Sunday, March 24, 2013

Birthday Lists

I am selfish when it comes to my birthday. I like the celebration: food, family, funny hats, laughter, kindness, cake with ice cream. Life is good. Birthdays are great.

This birthday is especially great because I don’t have cancer. I was worried. I hurt my shoulder last spring. Even with physical therapy and cortisone shots and strength training, it was still waking me up at two in the morning six months later. It hurt. Sometimes the pain ran down my arm to my fingernails or up the side of my neck to circle my scalp. It reminded me of a family friend. He thought he’d hurt himself moving. He had a deep ache in his shoulder. It was too late when doctors discovered it wasn’t a pulled muscle.

I am lucky. My shoulder was torn. After I shared my fears with my doctor he sent me for a scan. He was surprised by the size and seriousness of the tears. I was relieved. The older I get, the more I want to celebrate.

I’d like to do a better job celebrating my students’ birthdays. I don’t have a birthday ritual or class chart, something my son’s teachers did so well. I don’t have a special read aloud for school or a poem or note or a birthday hat (The hat is likely out of the question, I know, but I do love a little whimsy.)
 I once read a column about a veteran who kept a list written about him by his classmates in his pocket or wallet all through the Vietnam war. It was a list of compliments or good wishes or kindnesses or it was all of those things.  He walked through war with those good wishes on his person and in his mind. I want to give gifts like that.


  1. So true that we become more aware of our vulnerability as we get older, especially when it comes to cancer. I think that teachers don't do enough to acknowledge birthdays once students become "shared" and not just in one homeroom. My daughter just had her birthday and not one teacher said anything about it. I'm sure that they don't know but it's another missed opportunity for building relationships and relationships matter. Honestly, to take the pressure of of you, I don't think it has to be a big anything, just an acknowledgement.

  2. Happy Birthday! I have tried to acknowledge students' birthdays in past years, but have the hardest time keeping up with them. I got off to a good start with writing each students' name on their birthday on a wall calendar, but would forget to look at it daily. Even if I looked at it a signed a postcard (a simple graphic photocopied on cardstock), I would often forget to deliver it to the student if they were in an afternoon class. After dealing with 130+ students daily, my brain is fried. I do agree that it is a good opportunity to build relationships. Now I pay attention to the morning announcements and try to make a point to acknowledge the student during the day. I like the idea of giving a list of positive attributes from classmates.

  3. My daughter's birthday was this month. She turned 16, and on Friday, we had a big party for her. A first in many years. And then I came home and quietly cried myself to sleep. It's amazing, how the more we love someone, the less certain we are that they know it. The next day, she woke up early to join me at our writing group, even though she was up very late and was, I'm certain, completely exhausted. This was her thank you, and I needed it. I don't know that it is practical for you to remember every single student's birthday. I'm betting they'll remember you though...because you're a teacher who takes the time to think and write about how much you care about being better, even if that's impossible.

  4. Happy Birthday Leanne! I sing Happy Birthday to my students, and I was struck by how much it meant to them. I actually wrote about it in a slice here . I'm so glad to know that your shoulder was just 'torn' and treatable with an operation. I can certainly relate to your anxiety and subsequent relief. As we get older, we begin to really understand how short and precious life really is. Enjoy what's left of your special day!

  5. I have a hard time celebrating birthdays too. I mean we sing - but that's about it. Sometimes it is just one more thing I need to keep track of. But I do love to celebrate - you've got me thinking on this one. And I'm glad your shoulder was torn and nothing more. Hope you had a wonderful weekend and the road to recovery is quick.

  6. I see that Mardie beat me to it because I was just going to tell you to check her blog to see what she does about the birthdays. I love your idea about the list. When we have our big Expo, everyone puts a sticky note of compliments on everyone's display, & I see the students collect the 'pile' of notes & keep them at their desks, all the rest of the year. I think the list for the 'birthday people' might be a great idea. I've also seen buttons that say "It's my birthday, wish me a happy one."
    And, happy, happy birthday to you! When we get older, it's always special to celebrate another, to be grateful for what we have. From your post, I see that you are grateful that you have a shoulder tear, & I'm glad you actually told the doctor your fear. So many don't. Cheers!

  7. I love celebrating other people's birthdays, but get funny about my own. It's not because of the age thing. I don't mind getting older. There's just something about all that fuss being about me. I'm not sure what it is.
    Thanks for sharing Mark Eklund's story with us. What a special gift he carried
    In any case, happy birthday Lee Ann! I hope it was a wonderful day.

  8. I have students color a birthday cupcake with their name and date of their birthday on the first day of school. Then I organize them by month and post them on the whiteboard each month, but you could also do it weekly. Give the job to a student. By posting them on the board, the students always remind me. We sing Happy Birthday, and students get to choose a bookmark or a pencil. Sometimes I have Happy Birthday stickers too!