On Tuesday I celebrated my 29th birthday. Like any major event, especially birthdays, I tend to spend a few days mulling and sometimes stewing about the days, years and moments leading up to the current status of my life. I remember when I turned eleven and my first thought was, “Wow, in two years I’ll be 13. I’ll be a teenager!” I can remember vividly that birthday–we spent it at my grandmother’s mainland house in Cedarville and celebrated my day in conjunction with the Winter Carnival Weekend where the Great Lakes ice takes on a new landscape with snow sculptures and ice shanties circling the bay. A lot has happened to me since I turned eleven, and I’m grateful for the journey. It just seems like life is happening a bit too fast.
Perhaps that’s because I’m ski racing and every 100th second counts?
My birthday celebrations in my twenties have been raucous filled but some haven’t all been quite celebratory and boisterous. On my 24th birthday, I shattered my wrist on a gate in a recreational league alpine race. That night, I swore of off racing forever. Well, that was a promise I didn’t keep. Although I did trade in my alpine skis for telemark but once again, I’m nursing an injury on my birthday. This time, I won’t be cursing racing. I love it. I don’t really think I can give it up. My 25th birthday, the quarter of life marker, was spent with my head hung over the toilet. No, it wasn’t because I drank too much. I ate bad seafood the night before and suffered. I still attempted to go on my Canadian ski vacation but the stomach flu and skiing don’t always combine for an enjoyable time. My 23rd, which is a year I deem the Year that Maggie Lost the Sense of Herself (bad relationship, called off wedding, terrible breakup, etc.), was a birthday where I received the worst present, ever. My boyfriend at the time thought I’d truly love a new phone. And this new phone was not a cell phone or some fancy or slick device. Wrapped in the shopping bag where he purchased my birthday present, was a cordless phone. We already had a working house phone. This man was not really interested in birthdays or really anything that involved me or what I loved. I do not mourn for that relationship.
For a few mishaps on my birthdays in my second decade of life, I’ve experienced some really good ones too. No matter where I live, my mother still makes a big effort and knows just how much I love to celebrate. Each year, I receive a giant package (good thing USPS has the flat rate box service now!) and from my lovely and creative mother, it typically contains a knit hat–my 26th birthday she created the Cupcake Hat out of yarn that even includes a candle on top. The box also contains the makings for a cake, party hats and candles. Before my lactose intolerance, she used to overnight one dozen mini-cheesecakes. Oh how I love her!
One present that I did not receive on my birthday, but that I cherish the most is the binder of letters my Aunt Darcy saved from the first three years of my life. My mother wrote her sister nearly every day during her pregnancy with me, my birth, her second pregnancy with my brother JD and then a short year of quick notes in between nursing and chasing around two children just 17 months apart. Unbeknownst to my mother and myself, Aunt Darcy collected these letters with the intention of giving me the collection when I had my first child. I’ve had these letters for 11 years and I do not have a child. As I’ve written before, my Aunt Darcy died of cancer in 2000. The day after the funeral, my Uncle David set out her personal things that she wished to give her family members, including ski sweaters, her books, the jewelry that she crafted in her little shed on the island with her long fingers, and for me was a red binder.
My Uncle David, who held steady during this process, handed the binder to me. I was 18 at the time and deeply wounded. Letters in my mother’s neat and beautiful handwriting were bound together between the book covers. I possessed a most intimate understanding of my mother and her experience as a new mother. Her notes even included little drawings, diagramming my new teeth as a baby and her garden plans. My mother wrote about impulsively buying a Vogue magazine and feeling utterly devastated as she was hugely pregnant and not stylish whatsoever.
I felt like I was visiting another planet. I’ve been walking around in khaki shorts while everybody else wears SHORT tight jeans and big shirts. I look like a chubby boy.
Her sister was living in California and finishing her art degree and my mother begged her for details of her adventures. My mother wrote of all the mishaps of raising a child, butt rashes and also of her marriage and mis-adventures in home ownership, including the furnace failing, the washing machine breaking, and three year old Maggie climbing up the ladder to the roof of the house while my Dad was replacing shingles. Oops.
This collection of letters begs another story and it is in this collection where I think my greatest love and attraction to words stems from. My mother is an incredible story teller, writer and voracious reader. I inherited these fine traits from her.
I turn to these letters often–the binder keeps permanent residence on my bedside table and many times, I cry reading these dispatches and think of how much love my mother possess in her heart. I also miss my aunt and the love she gifted upon me. But today, as I’m three days in on my final year of my twenties, I’d like to share what Maggie was up to during her early years. Sure, I can remember my 11th birthday and I am still glowing from my 29th birthday and Cole’s home-cooked seafood feast (no food poisoning!) but it’s my first few years on Earth where I need my mother’s word to construct those celebrations.
The day after my first birthday, I was not trying to eat cake, instead I snacked on a very different source of food:
Oops–Maggie’s eating bark from the wood pile–must be-yes-it’s lunch time already. She’s the 11:15 kid-MUST EAT OR YOU’LL HEAR IT ALL THE WAY TO CALIF!!
Impressive, aren’t I? Eating bark. Oh my poor mother. But I’m still a hungry girl, so I guess when options are limited, bark will do.
So here’s to my mother. Thank you, Little One, for giving me a first birthday and allowing me to turn out into the wild one that I am today. Thank you for loving your sister so much and sharing your life through your letters. I am most grateful.