LEX CANIS THE Lee Berlin Kyle Killam Andrea Brown
A Day to Remember February 14 in the Berlin Family
There are two events that fall on Feb. 14 in the Berlin Family. On top of being Valentine’s Day, it’s also my mother’s birthday. As anyone born on a major holiday can attest, sharing the spotlight on your special day can be a challenge. My brothers and I do our best to make it extra special for her, but we didn’t always do a great job of celebrating her birthday when we were young. Thinking back on my life, I’m often struck by how easy it is to take a parent’s sacrifice for granted. Motherhood is a particularly thankless job — the sheer emotional investment my mom put into raising us is staggering to think about now that I’m an adult. Just thinking about how much love and care she gave to my brothers and me on her own birthday is enough to move me to tears. When I was young, Mom was so excited for her eldest boy to have his first Valentine’s Day at elementary school. She stayed up all night turning a tissue box into a custom “inbox” for my valentines, even though it was her birthday the next day. She used her crafting talent to make sure I had a great Valentine’s Day, but unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan. That day at school, I got sick and ended up spending most of my time on a cot in the nurse’s office. When I got back to my classroom, one of our planned activities was to construct displays to hang our valentines, meaning the inbox my mother had spent so much time and effort making sat unused. To make matters worse to my young mind, the
only cards I received were full of benign platitudes, like “You’re nice.” I remember coming home clutching my empty valentines box and bursting into tears while my mother fought back her own sobs, doing all she could to console me — on her own birthday.
This tragic Valentine’s Day pattern played itself out in various ways during my and my brother’s time in elementary school. One of us almost always got sick that day, usually requiring her to drive into town to come get us. Then, her other boys would have to be consoled when we dragged our backpacks in the front door after another year of valentines that merely read “be my friend.” We’d been raised to believe we were the most special, handsome boys in the world, so those cards provided each of us a rude awakening. My mother tried all she could to keep me from beating myself up over my looks, calling my freckles “kisses from God.” I remember telling her, “I wish God would stop kissing me.” It took until my youngest brother was in high school for my mom to finally start getting a birthday close to what she deserves. Looking back, I’m astonished and humbled by just how much she put up with every Feb. 14. More than anything, I’m left with a deep sense of gratitude for the woman who gave so much to me. I may not have been the most special, handsome boy in the world, but I was one of the luckiest.
I wish I could say I recognized her strength and compassion in that moment. I wish I could tell you I had the maturity to set aside my own worries and at least give my mother a smile on her special day. But that’s not what happened. She did all she could to make me feel better, and I took those efforts for granted. The curse of growing up with a wonderful mother is that you lack the perspective to understand just how lucky you are.
Happy Birthday, Mom.
- Lee Berlin
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