Birthday Anxiety and the Modern Mom

Confession: I hate my kids’ birthdays.

Not because of any trauma associated with the experience of birth (though goodness knows there was plenty of that). But because of residual anxiety I have regarding a long history of my own sucky childhood birthdays.

It’s tragic, really.

On my 8th birthday, my gift was a promised trip to the dinosaur museum in Vernal, Utah. I was nurturing the flames of a nascent love for paleontology, only to be shattered by the slow, 6-month-long realization that my mother’s promise was never to come to fruition.

Like so many wizened and embittered by life, I took up writing instead.

A friend of mine remembers her mother losing it at a party and throwing all the birthday presents out the window. I had to talk this friend down on her own child’s 8th-birthday by reminding her that there is NO way we’re screwing this up as badly.

The standard I inherited from my mother was this: I’m out of bed and dressed. In my childhood, that was functional motherhood. Anything past that was gravy, including birthdays.

So it is with a great-deal of “I’m gonna fuck this up” that I approach my kids’ birthdays. I’ve lived through 12 of these so far, and I think I’m getting better about it. I no longer hit the panic button at the last minute. Or every week for 4 months prior.

But it was with some trepidation I asked my soon-to-be 5-year old what she wants for her birthday party.

As one often inadvertently and tangentially does with a almost-5-year-old, we discussed every possibility in depth. She settled on a yogurt place. One of those with bright colors and a full bar of sugar-derived toppings. Relieved to pawn the fiasco onto someone else, I called the shop.

The person I spoke to was the most spectacularly competent 15 year old on the planet. I said COMPETENT. She was a joy. Her name was Taylor and she was WAY excited about my daughter’s birthday. Part of the reason she was so excited was because my daughter’s birthday happens to be her birthday too. I wanted to adopt Taylor on the spot.

A lot of people complain about teenagers. I love them. I used to have a job where I went to high schools and taught teens about blood. I always got little grimaces of pain when I told people I was guest-lecturing in a high school. But the students were invariably enthusiastic, energetic, and inquisitive. Maybe there is some gray, Alcatraz HS somewhere where they stick all the dimwits and jerks. But every teen I encountered was pure sugar. Once I was in restaurant near a high school that had just let out on a bright spring day. The server apologized to me for the rambunctious clientele. But I was loving being awash in their joy and excitement. I said, “No need to apologize. They’re just excited to be out of school on a beautiful day.” It roused a chorus of cheers from the table behind me. They wanted to throw me a tickertape parade, but I declined, having already paid my bill.

So Taylor impressed me. She was re-working schedules, presenting options, crunching numbers all to give me and my kid a good birthday at their yogurt place. While discussing how many invitations I needed, I asked her, “How many people can I fit into the room?”

Her response was perfect. “She’s turning five? Well… they’re pretty small people.”

It was a challenge.

It conjured images of those 1920s contests to cram people in a phone booth. I pictured various members of my daughter’s preschool class pressed up against the glass Gary Larson-style, sticky with yogurt and cooing softly from a sugar-induced stupor.

“Give me a whole stack,” I said. “We’re inviting EVERYone!”

It was a lovely moment. A far cry from the anxiety I’ve often felt the last 12 times I’ve gone through this birthday thing.

Perhaps I’ll take Taylor a gift, so she can celebrate her birthday too. It’s nice to get to look forward to enjoying the day my little one and I first encountered each other. Moreover, it’s lovely to let go of worrying about getting it wrong. Because, stress and anxiety is for grown ups. The young have things figured out. You live out your enthusiasm. You throw sprinkles and fudge on your fro-yo. You enjoy every day. Promises may or may not pan out, but a birthday is still a birthday. And you only get one a year.

Birthday Anxiety and the Modern Mom

True confessions of a chalupa addict

Every now and then I realize that I am a grown up. I have a car and a decent amount of change lying around the house.

I can buy and eat a chalupa.

I gave up fast food years ago. Although, as a mother of two small children in a tiny city that is dark and below freezing 9 months out of the year, I will occasionally cave on the no fast-food policy and take the kids to the play area of a fast food establishment that shall here go unnamed.

These trips are: 1. rare, 2. part of a comprehensive strategic effort to preserve the sanity of all parties involved, and 3. loathsome on every level. I’ve given up on trying to find anything edible there. Everything tastes like deep-fried, heavily-salted ear wax.

But the chalupa is another matter.

What is it about Taco Bell that holds such irrational sway over the hearts and minds of America?

About 6 to 8 times per year, chalupas become my obsession and everything else I eat becomes not-a-chalupa. It cannot be willed or reasoned away.

