Every month, I hope that I will wake up changed, a new woman, suddenly transformed into the thoughtful person I want to be—the friend who remembers birthdays. It’s sort of like how every day, my cat climbs on the back of my reclining zero gravity chair on my porch. And every day, she hopes that the top of the chair has widened so that she doesn’t look like a tightrope walker at the circus with her paws spread out to grip, barely hanging on, as she also wishes the nearby two-finger-wide ledge off the window has grown into an actual ledge that’s suitable for a cat. It hasn’t. It never will. And yet, every day she tries and fails.
I mock this special cat of mine, but really, part of me commends her efforts. She’s full of hope that each day is a new day, the chance to become a new cat on a changed chair that leads to a ledge fit for sprawling. It’s like she forgets how she ends up wobbling on the zero gravity, sending my head back and feet flying. She totally forgets that she ends up falling and her plan never works.
The same is true for me and the birthday cards: every month, I desperately hope to become the birthday card friend, erasing all memories of my past failures. I make the leap (!), and then I fall. I try and I fail.
My own grandmother has an entire calendar devoted to birthdays. It’s an actual calendar that she hangs from a bulletin board in the kitchen with a thumb tack. Soon after my wedding last year, she called me up to ask, “What is John’s birthday? I need to add it to the birthday calendar.” Now he is officially a member of our family.
It seems simple: order a calendar (assuming they still make paper versions, the glossy type with cheesy themes), get a pen (preferably several in pretty colors), flip through month-by-month, write out the birthdays for people I love (in cursive, which always feels special), find a thumb tack, hang. The whole idea of it feels rather romantic, the lost art of paper calendars, or perhaps the lost art of remembering.
Even my husband attempted to make us a digital version on our shared Google calendar. But I got a little flustered with deciding, who exactly do I include on the birthday calendar? How far in advance do I set the alert? If a friend doesn’t have a Facebook that tells me her birthday, do I reach out to find out the date? What if it’s tomorrow and I’m just now pulling myself together to become a thoughtful friend?
Plus, there’s the whole decision about sending a gift or simply a card. Plus, plus, I perpetually never have stamps.
Recently, I fell into a dark pattern of forgetting, a series of months where I’m not sure I even attempted to make the leap to become a thoughtful birthday-remembering friend. Instead, I scrambled the day before (ahem, the day of) to purchase a gift card online with a printable digital version, or to tap into the power of Amazon Prime for my friends in other states. There was nothing enjoyable about the process, especially when the Amazon item had no little box to check for gift options. I felt stressed and overwhelmed, guilty for not planning ahead, dragging my husband into my miserable stomach ulcers with pleas for him to please find something thoughtful at the grocery store on the way home.
“Her (read: very important best friend) birthday is tomorrow and I have nothing!” I yell into the phone.
“I’m starting to realize,” my husband says, “that this is what you do every month.”
I can’t remember if I responded to him. If I did, I’m sure it wasn’t especially productive. Something like, I do not do this every month! (Lie.) I tried harder this month! (Or I meant to.) You’re not helping me figure this out! (Truth, but not helpful.)
So, I turned to my mother for advice. “What do I get her and why do I always do this?”
“Because your mother isn’t a card person either,” she says. “I didn’t teach you to send cards.”
It’s true: I don’t have memories of my mom sending birthday cards. We didn’t have a Christmas card, at least that I remember. My mom claims she sent a detailed note about tooth fairy visits and shining report cards with a coordinated family portrait sometime in my early years, but I don’t remember it. The only calendar I remember hanging on our fridge was the free one from the school system my mom brought home from work that we put dates on of important events in August and maybe September, where it stayed frozen for the rest of the school year.
But this shouldn’t be an excuse. There are plenty of things my mom and I do differently, like how she wonders where I learned to fold the towels the way I do in thirds or why I’d love to stay forever in a corner at a party like a good introvert.
Maybe the problem is that I have exceptionally thoughtful friends. When I see this in writing, it seems like it’s so far from an actual problem. Hear me out. I have friends who send me Gilmore Girls coffee mugs for no occasion at all. In fact, her birthday was the following week. Once, I wrote a blog post while living in another time zone for grad school about my state of being sad and poor, yet how I was setting out to count my pennies to buy myself flowers every week. My apartment turned into the secret garden with nearly twenty flower deliveries of beautiful bouquets. The front desk attendant wondered if I had a persistent boyfriend. Nope, just a whole gang of thoughtful loved ones.
Surely a new month will come upon us soon. Maybe it will even be a new year, a new me. I’ll finally buy the calendar just like my grandma, find that special spot to hang it up. I’ll wake up oblivious to my past failures and take the leap like my special cat, believing in the impossible. Who knows, maybe tomorrow the chair will stabilize and the ledge will grow for her. And maybe I’ll successfully stick my own landing as the friend who remembers birthdays.