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Put the Happy in Happy Birthday

Put the Happy in Happy Birthday

I celebrate it every year, but I do not remember the actual event for which I celebrate. It is the day of my birth—my birthday. Although I do not remember being born, I have heard stories about that day from my mom, and I have pictured her sitting in the McLaurin High School gymnasium in early labor and feeling uncomfortable as my dad coached a basketball game. Each year on November 8th, I recognize the significance of this day in my life. I celebrate the passing year and anticipate the future one. 

As children, we looked forward to our birthday all year. As the day drew closer, the excitement culminated on our special day, and the worst day was the day after our birthday because that meant 364 days until our next birthday. As parents, we celebrate the births of our children. We recognize the significance of that day—the day we became parents and our lives were never the same. We look at our children, and we experience a sense of amazement and wonder, remembering that first moment of true love. While we do this all through the year, the occasion of a birthday allows us to truly reflect on the miracle of life and the blessing of our children. 

Because of this love, we want our children to have memorable birthdays. As I began to contemplate this, in an attempt to understand it, I began asking my family and friends to tell me about their most memorable birthday. By doing this, I was reminded of the fact that the word memorable does not always possess a positive connotation. There was that one 13th birthday party attended by only one friend, or that particular birthday when the only gift was a pair of blue jeans. Although these responses were different from what I anticipated, they contributed to my overall understanding and conclusion—a memorable birthday is not the result of an awesome gift or a huge party but rather the emotions one experiences on his or her birthday. 

When placing an emphasis on the importance of one’s birthday, parents make their children feel special and create a positive emotional associate with the event. In her article “Remembering the Details: Effects of Emotion,” Elizabeth Kensinger, of Boston College’s Department of Psychology, mentions the relationship of emotions and memories stating, “It has long been known that experiences that elicit arousal are more likely to be remembered than experiences that do not evoke an emotional response,” and she cites various studies that support this idea. With this in mind, we, as parents, can do everything possible to guarantee that our children not only know and understand how special they are to us but also create moments that provide a positive emotional response—moments like a birthday. 

A birthday is not like every other day of the year. 

By making sure that our children’s birthdays are different from every other day of the year, we can show our children the significance of this special day. This is the only day that my boys get to eat cake for breakfast, and the world revolves around them. They have a special birthday crown and cape that they can wear, and we spend the day together doing activities of their choosing. Whether it is playing at Pump It Up or taking a hike on the Mississippi Science Museum trails, the day is devoted to their enjoyment and happiness. 

Traditions make me feel special. 

Having special birthday traditions is one way to separate this day from the rest and help our children feel special and loved. When reflecting on her most memorable birthday, Madison mother Greer Proctor-Dickson talked about the special, homemade birthday cake made by her mama, hearing the story of her birth, and eating at the restaurant of her choice. She recognized that these traditions, her “birthday things,” made her “feel special and loved.” Similarly, Shannon Stoker, mother of two, thought of the “Happy Birthday” banner that her mom always had hanging when she woke up on her birthday. Shannon said, “Nothing crazy, but just a great feeling and memory each time.” Both Greer and Shannon recognize the feelings that these traditions created and choose to continue these same traditions with their children. 

It’s the thought that counts. 

Nothing can make a person feel more special than having others take the time to plan a special event or a special gift. The cost is irrelevant; the sentiment is priceless. Brandon mom Christi Henderson describes her most memorable birthday as “a really special night.” Her family and friends surprised her with a party for her 16th birthday, and her dad created a “book full of letters from everyone that was at the party.” She still cherishes this book and the memory of this special day. Handmade gifts, gifts that take effort, time, and thought, can make our children feel important and special. 

Put the happy in happy birthday. 

As parents we have the ability to make each birthday a magical one creating positive emotions that have a lasting effect. It is our job to put the happy in happy birthday—making memories for our children that will last a lifetime. 


By Beth McKay

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