

  21. This sounds like a wonderful birthday weekend. thanks for sharing!

    Sure beats cleaning the house like I was doing!


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