Waiting for the Outhouse (Mar 1995)

Another action photograph by Mom, introducing, brother Mike with his suspenders around his head and shirt and jacket dragging in front of him. He probably wore his long-johns to bed, and when he got up in the morning, he put his boots on the wrong feet and took a stroll to the biffy. Now it was time to find someone to help him get dressed.

Thanks to everyone who helped me celebrate my 43rd birthday. Living in a family of seven kids, we celebrated birthdays often. The kid in front of the cake was usually the one being honoured but as siblings we all got to enjoy the festivities. I probably have at least fifty different family birthday photos. Browsing through the old slides helped me to realize why birthdays are important to me and brought up some memories to help fit together a few more pieces of the puzzle.

Once I got married, my birthdays changed and I had a tough time understanding why there were no more celebrations and no more gifts. Rae, my husband, was an only child for many years, till his Mom adopted a brother for him. He probably never experienced the ritual of monthly birthday parties. He didn’t seem to care if he ever had a party and he certainly was not interested in making any arrangements for me. He always remembered my birthdays and other special occasions and bought me a card and sometimes flowers, but shopping was not something he enjoyed. This seemed strange to me because when we dated my Mom would raise her eyebrows as I unwrapped the expensive presents from him.

After a few birthdays went by and there were still no gifts, I asked Rae “Why?” I liked surprises and I usually gave him enough hints. He said “I don’t like shopping…so pick something out and have it put away and I’ll pick it up and pay for it.” That didn’t make any sense to me, for it took all the fun out of gifts. If I wanted something, I would go out and buy it myself. Sheessh!

The following year Rae came home with a huge gift-wrapped box. I was excited. I shook it and weighed it and guessed what it might be, carefully undoing the wrappings, which were very professional. Inside of the box was another box even prettier than the last but just a little bit smaller. I thought to myself, “This is fun.” I started thinking what could be in this box. It was another box even smaller, which narrowed down the choices … ‘maybe jewellery,’ I thought to myself, but I didn’t remember hinting at that. After all, we were raising a family and jewellery was not high on my list of priorities. When I unwrapped the last box there was nothing in it. I guess the look on my face was worth it because Rae howled … for days. I cried and felt embarrassed each time he told the story, for I didn’t understand the humour and still don’t.

I am much too understanding a person to hold a grudge, but that day my heart hardened just a little. I did many things for my husband that I would have preferred not to do, and I expected the same treatment back … the scoreboard in my head was starting to feel a little lopsided. I had to reason with myself that he was a good guy and why bug him to do something he didn’t want to do? I told myself, “I’ll survive, for it wasn’t as if I needed anything.” But still, I was disappointed.

As the boys grew up, we would do our annual trek through the stores to find daddy just the right present and then we would bake him a cake and decorate it. With time, the boys became great cooks, and even baked my cake once in awhile. At this stage of the marriage, I gave no hints when Rae would ask me what I wanted for my birthday. I would say, “All I want is for you to make dinner; the boys will help you bake a cake.” He became more determined than ever not to cook, for he was terrified that if he did it once, he would have to do it again.

As the marriage continued and I started working as many hours a week outside the home as he did, I decided he should help with the cooking. As usual I tried to work out a deal. “I cook three days a week, and you cook three days a week.” Rae refused, and I kept my word. He learned to make fried egg sandwiches, after he got tired of canned beans or soup.

This became one of our power struggles, and probably the deciding factor in our divorce. I was no longer a willing wife who looked after her man. The boys were grown and cooking for themselves, so why should I cook if I didn’t feel like it? He certainly didn’t. After twenty years of asking and no light at the end of the tunnel, I remember the sinking feeling in my heart as I accepted the fact that I could not change him. Even though I knew Rae loved me and wanted to make me happy, he just couldn’t bring himself to working in the kitchen or going shopping.

During the last few months of our marriage, we spent many hours laughing and crying over the many hurts that were never healed. Remembering the good times and the bad times helped both of us leave the marriage as we had entered it, with love, consideration and awe of each other’s talents. It also helped him to soften his stance on kitchen work and shopping. On our last Christmas together, he decided to take the time to go shopping and bought me a wok, and he even washed the dinner dishes. He recently told me that he is cooking some of the meals and his new wife appreciates his creative endeavours, and he thanked me for convincing him to give it a try.

After the break-up and twenty-two years of reasoning with my heart, I decided to it was time to arrange my own birthday celebration. The hell with “society’s rules,” I thought and rented the Leir House, sent out announcements and had a friend bake the cake of my dreams. Many of my family and friends came, we had lots of lasagna and cake and ice cream and we sang songs and told stories…. the celebration was just what I needed. Sometimes I am to busy too bother making my own arrangements but now … if I feel like it … I do it. I think birthdays are very magical, for they bring out the child in me. I am having a great time relearning how to play. Many thanks once again to my friends and family who helped make this year’s birthday very special with their home-made and store-bought gifts. Special thanks to Gordon, my first born, for painting a ceramic plate…it did indeed brighten my heart. And to my Mom for her continuous supply of orchids… they are exquisite. When I look at these gifts they are a reminder to me that I am special.