Birthdays at our house can be very interesting affairs. Take, for example, gifts. Although mom and dad usually treat gift-giving like normal people, among us children, giving gifts takes a bit of a different twist. We only give useless gifts. If it’s something that the recipient might find a use for, then forget it.
Some of the gifts I have given to my brothers include a flowery pink apron; a purple, feminine scarf; a beret; and even a neck tie.
One birthday, I received a cigar. Another birthday, a “how to catch a boyfriend” kit. The boys would argue that that was a very useful gift, but I consider myself a hopeless case. And I wasn’t willing to even try the kit, which consisted of a thick winter hat, a headband, a pair of earplugs, a clothespin, and instructions to put the hat over my face, the headband around the prospective boyfriends eyes, the ear plugs in his ears, and the clothespin on his nose. That way, being unable to see, hear, or smell me, my chances of “catching” him should greatly improve.
Naomi was given a $10 gas-only gift card one year. At first read, I know that sounds useful. She was turning 11 that year. And someone figured that giving Joe a razor and a toothbrush was a nice variation on the usual soap and deodorant.
Of course, there are exceptions to this normal order of things. Dad has been known to give some not-so-normal gifts. Like the time he boxed up a cow pie and gave it to David. And us children have been known to give useful gifts. My brothers gave me a bulletproof vest once. And cards, for instance. Cards can be re-used, if you don’t write in them. And the really nice people won’t seal the envelope, that way you can even re-use that. And we give useful gifts at weddings. Our traditional wedding gift is a large package of toilet paper (don’t even try to tell me that isn’t useful).
But it isn’t just gifts that make birthdays at our house unique. Another major trademark of birthdays at our house is the singing of “Happy Birthday” (I call it “singing” only for lack of a better term.)
There is a 2 to 1 ratio of boys to girls at our house, and the boys aren’t all that fond of singing. And most of the girls just go along with the majority, so they don’t want to sing, either. The trouble is that if 7 or 8 people – out of 11 – don’t sing, you really notice that they’re missing. So mom has issued an edict proclaiming that if you don’t sing, you don’t get cake. This threat has resulted in people “fake-singing” at every birthday. They figure that if their mouth is moving, and they’re making noise, how is mom going to prove they’re not singing? This “fake-singing” isn’t very loud, but the combined effects of such a large percentage of people joining in this rendition of “Mmmmph mmmmph mmph mmmph” makes it loud enough to be heard.
This leaves three people left to sing: mom, dad, and myself. Now, dad can sing in tune. The trouble is that usually by this time, he is comfortably settled in the living room with a magazine or a book and has no wish to put a lot of effort into singing. So he sings – quietly – from where he is. He is so quiet, in fact, that you’ll only hear him sing three words: “…birth-day to _________.” On those three words, he suddenly increases his volume to forte, and inserts one of the embarrassing nicknames the birthday child has. Then it’s back to pianissimo for the rest of the song.
Unlike mom. Mom sings the entire song in a good, strong forte. Which would be great, except for one little problem. Mom can’t sing. There are lots of things she can do, but singing is just not one of them. I do not exaggerate when I say that she can’t carry a tune in a bucket.
So where does that leave us? Right – me. I have unwillingly become the solo singer at family birthdays. Very unwillingly, because I don’t think that the ability to sing loudly and in tune should be the only qualifications to be a soloist. But it happens every birthday. “Go ahead, Naph.” Mom says once the candles are lit on the cake.
Many are the times I’ve wondered, as I sing “Happy Birthday,” accompanied by the chorus of “mmmmph – mmmmph’s” and moms loud counter – uh – melody?, what it would be like to have everyone sing the same melody and words. To have enough strong singers that you could sing harmony, if you wanted to, and you would still hear the melody, because someone else would be singing! But I suppose some things were never meant to be.
Oh, and if you’re wondering what happens on my birthday, when I don’t sing…
Let’s not even go there. Please. I’d really rather not think about it.