My mother wore silliness like a perfectly styled fedora, like in a way when people say, “I would never wear that but you pull it off so well!” Same way with being ridiculous, it ran deep in her blood. One afternoon when I was still at Longfellow Elementary, she decided to call one of her friends and tell them in a thick Southern accent that there would be 3 dozen pigs delivered to her house and wondered if she’d like ‘em in the front yard or the back. Now, if you are the victim of prank call, you would discredit it if someone asked you if you ordered 3 dozen pigs, but to ask where you’d like them delivered? That’s talent.
She taught me a lot of worthwhile things, but it was always wrapped in so much silly. I learned how to balance a spoon on my nose, how to win in an ice cream fight, how to name geese and give them voices, how to tell the weather by just glancing at a herd of cows, and most importantly, how to correctly celebrate your birthday.
It’s funny how we as a people tend to applaud children with small successes, like: “Linus can count to 20!” “Charlie can tie his shoes!” “Eric can almost make it into the toilet!” And we all pee with excitement. In addition, children’s birthdays are surrounded by so much of the same celebration of a big thing. Pinatas and gift bags and huge cakes and silly string fights and a mountain of presents and lots of screaming children every year until you’re “too old.” But why can’t adults have similar, cathartic silly birthdays? Aren’t we under enough stress to deserve it? I mean, when you’re young, all you have to do is keep breathing to have a birthday party with your friends each year, but I can count more than 2 dozen adults that may actually need a gift bag full of silly putty and bubbles. I don’t really think we ever grow out of needing to feel special or take a day off from being such serious Sallys.
My mother claimed the month of May as her “birthday month,” meaning she could do whatever she wanted but mostly she just used it as an excuse to get ice cream before dinner, (and after sometimes, too). I maintain that she coined the phrase “Life is short: Eat dessert first,” and it was probably in May. Birthdays were about celebrating life through silliness, not taking yourself so seriously, wearing a clown nose that honked to inappropriate places (like....the bank) and justifying shopping sprees. Of course, being her daughter, my birthday was always a big deal. I remember waking up to a giant Mickey Mouse poster board that she drew herself the night before. Huuge Mickey hung on the stairway with a bubble coming out of his mouth that said, “It’s your birthday!” And that day was filled with all of my favorite things: apple cinnamon pancakes for breakfast, getting birthday outfits, going to the movies (yeah, I liked ‘em then..), and a giant birthday party for dinner. To me, birthdays always trumped Christmas.
When I spent my 16th birthday in the hospital with her, birthdays went on autopilot. I didn’t even think about why I was doing it, just started trying extremely hard every year to do something over the top and wonderful, but mostly just to get everyone in the same room. I didn’t actually realize I was trying not to think about her not being there until this birthday. Maybe it was because for the first time since I was 15, I had a true summer of nothing. I have no responsibilities, nothing due, no sense of urgency to be anywhere or produce anything. It’s surreal and a little maddening at times but I took the opportunity to throw myself a real bash, a ‘stache bash, and went a little overboard. This was my ultimate summer project. If this didn’t go well, well, I’d be devastated for so many weird, nonsensical reasons.
The momentum of this party was building in June. Paul suggested we have a mustache party since I’ve had a fascination with them for years, making a temporary mustache out of my hair and a duck face at least twice a month since we met. And it was perfect since now we have the space to have people over. It started out innocent enough but as I started planning, I started adding food, more drinks, more people, more activities, more craft items, spiraling out of control as more and more people kept expressing how excited they were about the party. Every time I heard someone say, “I can’t wait for your birthday,” I felt the need to compulsively add another game/sign/signature cocktail. There was hype. I was nervous. I cried at least 4 times. I changed the playlist 17 times. I obsessively dusted and stayed up til 4 a.m. most nights watching tutorials on how to make cheddar bread and how to tie headscarfs. I prepared like I was about to walk into birthday war.
And my friends came, excited. They all showed up, were silly, had mustaches and/or glued/masquerade-sticked ‘em on. They all fully embraced my tom-foolery, down to my fantastic hus-friend gluing mustaches onto tons of helium-filled smile face balloons. I had everything: tons of friends and tons of balloons, a fashion show, a melon head, salon-styled hair and fancy make up, lots of dining room dancing and hugs and air kisses, uploaded pictures from my other half, the rest of 'em taking pictures and videos of it all. It doesn’t make up for her not being here to give me a Sharpie foot tattoo of a cat, but it helped. I woke up Sunday feeling an amazing sense of gratitude and contentment. If she’d been here, she’d be proud of how silly we all managed to be. All of us adults with our heads full of money worries, romantical drama, am I successful/funny/good-looking-enough? headaches. We all managed to let that go, with charitable help from Lionel Richie.
Can it be my birthday every day? No really, like in the sense of can we all just not be so serious all the time and laugh so much more like we all have hair underneath our nose constantly tickling us? Can we all just pretend like we’re all just people wearing fake mustaches that instantly produce hearty belly laughs, the kind that make you feel sore the day after?
If my mother was a mustache, she’d be an Englishmen: a winning, tasteful combination of class and ridiculousness and I hope to always be like her, even on days that aren’t my birthday.