40 birthday wishes

My birthday this year, November 13, 2016, I turned forty. Forty flickering candles on my Texas chocolate fudge cake, my favorite cake made for me by my sweet mom Susan almost every one of those 40 years. I'm grateful to have never been too far from my mom, and if you know her, you know what I mean. I like to think about her the day I was born. When my dad took her to the hospital to have me in the fall of 1976, they had a 13 month old baby child, my sister, back at home with Grandma Cherie. My mom birthed five children naturally, something she was proud of although she never held back the scary details accompanying this fact. She always said she labored 24 hours with my sister, was miserably sick with the flu when she had me, and screamed and tore badly when she pushed out my brother Matt.  By the time Mikie and Joey were born she was straight up a pro. Although she had little breastfeeding success, I always knew she was just a natural childbirthing baby mama. I bet she was polite and dainty at the hospital, doing everything they told her cheerfully and doing it well. The other thing that she stands by is her refrain: "my time spent raising my babies was the best time of my life." For a little while she had four kids under the age of six, roaming our ragamuffin spirits around Escondido, California. 

I've always liked that I was born in November, that I'm a Scorpio and a fall baby. I feel like at a glance it seems incongruous for me; I like that bit of surprise. 

I turned forty a week after the gut-punch of the 2016 election. The most devastating election I've ever witnessed, with results that we will continue to absorb, reject, resist. I planned my birthday party (meant to be a jolly affair) amidst heartbreak, and with a bleary head cold that I picked up the day after the election. So many people had a visceral reaction, our bodies displaying the misery that our hearts could hardly bear. I've never been a crier (used to say that, now I guess I decidedly am) but I cried spontaneously for days. It felt (and continues to feel) unreal to me that a man who so blatantly disrespects women, immigrants, our planet, could be voted into our nation's highest office. It actually hurts my heart. No matter how many times someone said or wrote or posted the words, "Get over it," I knew those were hollow words, and I knew we never would. 

But it was my birthday, and I felt I owed my life thus far, my forty years of love and stories, a celebration. My dad, a staunch conservative, showed up Thursday morning with my requested hay bales filling his truck bed. Through the window I saw him, my kind and humble dad who I love so much, unloading my silly hay bales just because he remembered that I'd wanted them, and I started weeping. I had been thinking of cancelling my party. I went out in my pajamas and put my arms around him and wept. My family (we love each other so deeply) was torn by this election, with the younger generation all disagreeing heartily with the older. I only hoped that they could understand why we took it personally. I think they did.

And then that night, Leonard Cohen's death was announced, an unspeakable severance. A world without Leonard Cohen? This world with its garish messes and criminal atrocities, without L. Cohen to soothe our way? But at least we had his 150 songs to listen to while we grieved, and I had a neverending text thread with my best girls to share tears and lighten our hearts.

I didn't even mean to tell this story, because it is a post about my birthday, not politics, but never before had the two seemed so related, and by that I mean that everything is related, especially when you teach the idea of synthesis. And during the last several months I've been excited about turning forty, about what it means to be a woman in our culture proudly and happily turning forty.  One day in class the students were doing groupwork and I left to fill my water jar. When I came back they were all discussing something together. They stopped and one vocal young woman said good-naturedly, "Okay, we just have to know! How old are you?" I hesitated just for a moment before I told them, "I'll be forty next month and I'm having a big party to celebrate." The only part of that I regret is the moment of hesitation, I decided on my way home, because I want to make it clear that I solidly reject the mindset where any smidgen of shame exists around the natural fact of aging, especially a woman's. I hate the expression, "a lady never tells her age," with all my might because fuggggg that. It must be connected to the quote from Oscar Wilde, the great satirist, who wrote, "One should never trust a woman who tells one her real age. A woman who would tell one that would tell one anything." He's mocking that idea vigorously, ladies, in case you couldn't tell. Please: more discourse, more openness, more clarity. Less hiding, less falsity, less obscurity. 
I will shout my age from the rooftops forever. 

To me, it has never felt more important to me to be an authentic, wise, honest, loud, wild, witchy  woman. Our country and our earth needs us more than ever. 

And on that note: my 40th birthday.

Party prep the day before is always part of the fun.

On my birthday morning, Darin made french toast for breakfast and the girls gave me homemade cards and gifts with hand-decorated wrapping paper.

We put on our country girl frocks because my party was a hoe-down. We all wore barefeet and pigtails in our hair too. 

This little family photo is a simple reminder that at forty years old, all my dreams have come true. Sure, there are fun things I'd like to do, trips I'd like to take, a dream house with a tower library I'd like to live in, and books I'd like to write, but this right here is the truest heart of my heart. 

My girls love to sing "Strawberry Wine," by Deana Carter with me. It's a song I loved during my country phase at 21 years old; it's the perfect sing-along, and it makes me cry. I think I'll always treasure the memory of sitting on those hay bales with my little four year old and two year old daughters, arms wrapped around each other and belting it out with gusto on my birthday.

