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Today is my dad’s birthday, but I’m writing about my mom’s birthday. But he doesn’t read my blog, so it’s cool.

February 24, 2011

“What’s she doing here?” my brother Toby asked in a supremely displeased tone – the sort used by coddled, 20-something kids who still live with their parents for expressing disdain and jealousy when their more accomplished and clearly better looking siblings who share their lives with awesome cats return to the roost.

“She’s surprising Mom for her birthday,” Dad responded. “Except Mom’s not here.”

Mom was at the house when Dad left to furtively fetch me from the airport. I suggested we make one short stop to buy flowers on the way from the west side of Cleveland to their home in the east-side suburbs. Handing me a $10 bill and four singles and insisting that he wait in the quiet car in the company of his Big Gulp, he pleaded, “Tell Mom they’re from me, too.” We’ll see.

She was born Feb. 13, although she tells everyone her birthday is Valentine’s Day. Chalk it up to her friggatriskaidekaphobia. Or her pathological lying. One of those. Personally, I think it would be way cooler to have your birthday fall on Friday the 13th every so often. But I can’t really lecture anyone about coolness, as this was the first Valentine’s Day in three years that I wasn’t single and yet I still spent it with my mother. 

When we pulled into the driveway at about 11 a.m., we noticed that her Mazda was MIA. I stashed away my luggage before setting the bouquet on the counter by the door, along with her gift, topped with a purple ribbon. And then I waited.

In the 36 hours leading up to my surprise visit, Mom had left me seven voicemails, each one more cranky than the next. “I hope your father has nothing up his sleeve for my birthday tomorrow because I really, really don’t want it,” she asserted in the fourth message. “I know it’s my birthday, but I don’t want any gifts. Don’t send me anything. Save your money, you need it. Just call to wish me ‘Happy Birthday,'” she pleaded in the fifth. “Your father seems to be up to something. Why haven’t you called me back?” she asked suspiciously in the seventh. 

After throwing a load of whites in the wash, Dad crashed on the couch with The Plain Dealer as Toby milled about in the kitchen, eating my parents out of house and home one bite of banana at a time. I settled into the leather love seat directly across from the door, so Mom would be sure to see me when she arrived.

The whir of the garage and the sound of the poodle’s nails as she skidded across the parquet floor signaled Mom’s return. In poor spirits about living long enough to achieve the age equivalent of a long-running investigative TV show whose name is terribly misleading because it actually runs for only 42 minutes, she quickly spied Dad on the couch and instructed, “Don’t talk to me today. I want to be left alone.” Before Toby could get a word in, she demanded, “It’s my birthday, give me peace.” Then she squeaked and squealed with glee at Layla, the dog that she refers to as “my little sister,” never once noticing that I was sitting right in front of her.

Mom soon began to retreat upstairs, where she likely planned to barricade herself in the guest room with self-help books and her new, age-defying, battery-powered skin buffer which “isn’t what you think it is because I know how your sick mind works, Jessica.” Touche. She again warned the man of the house and the freeloader who took over my room when I moved out, preventing it from becoming a shrine to me, to steer clear. “I mean it,” she said curtly.

Dad and I exchanged eye rolls. Using my cell, I dialed the home phone.

“Hello?” she answered from the kitchen.

“Hello-ello,” I said from the living room.

“Hold on. There’s an echo on the line,” she snapped.

I couldn’t stay silent any longer. She heard my giggles in stereo through the ear piece and from a few feet away. “No way!” she exclaimed, as if she’d just been invited onstage by Rod Stewart to dance during an encore. Which happened once before, and I pretended not to know her. Just like when we go to the movies together.

“Why are you here?!” she asked incredulously, bursting into tears.

“To surprise you for your birthday,” I gasped between her squeezes.

Uncomfortable with the attention being lavished on someone other than himself, Toby piped up, “Mom, I got these flowers for you,” pointing to the ones Dad previously tried to piggyback on.

“Don’t start! I’m warning you …” Dad growled.

“They’re from the two of us. Shut up!” I barked, uniting with Dad against a common foe.

“This is the best birthday ever!” Mom trilled happily.

I don't have a photo commemorating the actual surprise, but not much has changed since the early 1980s. She even dressed me in cat rompers because moms just *know*.

37 Comments leave one →
  1. February 24, 2011 7:06 AM

    Wow. Those other birthdays must have been pretty dire.
    BTW Toby sounds like a real treasure. You should bury him.

  2. February 24, 2011 7:10 AM

    Those kind of surprises are the best!

  3. February 24, 2011 7:53 AM

    Dear Sweet Mama also refers to Rudi the Daschund as my little brother… and she puts him on the phone to talk to me. Which makes him growl and flip out, because he thinks the phone is a puppy that DSM is nuzzling against her neck.

  4. February 24, 2011 8:21 AM

    Cute. Surprises are great.

  5. February 24, 2011 9:36 AM

    Happy Birthday, Mom! It sounds wonderful! I LOVE that you were sitting there and she didn’t notice you. She was really distracted by the angst of her birthday!

    xo susie

    PS She’s 60, right? Not 42?!

  6. February 24, 2011 10:29 AM

    What a nice surprise! I like that you’re in cat rompers. Awesome!

  7. February 24, 2011 11:07 AM

    I demand to see photos of you wearing a modern cat romper.


    • February 24, 2011 12:35 PM

      Are you willing to contribute to our “Long-distance love sucks…and so do we when we’re together…but in entirely different ways” travel fund if I take pictures of Jessica in a cat romper and send them to you? If so, it could be arranged.

