Mom's 60th birthday had to be special. Al and I have known this for awhile. Each 'milestone' birthday has, traditionally, come with a party full of family and friends. But now the friends who posted the party are no longer in the area. And Mom is smart enough to spend winters in Florida, thus making a local party a little trickier. Mom has mentioned over the past few months she may host a pool party this summer to celebrate after the fact, which is an idea I 100% support, but that did not solve the "What to do on Mom's birthday" dilemma.
Well, it turns out we sort of had the answer all along!
The amazingly talented and creative Holly posted about her Dad's 60th back in 2011. She had the absolutely brilliant idea of reaching out to people from her Dad's past to collect memories [60 total, of course] they have shared along the way. I showed the idea to Al and she thought it would be perfect for Mom; we filed the idea away. Flash-forward to the end of 2013. Al and I were still on board and ready to start on our fun project.
So here's what we did:Several months ago I took a screen shot of all of Mom's Facebook friends and cross referenced with mine to see who we were connected to. I also scoured my inbox for emails that had been sent to me in the past, on which family members were copied. For those not online, I found their actual mailing addresses. I put them in a folder on my computer called Mom 60 [obviously they went into a folder. Remember, I love folders of all sorts] and mentioned the idea to Dad this past fall.
Right after New Year's, Al and I were ready to move forward and finalized a list of people to contact. I reached out to a bunch of people who were, in some way or another, connected to my Mom. Family, friends, friends who should be family, in-laws, former colleagues, neighbors, and even students she knew via 20 years working at a school. (To get an idea of what I wrote, check out Holly's example.)
The responses came in almost immediately. The same day I sent out the email, in fact, I heard from a former colleague who said "Great idea! I'll mail mine on Monday" and she did. The notes came in pretty steadily, actually. The first couple arrived in the mailbox less than a week after the initial email, and there was only one day in all of January that I did not find at least one memory waiting for me in the day's mail, and of course I got emails daily. February continued the fun, and we ended up with more than notes from 70 people. The US Postal Service should thank me, really. I mean, I am not even managing wedding invitations here, but my mailbox bursting every day!
It is absolutely humbling to receive notes from people who appear at different parts along Mom's timeline. We heard from the usual suspects: siblings, my grandma, some cousins. But we also received notes from extended family, including cousins on both sides of the family who we probably have not seen since Bill Clinton was in office..... serving his first term! Friends from elementary school, high school and college chimed in. Also in the mailbox were notes from a former boss, faculty and staff who worked with mom at my alma matter, and students who had not spoken to my mother since graduating high school 20 years ago. Family neighbors who have known Mom since the 1950s contributed [and we had not even reached out to them initially!] and one of my cousins' friends who was able to go to the zoo for the first time ever thanks to our mom.
Notes came from down the street, neighboring states and even far away places like New York, Massachusetts, Florida, California, and Washington. We even had memories sent in from London and Prague! Some people sent photos. Some hand-wrote multiple notes. Others typed a brief thought, or in some cases, lengthy recollections. Notes arrived written on scrap paper, on personalized stationery, and in one case, written in a "Happy Valentine Birthday" card. A few of the notes were laugh out loud funny, and a few were tear-jerkers. Quite frankly, neither Al nor I have personally met everyone who sent in a note. And yet they were more than willing to set aside time in their busy lives to let our mother know they were thinking of her.
To me, that's the best birthday gift of all.
So in the days before we flew down to Florida to celebrate with Mom, I figured out who had sent memories and decided in what order to arrange them. I wanted a mix of emotions alternating, and wanted to rotate between family, friends, colleagues, etc. to touch on all facets of Mom throughout her life. I even created a spreadsheet so Al could weigh in on the fun. [Yes, seriously] My initial plan was to number the envelopes 1 - 60 and insert one memory in each. However, due to the fact that 70 people responded, I included all memories for each person in his or her own envelope, and occasionally included memories from 2 people in one. We had to improvise!
At Al's suggestion, I sealed the [very bright] envelopes with fun stickers, instead of using traditional colors or boring gold circles. Anyone who knows Mom realizes that this was a fantastic choice!
As if the gift wasn't personal enough, I wanted to really make it MOM before she even opened an envelope. Coincidentally I came across an Alice In Wonderland quote while I was collecting memories and knew it would work perfectly with this project. So, using my mad PrintShop skills I made a card with the quote on the front, and on the inside explained what we had done. I sent a PDF to Al and she was game.
So I tucked these beauties into my carry-on Tuesday afternoon, Michael and I flew to Florida and packed up the house. Al arrived late Friday, and Saturday the whole fam-damily headed to a scrumptious dinner at Primo,
came back for Zuccotto cake and sang Happy Birthday.
After we cleaned up the kitchen and put the cake away [such willpower] Al said "Actually, Mummy, we have one more thing for you."
At this point, for some reason, Mom got nervous. "Is it bad?" she asked. "No," we cried, "it's fun!" Mom once again reiterated that she did not want any gifts. To which we honestly responded, "Well, we did not buy you anything" Al sat Mom on the couch and I ran upstairs to get the bundle. You guys--- she was SHOCKED.
As expected, the card did her in before she even got to the memories! That was not our intention, but once she read what Al and I had done, she started to cry. Luckily, the laughter far out-weighed the tears.
It took Mom more than 2 hours to open and read all the memories. The subjects varied widely, but we did notice a few common themes illustrating that Mom:
- is an excellent listener
- is extremely fun
- owns the dance floor
- loves books
We, of course, have known all of this for years!
I also want to point out that more than once in the course of walking down memory lane, Mom shouted Oh My Gosh I forgot about this! or Oh I'm so glad she did not write about some of the other crazy things we used to do or How did you get ahold of ______? I have not heard from ____ in years!
Selfishly, this is probably the best gift we have ever given to anyone. It was so much fun to collect these memories and re-live legendary stories, but also learn about our mom. Many memories took place long before Al and I were born and gave us an even more detailed look at Mom. And it's weird that despite being on this earth with her for so long, this project allowed us to learn so much.
So, if you ask me, the best gift you could give our Mom was not only a lifetime of adventures, but the chance to remember so many of them again.