I finished the memoir by Kunal Nayyar and looked at the clock. 11:55 PM read the display. Hauling myself up, I managed to drift into sleep when the baby monitor crackled with Laddu’s cries. Wincing, I pushed myself out of the cozy warmth to get her when I remembered. Crooning “Happy Birthday…” under my breath, I brought her back to my bed. Nestled against me, she slept and in a few minutes I did too.
The day broke with fevers and sore throat. Between anguished cries, regular doses of medicine and a visit to urgent care, the morning and afternoon sped past. Even when I had nothing planned to mark the day, a part of me felt sad. Settling the twins on the sofa and leaving Laddu ensconced on her dad’s lap, I pulled flour, sugar and butter from the pantry. In less than an hour, a cake stood cooling on the island.
Battling a pounding headache, I roused the family, marched them upstairs for their bath and eventually at 4:00 PM, reluctant children, an eager mom and an ambivalent dad stood around a small table. A tea-light for a candle, unadorned cake and an off-key rendition of the happy birthday song completed the ritual. I disappeared into my study returning with a gift. Opening it up and setting it beside Laddu, I watched as her sisters gleefully played with it.
The guilt from the morning eased and everything felt right. I look back on the day and know the ceremony was unwarranted. Between the million kisses, a thousand heartfelt wishes and prayers whenever I could remember, I was serenading my child. I was marking her day in my mind. In the grand scheme, she wouldn’t remember or care about this or any of the things that mattered to me. Yet, I couldn’t let go. As I lit the candle and we bend together as a family to blow it out, I sent a wish into the ether for my child.
Every once in a while, I look back on old pictures. The ones with the twins in princess sleep wear. The ones where they tussle over a balloon. I look at the ones taken on their first birthday and every year thereafter. They show me how they have grown. They show me the people who surrounded us. They show me smiles and happiness. Then it occurs to me why I crave the ceremony. I have to mark these days with something special so they stand out in my head when I go trawling for them. I see the cake at each birthday and remember rushing to the store to get them or how upset I was with the lettering. I remember how I skipped the filling on one occasion. I remember the marble cake from one. The pictures are triggers, reminding me of the background, the emotions that carried me through each of those days.
I will always look back at the pictures I took today and remember the dark pink dress with roses on them. I will remember ordering them online months ahead. I will look at the gap toothed Ammu and remember how her tooth fell the previous day. I will look at the flushed cheeks of Pattu and sigh as I remember how much her throat hurt her. Most of all, I will look at myself bending over and remember the wish I made.