Mary drifts into the kitchen. Hair rumpled and frowsy, her tummy protruding beneath a too-small pajama top. “What’s my belly button for mama?” she asks, examining the wrinkled sworl on her stomach.

The house is unusually quiet, and I’m so filled with love for my sweet little sprite that I take my time in answering. I pluck an apple from a basket on the counter and pull her onto my warm lap.

“See the stem, baby?” We examine the brown stub together. “That’s where this apple was attached to her mama apple tree. She drew food and water through the stem until she became a fresh, ripe apple.”

I twist the stem and it releases into my hand, “See the apple has a belly-button too.” Mary laughs and compares the apple’s indentation to her own.

“When you were a baby in my tummy, you had a long stem—a cord, that connected to me. Your food and water and more came through that cord until you grew big. And then, on the day you were born, daddy cut the cord. The end shriveled and fell off and left you with this cute little tickle button.”

My fingers play across her tummy and she laughs with her head thrown back, her beautiful baby teeth displayed in two perfect rows.

Beaming, she looks into my eyes, “So my button is a memory of you, mama.” With a child’s familiarity, she pulls up my shirt and searches for my center. Finding it, she muses, “And this is where you were connected to your mama.”


Last February, as I anticipated this birthday, I planned to throw myself a grand party with all my friends and most especially, the women who had influenced me through my forty years. Thai food was on the menu: shredded papaya salad, green curry, spicy Po Tak soup, Pad Thai for the less adventurous; buttercream cookies and chocolate ganache cake for dessert. We’d eat off real china and talk late into the night and I’d hug every one of you and thank you for your patience, your kindness, your tutelage, your friendship.

But as the day grew closer, I found myself dreading it. Not because of my age; forty feels just right, especially since I’ll have an eighteen year old son next week. But because it is literally my birth day– the anniversary of when my mother brought me into this world.

And this year I want nothing. No presents, no dinner, no chocolates, no parties. I’m afraid I’ve been a bit rude (maybe more than a bit) to my friends as they try to plan a birthday lunch or breakfast or something and I protest that I simply want to curl up in bed and let the day pass me by.

Sunday, I talked and cried with a few friends and they assured me that they’d felt the same way on the first birthday after their mothers’ death. I felt understood and a little less crazy. What would we do without our friends? But I didn’t, couldn’t tell them my dark secret that I really didn’t deserve a birthday. That I hadn’t appreciated my mother enough while she was here.

And yet, this morning, as I ran with my friends in the blue black dawn and came home to the kisses of my children and an email box full of sweet words I could feel the refrain, “Let yourself be happy. Let yourself feel loved.”

So consider this your invitation to my party– I’ll be right back with cake and balloons. Thank you for being my friend, thank you for all you teach me, thank you for your patience, thank you for knowing my flaws and loving me anyway.

January 31, 2010
February 4, 2010



  1. Linkous

    February 2, 2010

    Happy, happy birthday, dear friend. We love you so much!!! Your mother knows how much you love her and every day you live, every beautiful thing you create, every good thing you teach your children–all are gifts to her memory and honor her gift of life to you forty years ago. Enjoy this day and know that you are loved!

  2. Annie

    February 2, 2010

    Let’s plan a *we’re 40* trip.

  3. Christie

    February 2, 2010

    Happy birthday, honey. And hang in there. One day at a time.

  4. Kristi

    February 2, 2010

    you are amazing! Thank you for sharing yourself on your blog. I would love to be able to sit and talk with you and learn from you!
    I hope you have a wonderful day.

  5. Blue

    February 2, 2010

    forty leaves no room for regret. glad you’re finding peace dear michelle! happy birthday from new york city! ♥

  6. Mathmom and family

    February 2, 2010

    I was so hoping you would post today. You spend so much time celebrating the new year of each of those beautiful people in your house. You deserve that same consideration. Not honoring yourself teaches your children something you don’t want them to learn.

  7. Shelah

    February 2, 2010

    So does that mean you may be willing to rethink the offer of a cake? 🙂

  8. Jeanelle

    February 2, 2010

    I wish we lived next door to each other because I’d love for you to come over today and hide out at my house. We wouldn’t talk about birthdays or things we should be doing and aren’t. You can take the big comfy couch, I’d sit in the chair with my feet up on the ottoman and we’d watch movies or whatever else catches our eye and not answer our red iPhones. Thinking of you…praying for you…always!

  9. martha corinna

    February 2, 2010

    Happy Birthday Michelle! I wish I could hug you. I love you and the impact you have had on my life.

  10. Tracy

    February 2, 2010

    Happy Birthday! Enjoy, splurge and spoil yourself today. Your mom would want you to.

  11. Jess

    February 2, 2010

    Happy Birthday, my dear friend! You SO deserve to be celebrated!

    I just love the story you shared of snuggling with your sweet Mary and the apple’s belly button. perfect!

  12. Linn

    February 2, 2010

    You are loved. Thanks for letting us share that with you.

    Happy Birthday sweet friend!

  13. Selwyn

    February 2, 2010

    Happy birthday you gorgeous thing.

    Chat ya soon! Luvies!

  14. Denise

    February 2, 2010

    Happy Birthday…!

    We never appreciate our mothers enough. It’s part of being the child. You are a good daughter and a good mother.

    Bring Annie to NYC. I’ll bet Blue even knows how to get you here. And I have a king-sized bed in the guest room. Seriously, come over.

  15. Sue

    February 3, 2010

    Michelle, you are honoring your mother every time you take such a beautiful teaching moment with your daughter.

    It occurs to me that we never appreciate our loved ones enough until they are gone. How could we? Their very presence lulls us into complacency.

    And appreciation deferred is just as real.


    PS. Happy Birthday! Go ahead and celebrate it. Your mom surely will be.

  16. dalene

    February 3, 2010

    i love this and i love you.

  17. dalene

    February 3, 2010

    p.s. as i’m staring down 50 from here i have to also mention that i LOVE my forties. and i’m quite sure my fifties are going to be even better!


  18. Rachelle

    February 4, 2010

    Wow~ the belly button story to your daughter… way too sweet. Loved it! Happy happy birthday!

  19. duchess

    February 4, 2010

    I love that belly button explaination – it’s so good & sweet.
    Sending sweet birthday wishes to you from SC – enjoy your special day.

  20. Travelin'Oma

    February 4, 2010

    Mothers nourish their children even after the cord is cut. This is beautiful. I’m linking.

  21. Kerri

    February 5, 2010

    Michelle, your honesty is so lovely, as always.

    I have to say, though, after watching (through the internet window, anyway) how you celebrate your family and their special occasions, I hope you were able to really let them celebrate you.

    And your comment made my day, by the way. If we WERE next door neighbors, I would have grabbed you for a long run on your birthday morning to welcome the dawn and remember that the world is beautiful despite its imperfections and so are we.

  22. gab

    February 5, 2010

    My mom sent me. Loved this. Happy 40th…mine is crawling up the calendar pages, so I appreciated your thoughts!

  23. the wrath of khandrea

    February 5, 2010

    here via marty. looks like we have some common friends… martha, annie, christie. the blogging pedigree chart is fascinating.

    anyway. fabulous post. very insightful… i have three years left til my big day- i wonder if i can find this post again at that time.

  24. Linsey

    February 5, 2010

    This was lovely and poignant. I found you through Marty and I’m so glad I did.

  25. Trainer Momma

    February 5, 2010

    Beautiful, as always. I always look forward to your posts. You phrase things just right.

Comments are closed.