How my Mom taught me about intentional celebration
Birthdays always remind me of my Mom.
She loved celebrating and always made sure my birthday was filled with joy and excitement. Over the years, she created a rhythm and a cherished ritual which I always looked forward to experience. She was always filled joy and love and always made sure that I felt her love for me.
The best was the joy of planning everything with her. About a month before the big day, the fun began when she would raise the subject and ask the questions:
- Did I want a friend party?
- Did I want to invite my grandparents to the family party?
- What did I want for dinner?
- What kind of cake did I want?
- What did I want to wear to school that day? To the party?
- What was on my birthday present list?
Little by little, the details were discussed and agreed upon. My excitement rose and she’d share it all with me as we’d laugh and make funny suggestions which turned in to the best experiences.
Every bit of the celebration was all for me and what I wanted. At the time I was entirely focused on the celebration.
Looking back, I see the fun I had with my mom making plans was the best part and, of course, exactly what I miss most now.
My love language is connection (which isn’t described in the famous book). When someone makes the effort to make plans with me, or reaches out and says Wow, I love being with you – that’s when I feel loved. Yes, I adore surprises and presents and having folks do something nice for me. I am definitely high-touch – a hug, a kiss, a cuddle. But for me these are all forms of connection.
When there is intentionality to extending connection with me – that’s my way of knowing that you care about me.
Love is in the in the connection – love is the connection.
Every year, a very important component of the birthday celebration was the ritual just after dinner and right before birthday cake. In this moment Moma knew she’d have my full attention.
She began with words about why we were gathered. She’s used my full name and remind me of our special connection – my middle name then, and my last name now, was her first name.
Then she would look at me and ask the first question:
What was the best and worst for you this year?
Some years I had ready answers and some years I hesitated. Especially, as I got older, I began to realize that she was serious in helping me grow into a deep awareness of myself.
Next, she would turn to everyone at the table with the second question:
What promise do you hold for Cheryl as she moves into the next year of her life?
Around the table, one by one, everyone would give me a birthday wish and blessing. The adults would often take the opportunity to share something of value with me or pass on some advice.
Of course, now I wish I had taken notes. Yet, I know the words are with me as threads of loving connection.
The last question brought attention back to me:
Cheryl, what do you want for yourself in the year to come?
You can see I’ve been consciously setting intention for myself for a very long time.
However, as I got into the world, I found not many people shared the love of intentional connection my mom and I shared.
The biggest resistor to this intentional celebration turned out to be the man I was married to for 25 years. What I initially mistook as an introvert turned out to be a person who wasn’t into deep connection and more into whatever might be the smallest effort required to keep me happy.
I see a big difference between keeping me happy – this is the effort of the least common denominator. Or, with intention, acknowledging loving, powerful connection – this is going for the greatest common multiple between us.
I struggled mightily to explain, to educate, to ask for what I wanted.
To say we had different love languages hides a reality which took me a long time to acknowledge: all he truly wanted was to keep me happy – loving connection was elsewhere for him and was not with me.
To counter his reticence, I started trying to plan my celebrations and loop my daughter into the planning. This worked until her interest shifted and her maturity didn’t have time for parents on many levels especially celebration planning.
When the great parting occurred (divorce), any pretense of connection vanished and I was left to my own devices when it came to the intentional celebration of connection.
Because I don’t have a standard 9 to 5 job and can set my own hours, every year I have intentionally scheduled myself out of office around my birthday. I do a variety of activities for me. A couple of years I’ve taken a road trip. Other years, like this year, I stay home and focus on writing uninterrupted. When I lived in Oregon, for several years running, I’d plan my three favorite hikes done across five to six days with the best saved for the big day.
Whatever I choose to do, I take time for setting intention, for getting straight with me, for taking time that’s just for me.
After several major disappointments, I’ve quit trying to include others unless they show up and request connection.
What’s odd is for the most part, I am by myself.
However, wherever I am, I think of my mom and wish she was here.
I know she would show up with Margarita and some chips and guac. She’d joined me on the beach, on the mountain top – wherever the day took me.
She’d smile and hug me and tell me how much she has always loved me. Then she would smile and say:
Cheryl Marlene, what was the best and worst for you this year?