When I was pregnant with my eldest, I was practically a vegetarian. Still, the chalupa demanded it’s due. My husband eventually took to just stopping at Taco Bell before he came home. Every. Single. Day. I’m certain half my amniotic fluid was Baja sauce.

Remember Baja sauce?

Around the time they discontinued it, I was at a Taco Bell getting lunch.

My office was actually three blocks north of this particular Taco Bell. But it lie across a six-lane road with a hard to get-in-and-out-of parking lot that required an illegal U-turn and a shortcut across the lawn of an apartment complex. So I rarely visited it, let alone mapping the daily traffic pattern and police frequency for the route.

But on this particular day I NEEDED A CHALUPA.

A beef, Baja chalupa. Or two.

I’m not entirely sure how the junk-food innovation known as the chalupa came to be. Perhaps they use only stoners in their test demographics. But I do know, it is the one fast food I cannot eradicate from my life. Nor do I wish to.

The drive-thru line was 64-cars-deep, so I went in.

Although I avoid fast food in general, I love the employees who work in fast food. Many are teenagers. They’re still in the throes of pubescent social awkwardness. I can relate to that. They haven’t yet had their quirks and idiosyncrasies corporate desk-jobbed out of them. They’re odd. They’re okay with odd people. They deal with odd people all day.

I once told a friend about visiting a proctologist, “He looks at assholes all day. Yours is not going to be the worst he’s ever seen.”

The same can be said for fast food workers. They accept you for who you are.

Furthermore the employees of Taco Bell get me. The really, really understand the need Taco Bell junkies have.

I walked up to the counter. The cashier was a young man of not more than 19-years.

“Two beef Baja supreme chalupas,” I said.

The young man frowned.

“They’re not doing Baja anymore,” he said. He had the serious and studied air of a man who’s been giving terrible news to strangers all day. Like the head vet of a canine oncology center.

“What?” I said. This was the only possible response. Not just because I was shocked, but because he had triggered a mexi-nugget flashback.

Remember mexi-nuggets?

They were basically tiny tator-tots slathered in taco seasoning.

In other words, manna.

I don’t remember when exactly they discontinued mexi-nuggets. I must have blocked that particular memory as part of my PMNSD (post mexi-nugget stress disorder) healing process. But I do remember I cried.

For years.

In fact, I still wake up weeping sometimes.

But this kid, like I said, he GOT me.

He leaned across the counter with a look that could only mean, I’m free-basing the hot-sauce and said, “But I think I can hook you up.”

He had me against the wall and he knew it.

I won’t admit I ever paid $30 dollars for a tiny tub of Baja sauce. But I’m not saying I didn’t either.

I know what you’re thinking. Don’t try to tell me how terrible this food is for me. It doesn’t matter.

You could say to me, “You know, that’s made out of babies.”

And I’d say, “Oh my god, that’s awful! Nom nom nom nom nom…”

They’ve made a lot of menu changes lately. I hear breakfast is on offer now.

All I can do is thank my lucky stars that didn’t happen while I was in college.

I’d be roughly 7,000 lbs by now.

True confessions of a chalupa addict

Random nuggets

As you may be able to tell, I’ve been raiding the corpses of my old dead poems to feed my blog.

I found this in a document marked “Exercise” in a folder indicating it was from a 2005 workshop with Arlitia Jones the playwright and bestest workshop teacher in the West.

I don’t remember the exercise that produced this list. I’m almost certain I wrote it. 3, 12, and 18 sure sound like me. (If not, and someone knows what it is, correct me). But some of them made me laugh. 15 sounds like the title of a blues song. Enjoy!


  1. a spider on an old man’s beard is like a swallow in a nest
  2. the oars on the boat rowed as if unmanned
  3. nothing was the same, now that it was forever.
  4. the wino took to coma like merlot
  5. the dice rolled out of the cup like Leonard to a hot pussy
  6. a child in sunshine is like a bean in water
  7. puffy clouds in your glass of wine are foaming over in your head
  8. bed sheets like muscles stretched taut over bone
  9. the fog plumed through the gunshot holes in the train windows like a gambler’s cigar smoke
  10. the gray honor walked up the satin plank as if transfixed by light
  11. canceled checks in the abandoned boat seemed to long for currency
  12. if I should wake before I die, I pray I get some apple pie
  13. Alannah poured coffee down her throat as if drowning the donuts might negate their calories
  14. you mine rocks from a quarry. What you get from a quandary is nothing
  15. up is like down when down feels right
  16. Marlene dangled the parson from her question as if…
  17. she held her life in her own hands as if it were fragile
  18. no, no a thousand times no, he said, his hand a battle ax of sincerity
  19. the solution was hydrochloric acid; the problem was therefore how to kill Gillian
  20. love is to open sky as loathing is to rotting wood
Random nuggets