  8. February 24, 2011 11:42 AM

    You know what you need?

    Saddle shoes.

    Do you have saddle shoes now? Cause if not, go get some. They’re awesome.

    You rocked those babies. Go recapture some former glory.

  9. February 24, 2011 3:10 PM

    you’re such a good daughter! and you were freaking cute in that cat romper. I assume you have one just like it now.

  10. February 24, 2011 3:12 PM

    where’d she get the face massage thingy?

  11. February 24, 2011 4:26 PM

    Your mom was probably just preoccupied with designing your shrine and that’s why she didn’t notice you. Yep, I’m sure that’s why she didn’t see you there.

  12. February 24, 2011 5:32 PM

    Multichuckles. I’m also very familiar with the piggybacking of gifted flowers/presents. So, when are you moving to Canada?

  13. February 24, 2011 7:00 PM

    Conversations about moms and *face massagers* are verboten., do you hear.
    I am a mom, and if I ever choose to purchase a *face massager* from my *dermatologist* to share with my wife, I don’t want thoughts about your mom and her *face massager* crowding up my *massage* time, hear? The mom I am and the mom she is are not the same mom! ahhhhhoohoohooo…*breaks down in tears*

  14. February 24, 2011 9:32 PM

    My son was born on March 13 so he often gets a Black Friday birthday. He was also very good at piggybacking on gifts when he was younger. My ex husband was heading out the door to buy me flowers for my birthday and he asked Rob if he wanted to come along and help choose. “Nope, too busy with my Nintendo. Just make mine roses will you?”

  15. February 24, 2011 11:03 PM

    Love love love love. You and your family are fantastic.

    My birthday sometimes lands on Friday the 13th and it IS awesome. Especially that one year it hailed. In August.

  16. February 24, 2011 11:28 PM

    I love love this.

  17. February 24, 2011 11:31 PM

    Little you is cute, don’t get me wrong, but YOUR MOM IS ADORABLE!!

  18. February 25, 2011 3:19 AM

    Flip, WHY don’t they make cat rompers for grownups?

  19. redg_rl permalink
    February 25, 2011 9:53 AM

    so amused & horrified on your behalf ms. cats. clearly you saved the day & won the award for ‘best family member.’ aren’t mums something?

  20. February 25, 2011 2:26 PM

    My mom is turning 65 on Monday, and I haven’t gotten her ANYTHING yet! I am a horrible daughter. You are a sweet, adorable daughter.
    And you like cats.
    And now I’m pissed about the 60 Minutes misnomer.
    And I have to tell you that I am impressed with your speedy commenting. It always takes me at least a day because I can never think of anything good to say right away.
    You’re just BETTER than me all around, okay.

  21. February 25, 2011 4:16 PM

    Happy b day to your mom. Also, your brother sounds like the sorta kid I’d bitch slap.

    Sorry. Just saying.

  22. February 26, 2011 12:26 AM

    i should totally surprise my mom for her birthday on wednesday. except that she lives ten miles from here, so i see her all the time. so it wouldn’t be much of a surprise. so she wouldn’t notice me anyway. so, you know, just like this.

  23. February 26, 2011 4:56 PM

    Happy Birthday Alone With Cats Mom! 😀

    (PS can you tell her the flowers were from me, too? K thanks!)

  24. February 27, 2011 7:59 PM

    Great story. By the way, all of us Dad’s try to piggyback on the gifts.

  25. February 28, 2011 1:09 AM

    That was a kickass present. Toby might as well just put himself up for adoption now (which, ironically, is the same thing I advised my sister to do at Christmas).

    ps. If you only knew how many times I’ve thought about suing that investigative TV show “whose name is terribly misleading because it actually runs for only 42 minutes” for false advertising.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed.

  26. BeneathTheSpinLight permalink
    March 1, 2011 5:11 PM

    For the cat romper you get the stylish blogger award! Kudos!

  27. March 1, 2011 8:14 PM

    And some more tags … it’s spreading:

  28. March 2, 2011 2:05 PM

    Well, that’s a nice present.
    My mom would expect an actual present, ha ha

  29. March 3, 2011 3:07 AM

    Awwww. This is so sweet! The birthday present became even better because in her mind her day had fallen to the bottom. Well played.

  30. March 9, 2011 1:41 AM

    Ohmigosh, look at you and how cute you are with your little red curls Aw! Happy Birthday to you mommy!

  31. March 12, 2011 1:33 AM

    Okay. I am inordinately excited that you popped round and discovered your nomination for the (oh yes, highly lucrative) Stylish Blogger Award. INORDINATELY. I didn’t notify you in the customary, straightforward manner of the home-delivered cherry-wood and bronze plaque, because frankly my fanliness embarrasses even me. Anyway, you write like an angel (Lucifer, possibly). I will stop gushing now.

  32. March 12, 2011 8:18 AM

    I miss the 80s. Did all Mum’s have the same hair back then? You know, big, essentially?

    I’m pretty sure between the big hair and she shoulder pads, as a child I must have seen my Mum as some sort of giant.

    Happy birthday to Mama Cats, and congratulations on being the favourite…

  33. March 14, 2011 12:12 AM

    I am so sorry you spent Valentine’s day in our nasty Cleveland weather, but I’m glad you were able to surprise your mom!

    Is your brother single/cute? Because I live in the east suburbs, am attracted to Jewish boys, and have a tendency for dating men who still live with their parents…he so fits the bill!

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