Birthdays with Mom


This week I have to go renew my license. I will be 21 and need to be re-photographed for identification purposes.


While this is normal and expected, I can’t help but feel strange about the idea of this birthday, this stage of life. The progression from tiny human to full-fledged adult has continually baffled me.


And while this birthday is actually mine, my reflection of growing up and what it means to be a “real” human – the kind with a job, a house or an apartment, a salary, responsibilities – has turned my thoughts towards my mother – my life-giver, my biggest fan and most honest critic, my carbon-copy counterpart: my mom, Brigitte.


It is in this reflection that I have recognized that birthdays are meant to be celebrated with my mom.


When I turned 18 my mom and I, along with her best friend Cathy who is like a second mother to me, opted for a sophisticated night out as “adults.”


The night was all my planning: it was to take place in downtown Birmingham, a trendy metropolis only a stone’s throw away from our own suburban spot, Rochester. We would eat at a swanky Italian place and marvel at Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in the newly released Silver Lining’s Playbook. I was thrilled.


On a Saturday in November – a pitch-black sky hanging above and soft snow delicately frosting the city streets – our trio convened at the restaurant.


I ordered the lasagna (my favorite pasta dish), but it was awful.


After eating, we tromped through snow to the theater, and the clerk told us (with 15 minutes until show time) that the tickets were sold out.


Both my mom and Cathy looked horrified. The night was not going as planned.


“I’m so, so sorry Brittany! I had no idea the tickets would sell out,” my mom explained.


“We can wait to see the next showing in an hour,” Cathy offered with condolences.


I looked at my wide-eyed, apologetic moms and smiled: “Of course, that sounds great.”


After buying our tickets for the 11 o’clock showing, we re-traced our steps back towards a Starbucks we had passed, and opted to spend our leisurely hour there over coffee and cookies.


At the time I couldn’t stomach the taste of coffee, so I sipped on hot chocolate bursting with marshmallows and devoured a snowman cookie while we sat by the piping fire.


We later arrived at our seats to Silver Lining, and my eyes were virtually glued to the screen as it flashed with scenes of elegance and poise and pure emotion. I was captivated.


The night was perfect. But I could see my mom’s eyes hovering over me the entire night, scanning eagerly to see if I was in fact enjoying myself, to ensure that the snafus hadn’t ruined the celebration. Because as moms often do, she worried about me. Because she cared.


But what my mom didn’t realize is that simply being with her was the gift I wanted most.


I wanted to feel sophisticated, loved, cultured, interesting. I wanted my mom’s attention and her love and her respect, and more than any gift I received that birthday, I just wanted her. I wanted to connect with the woman I admire most.


Since that birthday my mom and I have made a tradition of celebrating together – usually just the two of us, but sometimes including other ladies who have been my second, third, and fourth mothers.


For my twentieth we spent a weekend at a swanky hotel in downtown Chicago, doing all our favorite things together: shopping, running, watching Christmas movies, drinking wine, eating chocolate, perusing bookstores, and jamming out to Taylor Swift for hours on end.


For my twenty-first we’re eating at my favorite sushi spot in Ann Arbor and attending the ballet later that evening.


And as for all the other birthdays to come, I can only imagine all the ways we’ll enjoy ourselves together, all the ways we’ll celebrate and the things we’ll have to be thankful for.


As for now, I couldn’t be more excited to celebrate my twenty-one years with the very woman who has given me the gift of life. Here’s to 21, Mom. Cheers.