They Say It’s Your Birthday by
(303 Stories)

Prompted By Birthdays

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The family comedians gave me this cake in 2007

Birthdays have always been a big deal to me. I was born on my father’s birthday, which was very special to me, even in the years when I wasn’t close to him. My middle sister was born two days before my mother’s birthday, and I always wished she could have waited another 48 hours to emerge. I thought it would have been so cool to have only three birthdays for the five people in our family.

My birthday falls at the end of August, which is a lovely time of year, but a terrible time to have a birthday when you are young.

My birthday falls at the end of August, which is a lovely time of year, but a terrible time to have a birthday when you are young, because nobody is around. I always envied the kids at camp whose birthdays were in July or the first three weeks of August, because they got a big fuss made over them by counselors and cabinmates. And during the school year, kids would bring in cupcakes on their birthday and everyone would sing to them, and they would have a big party that weekend. But August 30th is almost Labor Day, a time when camp is over and school hasn’t started, so camp friends were scattered, and school friends were away, and therefore I never had a party.

When I was in 6th grade, my mother finally figured out that she could have a party for me, and my friends from school would come, if we held it in the middle of September. So that was my very first birthday party, after so many years of going to other girls’ parties and buying presents for them. For that one and only time, I was the center of attention, and I loved it. However, that tradition did not continue. By the next year, seventh grade, I was at a new school, and it turned out that kids there had parties for other reasons, but not for birthdays.

Fast forward almost fourteen years to the spring of my first year of law school. I don’t remember if I had complained about my lack of birthday parties or not. For whatever reason, my roommate decided to have a surprise party for me in May, before final exams occurred and everyone left town for their summer jobs. It was a total surprise, especially since it wasn’t even close to my birthday. She conspired with the guy I was dating, and got all my friends jammed into our small apartment while I was out for dinner with him. When I walked in and everyone leaped out and yelled surprise, I was stunned. The first thing I said, after my racing heart calmed down, was “It’s not my birthday!” This turned out to be a surprise to most of the guests at the party, who had assumed it actually was my birthday.

My third and last birthday party (at least so far) was also a surprise party, arranged by my husband when I turned 45. Somehow he got everyone into our backyard while I was in the house without my noticing. This hardly seems possible, but I had a two-month-old baby, as well as an eight-year-old and an eleven-year-old, so it was probably pretty easy to distract me. It was funny, because earlier in August we had all been at a family reunion in upstate New York, and he had to return to Sacramento before the rest of us, for some reason relating to his job. Before he left, I jokingly said, “You’re going home to plan my surprise party, right?” I don’t know if my comment was what gave him the idea, or whether he already had it in mind, and he would never tell me, but it was a fabulous party, and a great surprise.

Two other fond birthday memories:

When I turned twenty-one, my mother made me scrambled eggs with caviar for breakfast so that I would never forget that day. It worked. They were delicious, and I will always remember it. (I offered to do the same for Molly this year when she turned twenty-one, but she declined. I guess caviar doesn’t have the same élan for her as it did for me.)

On my fiftieth birthday, I went with my mother, sister, brother-in-law, aunt, and cousin, who were in town for my son’s bar mitzvah, as well as my husband and a dear friend, for a spectacular dinner at The French Laundry. I described this dinner in another story, The End of the World.

Looking back on these five amazing memories, I realize I have nothing to complain about. On all my other birthdays, both in childhood and as an adult, I have just had a quiet celebration with immediate family, but as long as it includes cake with dark chocolate frosting (like the one in the featured image), at least one present, and everyone fusses over me, I am happy.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: been there, funny, right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    My David also has a late August birthday, so I understand your situation entirely (also your mother’s…it is not fun being pregnant when it is so hot out!) But I’m glad you had some memorable birthdays. Great that your mother figured out that she could delay your party until your friends returned when you were in 6th grade and that made it all the more memorable for you. Eggs and caviar sounds quite special. And a surprise party that actually managed to surprise with friends and family present sounds wonderful. You may not have had a lot of parties, but the ones you had made up for all the rest.

    • Suzy says:

      Yes, I know all about summer pregnancies. My son Ben was born in July ’88, a summer which still holds the record for the most days over 110° (no, not just 100, that’s one hundred TEN) in Sacramento history. Before his birth, I spent hours every day in our pool. Afterwards, the dr. told me I couldn’t go swimming for six weeks because I had a cesarian! I was devastated.

  2. John Zussman says:

    It’s touching that your roommate and husband both understood your birthday party deficit and resolved to correct it. I wish you not just chocolate cake but scrambled eggs and caviar for every birthday hereafter.

  3. Kit says:

    What wonderful memories, and how nice that your mother at least tried a few times to make up for the unfortunate timing (at least in terms of parties) of your birth. I can totally relate, having been born on Christmas Day. While as a child I always had parties sometime around that date, I have never been in a work or school setting where someone could just wish me happy birthday on the right day.
    And the French Laundry! We planned a whole family trip (from the East coast) around dinner there for son Nathaniel’s twenty-first birthday. I’ll have to check out your story about that!

