I had a friend tell me once that “time is a gift not everyone receives” and every year, when I am about to blow out the candles, I think of how lucky I am to be celebrating another year around the sun. While it is easy to complain about the number of candles on the cake getting larger, there is no greater lesson than the COVID pandemic as to why celebrations —big or small— are so meaningful. Smiling faces, hugs, and laughter are all things we no longer take for granted. We are no more grateful for these small acts than on our birthday, which is the ultimate celebration of another year achieved and the quiet buzz of excitement for what lays ahead.
The inevitable reflection and reminders a birthday brings about can also spur pangs of sadness, especially if you have lost a parent. In the same way 2020 taught us to appreciate the littlest privileges of every day life, one misses the littlest pleasures a parent on a birthday provides: a morning “HBD” text, a voicemail of them singing happy birthday, a homemade cake, or goodies for all your classmates. Those lost moments inevitably lead to memories of their hugs, smiles, advice and so much more. One find herself wishing she could just have one more day, one more hug, or one more conversation. Simply put, what you miss most of all is their presence.
My mom went all out on our birthdays and above all else, encouraged themes. There was “Olivia’s Olympics” when I turned 8, the “Bed Rock” Cafe when I was 11, a Sweet Sixteen before they were a tv sensation, and a trip to the spa for my 20th — the last one that I would spend with her. For my 25th birthday, my stepmother Alli, a woman equally as thrilled to celebrate and fete others, threw me a Shop & Sip at a store in Concord called Maggie Taylor where an idea formed to host a fashion show…
I am a firm believer in birthdays and celebrating them in all the ways another year accomplished deserves to be recognized. As I approach my 40th year, it feels particularly poignant to celebrate this milestone with the incredible people in my life. Throughout the day I know I’ll look around and count my blessings: the ability to squeeze and love on my three healthy children, enjoy dinner with my husband, blow out candles with all my girlfriends (a couple are joining me for a masked walk around town), and smile at every text and email wishing me the best for the year to come. Inevitably though, I’ll think of my mother, Cande, and the epic dinner party she would no doubt have hosted, complete with delectable homemade cake, a collage of pictures (or maybe she would have been fancy and done an iMovie slideshow), and the way she would glance over and smile at me amongst the chaos. I’d think of the massive hug and way she would (hopefully) beam with pride at the mother I have become and strive to be.
Since that last birthday that I celebrated with my mom was my 20th, this upcoming birthday also marks the moment when more of my life will be lived without her than lived with her — a passage of time that is impossible to fathom.
There is nothing that will change the narrative of my mother not being there to wish me a happy 40th, but I have always strived to live a life that honors and embodies her. It is why every year, I reach out to the Runway community to remind them of and thank them for the power of this incredible “family,” many of whom know the reality of birthdays without a parent all too well. It is an unfortunate bond, but one I hope to see grow into a network where we make sure not a birthday goes by where a child doesn’t feel the warmth, love and attention from a community that won’t ever replace their mother, but can certainly do our best to carry on her traditions and make celebrations special. Ultimately, we can all acknowledge that in a day full of excitement and love, for someone who has lost a parent, birthdays can also be deeply bittersweet.
And so, the greatest birthday gift the Runway family can give to me on my 40th is the support of this organization and its programming. We want every child, especially on their birthday, to feel wrapped in love, joy and celebration — and Runway will continue to grow and evolve so that this dream can continue to be realized.