For as long as I can remember, I have spent the day before my birthday standing over the kitchen sink scraping the sides of a stainless steel container with a rubber spatula indulging in that childhood ritual known as “licking the bowl.” Though I am decades beyond making a mess with a Duncan Hines mix, I still lean far over just as I did when my mother wrapped a dishcloth around my neck before handing me the Devil’s Food covered beaters and placing the near-empty batter bowl in front of me. I have no idea why I still stand here like a six-year-old. Perhaps it is part nostalgia. Perhaps part of it is force of habit.
To say that my parents did the birthday thing well is an understatement. From the moment I woke up on that glorious day in mid-August, they made every moment ceremonious and special. My father would call me from work and sing, adding a weird little “da da deed dum” to the end of the tune. I have no idea why and yet, it felt as though he customized “Happy Birthday” just for me. My mother would call me at 4:00 so that we could be together for the exact moment of my birth. The cake was always chocolate with chocolate icing and my mother excelled at streaming crepe paper from one end of the dining room to the other (unless party central was located on our covered patio.)
I never had my party at an indoor playground such as Discovery Zone or Chuck E. Cheese and my mother rarely spent money on a bakery-style cake. My birthday menu consisted of ready-made cake mix and vanilla ice cream, Kool-Aid and an assortment of easy-to-orchestrate party games such as Guess the Number of Beans in the Jar, relay races, Pin the Tail on Mickey Mouse or she just let me and my friends dance to Barry Manilow records on the stereo while the family watched.
For a week leading up to the Big Day, she would torment me by placing my presents on the orange armchair in the living room and make me stare at them in wonderment. I was not allowed to touch or rattle the boxes, because she knew I had inherited my dad’s gift for deducing a package’s contents based on its weight. This only added to the magical anticipation and looking back on it, they probably spent less than $50 on me, yet it felt like they’d given me a fortune. There would be a couple of paperback books, a new record album, the latest Barbie I had my eye on and of course, one item of clothing.
Though the two who gave me life and celebrated it so voraciously are gone, I can’t help keeping some of their traditions in place. I will always lean “wayyyyy” over to lick the bowl. I will always sing Dad’s Version of the birthday song and I will always make a wish when I blow out the candles that I will create a little of that homespun magic alive for my own children every year that I can.
And I will always lick the bowl.