  4. Kit says:

    OK. I’ll give it a try. Thanks for your encouragement.

  5. Patricia says:

    I’ve always felt bad about kids with summer birthdays, it’s during the school year you need something special–glad your mother figured that out. I can share with you my list of restaurants just as special as TFL; still lots of birthdays left to get through them all!

  6. Betsy Pfau says:

    Suzy, this story still has lots of charming memories and components. And chocolate cake! What could be better than that? I love that your mother made you scrambled eggs with caviar on your 21st so you’d always remember that one and it worked.

  7. Dave Ventre says:

    My birthday is in early June, so I usually have great weather for it. Nice to know that I am not alone in wanting my birthday cakes with chocolate frosting!

  8. Happy Birthday Suzy WHENEVER!

  9. Laurie Levy says:

    Having a birthday that usually fell on Labor Day weekend (September 7), I feel your pain. When I was young enough to want a party, school had not yet started, or if it had, it was too soon to have made new friends. My family always celebrated in some fashion, but like you, I longed for a peer party.

  10. John Shutkin says:

    Fun birthday stories, Suzy, and I know exactly how you feel. Also having an August birthday, I was also depressed because it was often tough for my pals to make it — many were off at camp or on family vacations. First World problem, I know, but I share your pain.

    And I give myself credit for predicting what song title you would use for your title. Not all that tough, I realize, but I rarely get it right. (And I swear I didn’t “cheat” and go back to your 2017 story first.)

  11. Oh my. Wonderful, if at times sad, story, Suzy. Interesting now that many school calendars have changed so that your birthday would now likely be an “in session” occasion. I’m not really a big birthday fan, although I once was:, when I was growing up, and our family celebrated my birthday (March 9th) and my next-older sister Suzie’s (March 11) fully and in succession. Four days of birthday! And cake! Chocolate cake! Mmmm. Thanks for the memory prompt.

  12. Jan Fox says:

    Pardon me, but who (or what) does the “Whatever” on the featured birthday cake refer to? A family member in the attic??

    What a palimsest of family, friends and feelings!

    Your blurted reaction to the first party that truly surprised you rings so true! And beats the devil out of mine to opening the door of a friend’s bar and restaurant two days after my birthday to find a roomful of friends and a caged “spring chicken” there waiting for me with a happy birthday shout out: “Oh, sh!#t!,” I said, slamming the door. Not what they were going for, I’m thinking.

    And your passing reference to the gifts you gave your classmates at all their parties exumes the memory of the birthday my mom let me buy a friend the present I really wanted for myself: a Robbie the Robot. Wrapped in gorgeous multi-colored big polka-dotted paper with curly ribbon, Robbie waited among the other gifts in my girlfriend’s party pile as I breathlessly anticipated the joy of her discovery. When the time came, though, it was anything but joyous. As soon as his block head emerged from the polka dots, my little friend’s young mother said: “Who gave you that?? That’s a present for a boy, not a girl!!” Now I think I’m finally mature enough to say: a lot she knew. and feel sorta sympathetic.

    Thank you, Suzy for this wonderfully self-revelatory birthday collage. Seems you are still in the business of helping to make the party and give gifts to your classmates.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for your comments, Jan. They gave me that cake in 2007, an era when people were saying “whatever” in answer to almost any question, as characterized by the New Yorker cartoon of that time showing a bride and groom at the altar, and the officiant saying “It’s not ‘whatever,’ young man, it’s ‘I do’!”

  13. Khati Hendry says:

    It makes sense you would love a birthday party—as the organizer of reunions and retrospect and general connector. Thank goodness for people like you. I am the anti-party hide-in-the-corner person and would likely have said “oh sh!#t” like Jan did when surprised. You have had some good birthdays despite August timing, and more great parties to come I’m sure.

  14. Susan Bennet says:

    Loved this story, Suzy. “Good” birthdays or “bad,” (yours) never a dull moment, and that’s the key. Like you, I like “clumped” birthdays, just more fun to do it in a pack. Our family is crowded into December b-days, it does get a bit expensive leading up to the holidays. Also like you, our newest baby Charlotte arrived on December 24, which assures, like you as a child, she will never have a kids’ party on or near that date. But in the end, if our loved ones remember and celebrate us, that never gets old. Thanks for the fun.

  15. Susan Bennet says:

    Good grief, Suzy, it looks like a monkey typed my reply. Well, you know what I mean. I need a copy editor!

  16. I love your cake!! I have been and always will be a disaster at cake decorating. If I had to do it now I would probably write the message on my computer and tape the print out to the frosting. Although it would be nice if every birthday were special, perhaps it is better to have those memorable ones that stand out as you so wonderfully describe. Thanks!!

    • Suzy says:

      Jackie, the cake was decorated by the bakery. Nobody in my family could have managed that inscription. They just told the bakers what to write when they ordered the cake.

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