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I recently celebrated another birthday! Over the years, I’ve had an uneasy relationship with birthdays. I loved them as a child. However, there were times in my adult life that I wasn’t sure I wanted to celebrate my birthday. One of those times was the year after my mother died. That year with no birthday cake.

All through my life, no matter where I was, my mother always made sure she made me a cake or I had a cake. The year mom passed, she planned a surprise birthday celebration from her hospital bed, including a cake. On the next birthday, my family wasn’t aware birthday cakes were essential, so there was no cake. That year with no birthday cake made me finally realize, mom was gone forever. What was there to celebrate?

Mom’s cakes were always homemade from scratch and lovingly decorated. I can’t explain it, but my birthday cake was a big deal. I wasn’t allowed to see it before dessert time. In my youngest years, there were light-as-air angel food cakes with white frosting and pink details in the flowers adorned with green leaves. Sometimes there would be one of those formed “number” candles, but most often, there were the small traditional, spiral candles, each in their own pink or blue candle holders, so the wax didn’t melt onto the frosting. One year, mom made a cake that looked like a grand piano! In my later years, I had a sponge cake or a deep, dark chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream frosting!

Many of my friends had store-bought cakes. Oh! How I envied having a store-bought cake. As a child, I thought buying a fancy cake was the epitome of wealth. Then, on my twelfth birthday, we weren’t home. My mother was disappointed she couldn’t make me a cake,but I was excited because our friend ordered a cake from the bakery. It was beautiful with pink and blue frosting swirled in white frosting and adorned with blue roses. I was greatly disappointed after the first bite. The frosting and cake were both tasteless. Yet, I was still excited that it was beautiful and made just for me. Never again, however, did I envy store-bought cakes. When we got back to Maine, I begged mom to make me a cake. And, of course, she did.

In my much later years, I realize it wasn’t about the cake and how it tasted or looked, although her cakes were envied for both! It was about mom taking the time to make those cakes as a way of saying “I love you” and “I’m glad you were born.”

I’ve come full circle. I love having birthdays. I will always miss mom’s birthday cakes, but with cake or no cake, it’s important to celebrate birthdays no matter where we are; in high style or simplicity; and may we never be alone.

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