Twenty-three years ago today, was my brother Ben's fifth birthday. As you may know, five is a pretty important milestone. You've had enough birthdays that you can remember, and you have been to enough parties of your friends, to know what to expect. And in our household, we did birthdays up right, with extended family coming for the celebration and a special meal of the birthday boy's choosing. Well, naturally, Ben was excited. And he told us so.
My older sister, Hilary, asked him why he was so excited. "It's my birthday," he exclaimed.
"No, it's not. It's Rachel's birthday. We switched your birthdays. Isn't that right, Rachel" (my birthday was the next birthday in our family, exactly one month after Ben's)
"Oh, yeah, that's right. We switched."
"But those presents are for me," Ben protested.
"No," Hilary replied, "they're for Rachel. Didn't Mom tell you?"
No. Mom hadn't told him. Ben protested a little, but not as much as we had expected. And when he took off. we figured he was going to ask Mom. And we braced ourselves for the wrath of Mom for teasing that sweet boy like that - on his birthday.
But Ben hadn't gone to ask Mom. He trusted us. And if the decision had been made that he and I had switched birthdays, then it must have been for a good reason. Ben felt bad. Partially because he had been so excited about his own birthday and now he wouldn't get to celebrate. But he also felt terrible because nobody had told him it was now my birthday, and he hadn't gotten me a present. He looked around his room and found a ceramic heart on a ribbon, given to the students in his Montessori class by their teacher. He wrapped up that necklace and made a card for me, wishing me a happy birthday.
Oh man, was Ben ever surprised when he found out it was, indeed, still his birthday. But confused, what was he to do with my present? Oh man, was I ever convicted with guilt and shame when Ben gave it to me anyway. What a kind, loving brother I had! (and oh man, was Mom ever pissed when she found out what we had done).
That ceramic heart remains with me to this day. I have always hung it from my vanity mirror, reminding me of my sweet brother and his love for me.
Ben and I continue to wish each other a happy birthday on our own birthdays, and sometimes we exchange small gifts. I have no doubt that at some point today, I will get an email, card, or phone call from Ben today, wishing me a happy birthday, despite the gifts and presents clearly marked for him on this his birthday.
But I already got the best present I could get when on May 26, 1981, Ben interrupted my softball game and made his entrance into this world as my baby brother.