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...