There’s no such thing as a birthday surprise!

As every woman who celebrates Christmas will tell you, December is a busy month. (read understatement in place of word ‘busy’).

I won’t go through the litany of things to be done, and regular readers have heard my diatribe on keeping it simple. In fact, I spent my annual pleasant Saturday in Kim Keckes’ greenhouse, a blustering storm whipping the branches outside, and mulled cider soothing us inside as we created table centrepieces and enjoyed one of the simpler parts of the season.

And then last weekend we made our annual trek to Gillespie’s tree farm to choose the right fir for the living room. We made our pilgrimmage with good friends, longtime Barrie comrades, with whom we┬╣ve grown to upper middle age! We brought our dogs and our swede saws. We noticed it’s harder to get down in the snow to saw at the tree trunk. Youth flies.


Lunch with good friends. Hand made Christmas gifts. Time volunteering at Christmas Cheer. Cookie trades. Good wishes for peaceful co-existence and love.

And then there are the complications. December birthdays.

I have two such complications. Three, actually, if you count November 30, which is pretty close to December!

Two kids, one November 30 and one December 14. But the salt in the wound occurs on December 20. That’s the day my first (and current) husband was ushered into the world. My mother-in-law often recounted pleasant snowfall, ringing church bells as she met her new son in a converted hospital serving refugees… she’d left her wartorn country and gave birth in peace to this, her second child.

Now, I’ve known this fellow since high school and we’ve been sharing a life since 1970. And for 34 years he has marked his birthday in early December by going out unannounced and ‘treating’ himself to new things… sweaters, pants, gloves, underwear etc… things he needs. He completely ignores the reality that these very items might already be wrapped up waiting for him, and prances around announcing his new purchases.

We all scowl.

It used to be just me scowling. It started when we were living in a tiny apartment and I was working for a newspaper in Kingston. He was seeking work with his new television diploma in hand.

It was December 10. I walked in the door after a day’s work and there he was, sitting on the sofa, wearing a brand new brown sweater, smoking a brand new pipe, having pinched the brand new tobacco from a brand new humidor, tapping it down with a brand new tapper.

My jaw hung open in absolute shock. He smiled. “I found these in the linen closet,” he said. “They’re wonderful.”

He’s been doing this ever since.

Last year I decided to get him a high quality weather radio, the kind he can use at the cottage when we’re trying to negotiate the one-hour boat ride to pick up guests. He’s a bit of a weather connoiseur so I thought, ‘well, he won’t buy this ahead of time; he’d never think of it!’ I tucked away a new Grundig weather radio and waited.

And around December 10 he walked in with the Canadian Tire version, announcing he thought this would be great for the cottage.

Jaw. Drop.

Two years ago, his wonderful new watch was sabbotaged by one he ‘found’ for himself.

His 40th birthday was the only time in his life that we were able to surprise him with a gift he didn’t buy himself. We had the traditional surprise 40th birthday bash and I plunked a new video camera into the hands of a friend who recorded the evening fully. At one point, he handed the birthday boy the camera to ‘try out.’ Then we handed him a box to unwrap, and out of the box came a case. And when he opened the case, it was empty. And he was holding his birthday present! This replaced our 8mm camera and life had sound!

That was the one and only time. I relish the memory.

Each year he manages to trip out to the stores for his only shopping excursion of the year. And every year he buys for himself exactly what we’ve bought and wrapped and tucked away. And it doesn’t matter whether we switch from clothes to kitchen utensils. ‘Honey, there was a sale at Paderno, and look what I got!!’ Or, ‘these are the most comfortable slacks and I just needed another pair.’ Or, my wallet was in absolute tatters; the little plastic windows were broken, ya, ya, ya.’

Solution? I have no idea. Maybe a birthday in July would do it.

Right now as I write this birthday boy is on a typical TV junket… Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Calgary, Edmonton, home just before Christmas in his new birthday clothes not bought by us but exactly the items we’ve got wrapped and waiting. So, there you have it. Birthday on the road! And 57 at that. If any of you have suggested solutions, I’m all ears. Meanwhile…

Happy Birthday, Ivar. And, thanks!