Years ago, my husband’s 60th birthday turned into a real bust when his visiting-from-overseas children wouldn’t commit to a one-hour sitting for a family photo with his other children and their kids. I’d hired the photographer, confirmed with all of the respective participants, but was forced to cancel. I felt angry. No, furious. But they aren’t my children and blowing one’s stack is NOT a cool move in any second marriage, especially during the early sucking-up years. And because the evident hurt and humiliation plastered on my partner’s face quickly sent me into love/protection mode, I wanted him healed. I made light of it and we dined in an expensive restaurant. The wait staff delivered his gift along with the birthday parfait: a wide-neck guitar—suitable for stubby fingers—draped in ribbons and lollipops. It’s never mind that he never held a guitar in his life, doesn’t read music and is near-spastic in the rhythm department. He was deprived as a child and I wanted my big man-child to know that it is never too late to learn. Never too late to aspire.
As my own 60th birthday approached, I issued early warnings that sent everyone around me into a tailspin: it was NOT to be ignored, forgotten, sloughed-over with uncomfortable wrist-flips and pronouncements of “Age is only a number” or “For religious Jews, it is the date of death that is important!” I would have none of that.
Nevertheless, I felt compassion for those who claim to love me; we don’t have a large social circle, no extended family to speak of and a surprise-party would be comprised of mainly acquaintances. A little silly, n’est pas? A cruise or elegant getaway costs serious money. Considering the budget, we could embark on a romantic camping trip near the Egyptian border by Taba where ocean access is free: Sleeping bag and butane burner costs extra.
My husband surprised me. Actually, he blew me away (and knocked me into humble-mode) that morning with a plain white envelope with a photo of my mother clipped to the flap. I hadn’t seen Mom in almost three years because of distance and finances. Inside the envelope was an e-ticket to Johannesburg where three daughters and their families reside. He explained that my 86-year-old mother and younger sister were flying over from New York so I could turn 60 surrounded by the people I love and miss every moment of the day. He promised that although there was not enough spare cash to include him or my children who live in Israel, we would all party-hearty upon my return from the African love-fest.
All of this has taught me that age-equals-wisdom and a few things do appear clearer even as my eyesight and ability to retain facts deteriorates. Asking “What does she want” can reveal a lot more than “What should I do?” My sometimes doddering, often silent husband has an uncanny ability to send my aching-heart to the places that my touted-but-flawed intellect has trouble reaching. He has taught me with patience and a low voice that being with people we love will trump fanfare every time.
New York-born Andrea Simantov is a mother of six who moved to Jerusalem in 1995. She frequently lectures on the complexity and magic of life in Jerusalem and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.