By Pat Webdale
It was a great birthday. I am loved. I can tell you that. I was really looking forward to this birthday – my 75th. I wasn’t thinking about getting things, but rather that my whole life had been a gift to me. I felt like a matriarch. Wife, mother of six, grandmother of 10, great-grandmother.
I had a good family of origin and a large extended family. Mostly, I had lots of memories; a view from the top, so to speak.
We are each our own story and although we get to choose some things – who we marry or if we want to have children, a career or a place to live – much of our story is written for us, day by day.
I could not have known as a teenager who married at the end of my 18th year what it was like to give birth, mother teens or go to a parents’ weekend at a college.
I certainly could never envision losing an adult child and all that came about because of that; meeting with politicians, passing Kendra’s Law, lobbying to keep it.
I knew nothing about mental illness until we lost Kendra in a tragedy brought about by a young man with a mental illness. Now I personally know at least 100 families who have an adult child who suffers from a serious mental illness.
I had a mother-in-law who had a breast removed and drove herself to radiation treatments. Two years ago, I had a lumpectomy and drove myself to radiation treatments afterward. Now I know some of what my mother-in-law experienced.
I know what retirement feels like, how it is a struggle to search for ways to feel like a productive member of society.
I think back to many earlier birthdays. I have one sob story. I was 7 and had invited my classmates to my party. The thing was, there was no party. My mom always told us we could not have events because we had an old landlord who did not like noisy kids. So I invented a party for myself. It would be at grandma’s house down the street.
Pretty little girls came dressed up in party finery. They were carrying gifts in fancy paper with bows. I had to answer the door and admit to them that my party was a hoax and watch them disappear down the steps.
I am sure I felt quite sad, but what I remember most was being in trouble for telling one of my famous stories.
On other childhood birthdays, I was given money to take a friend to a movie or out for ice cream and then one of my aunts would host a family dinner.
On my 30th birthday, I felt so old and wrinkled. I had five kids then. On my 40th, I was no longer concerned about wrinkles. And I had six kids – five teenagers and a 6-year-old. I celebrated my 50th with a limo ride and champagne from my eldest; things were improving. Sixty brought a surprise party. Surprise! Where was I when they shouted that? In the bathroom, because I was totally surprised. On my 70th, I took my grandchildren Kendra and Nicky to the Shrine circus.
I have enjoyed all kinds of birthdays. Fake ones, quiet ones and busy ones. This year, I decided to make it all about me. Crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, Words With Friends, calls, texts. We went out for breakfast and broiled lobster tails for dinner. I opened a fun box from my brother, full of cute surprises. It was a real work of art. We had a takeout peanut butter pie for dessert.
The festivities began in Vermont a couple of weeks before my birthday, included a cake at Dawn and Tony’s the Saturday after and carried over to a visit from Long Islanders two weeks later. That’s a lot of partying for a 75-year-old matriarch.