Notes about my party:

hay bales
globe lights borrowed from Addie
red gingham oilcloth table covers
the beautiful bench Jack made that he and my mom gifted me
wheelbarrow rides
baby Iris loving all the kiddie cars, but falling as 18 month olds tend to do
Marya so cute in one of my vintage sweaters when the dusk grew cold
Celia's artichoke dip
Rebecca's eyes that get teary more easily that she'll admit, how I love her for it
Hop Cider from Bumgarner 
two crockpots of veggie chili and a big pan of cornbread made by me
kombucha scoby from Dolly
gorgeous bouquet from Courtney and Melissa
homemade card from Penelope, and her cute boots
kids on the trampoline for hours on end
bonfire - oh bonfire, you perfect November treat
roasted marshmallows
blasting Darin's country playlist with lots of my old favorites from Lucinda Williams to Townes to Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton
Texas chocolate fudge cake with forty tiny flickering candles and babies gathered round to help blow them out
Emily and Joey staying later than anyone, letting our exhausted kids keep playing while we listened to Leonard Cohen until all hours.

The birds they sing at the break of day,
Start again, I heard them say.
Don't dwell on what has passed away
Or what is yet to be.

Yeah the wars, they will be fought again.
The holy dove, she will be caught again.
Bought and sold and bought again,
The dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.

We ask for signs, the signs were sent.
The birth betrayed, the marriage spent.
Yeah the widowhood of every government: 
Signs for all to see.

I can't run no more with that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places say their prayers out loud.
But they've summoned, they've summoned up a thunder cloud,
They're gonna hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.

You can add up the parts, you won't have the sum.
You can strike up the march, there is no drum.
Every heart, every heart to love will come.
But like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.

Next party, I say we all sing that together.
Keep celebrating! Keep singing!

And I hope more posts are in the near future of this 40 year old. 


Lara said…
Happy birthday! This made me cry and cry with the beauty if how you wove everything together, and your proud, strong, wise woman self. As an almost 40 year old who also wept daily and suddenly after the election, and who faces a challenging year ahead (leaving my toddler baby behind for half the week to go do work that I feel is part of the resistance), your words carried so much for me. What a celebration of life and living with love and heart. Thank you and sending you warmest birthday wishes.
Anonymous said…
Oh you, magic word-weaver! So beautiful, heartfelt and honest. Happy belated birthday, Heather! May your 41st year on this Earth be filled with love, hope, deep feelings of all kind, resilience in regards to scary developments, and joy, so much joy for all the beautiful in this world! Family, friends, music, art, literature, nature, and so much more. Thank you for choosing to share something so personal with us - this is one of my absolute favourite posts of yours!

marya said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
marya said…
We had the BEST time! Thanks so much for having us! It was really the perfect night. Also, that beautiful celebration seriously took the sting out of that weirdo election week...
Make!Do! said…
Happy happy birthday. I don't "know" you but I know the world is a better place because you are in it.
It gives me hope that you and your peers were raised in the values of people who are loving and "conservative" (it is possible to be both!) and feel you can disagree with the politics and make change in the world. A bright spot in a dark time. Like your blog and photos and family!
Alicia P. said…
It's so beautiful, dear Heather, all of it. The joy and the grief and the silly hay bales, brought by love. I wish you a very happy birthday. And I thank you sincerely for the effort it takes (I know) to weave it all together to share it with the world. I need it, and we all do, too. Keep shining bright. ✨
Lindy~ said…
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall the major lift, an exhausted king composing hallelujah~~I emailed your sister, and shared the same ripping anger with her, as she did with me over the election. I am so disgusted that Americans are this blind to elect someone like him! I was also sick after the election, not the "cold" type, but the kind of sick that comes from the death of a dying nation, and cried and cried, and still, when I wake up, I wonder how this could of happened. How could this of happened. I also see that you deleted a comment. It is sad that someone would come into your space (presumably) to argue for him. I am so disgusted that on a daily basis, it's hard to fathom. So Heather, thank you, and happy 40th birthday, I am 2 years away from that, and I too will shout it from the roof tops. I shall not hide the path that brought me here. To Leonard, To Hillary, To Bernie, To Mother Earth, to the souls that I have learned from, and to you, Heather, may it be light, and may the money grubbing, racist, fascist, mother earth killing darkness, creep back into the darkness, to answer to the higher power. We all reap what we sow, and the web he has weaved is not my America, not.my.president.!!!!!
R Fort said…
I'm so amazed at your gift of words - you convey such heart & depth & special insight. I always look forward to reading what you have to say because it captures space and time and the pulse of our culture. What a gift it will be to your girls as these memories are now a documented testament. Happy, Happy Birthday year!
Love & Hugs and Merry Christmas,

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