Happy Birthday To You

A little miracle happened today. A tiny one, related to technology and birthdays.

During my siblings and my college years, our parents initiated the *eye rolling* tradition of calling on our respective birthdays and singing the traditional hymn. They preferred to catch us early in the morning, so by 8:30 a.m. if mom and dad hadn’t called on my birthday, then they were probably in prison. But even then, they would probably save up their one call for the next kid’s birthday.

Every year. Without fail.

As technology advanced, they sometimes caught voicemail and felt obliged to sing at every extension. If I missed Mom and Dad because I was teaching or working early, I would find singing on my home, cell, and work voicemails. They really were invested in making sure we were each well celebrated.

As my years (like technology) advanced, the tradition didn’t seem so ridiculous. In fact, I found I rather needed that phone call. I began to crave it. They sang with enthusiastic joy. They sang because they were glad I am in the world. The older I get, the less confident I am that I’m totally awesome. I have made enough mistakes to know this. I am clumsy with others’ hearts just at the moment I ought to be more compassionate. Some days when I lack the confidence to go out in the world, I need a few people to think I am so wonderfully awesome that I am worth singing about.

My heart needs that.

Luckily, mom and dad always felt I was worth song.

In 2008 when they called me at home, I deliberately let them go into voicemail. I knew they would sing their message and I could save it, listening whenever I needed to feel their love. Another year, a boyfriend was taking me out for a great breakfast and he wanted us to arrive before the restaurant got too busy.

“We have to hang around my place for a bit,” I insisted. (It was my day after all.)

I explained it was a huge deal to my parents to call and sing to me, while not admitting to him it was a huge deal to me. He suggested a touch of narcissism on my part to assume that my parents had nothing better to do–

The phone rang.

“Excuse me,” I said, grinning and blushing. “I better take this call.”

I think my favorite part of listening to mom and dad sing is that they always begin singing at exactly the same moment, which means right before they began they were staring into each others’ eyes, waiting for mom’s official nod. When I hear them sing, I remember that they met in the church choir where they fell in love. One of their flirty games was retrofitting church hymns with lyrics about their favorite card game, pinochle.

In our family, when we played pinochle, Dad would quietly sing under his breath, “Jack of Diamonds, Queen of Spades…”

Mom would sing her reply, “No, I do not have them…”

They cracked each other up, every single time.

Mom still calls each of us on our birthday, early-ish, and she sings with gusto and enthusiasm. With Dad gone, she’s singing for two.

For years I’ve been plotting to get their 2008 Happy Birthday To You off my home voicemail and onto my computer. I’m not very technologically savvy, so I kept saying, “There’s got to be a way to transfer this,” while not really doing anything about it. I listen to the message semi-regularly and end up smiling after they finish. For a few seconds, it’s my birthday and I am awesome.

A recent upgrade to my home security system means I don’t need my home phone line anymore. I can axe that bill and, of course, that means losing all saved voicemails.

Retrieving that particular voicemail is now a top priority, so I added it to my massive To Do list, the one I hide in my den. If you saw my three columns and twenty boxes per column, you’d think a crazy person makes my To Do list, and you’d be right. But I need the list. Work’s been busy. Book stuff. Writing. House projects. I need to organize part of my life.

Today was typical — an exceptionally busy day at work. I was lost in an irritating task, wrestling with work problems between four one-hour phone meetings, mildly frustrated, that pleasant frustration before a solution strikes you. A busy two weeks lay behind me and two busier weeks lie ahead. Work conferences. High impact facilitation. And in the middle of this, I have to drive to a water park in Wisconsin.

It’s not the best weekend for me to get away, but tomorrow my siblings and mom and converge at The Wilderness Resort in the middle of Wisconsin. My two sisters celebrate birthdays in January and early February, so we usually gather to celebrate the ‘winter birthdays.’

Amidst this work chaos and extensive travel, my old computer died, which has prompted several nights installing software that doesn’t quite work like it’s supposed to. I’ve been visiting the Geek Squad, soaking up their 15 minutes of free help several times a week.

Between meetings today, I logged into my email service provider’s website to get my email (it’s one of the casualties of the computer switchover). While visiting web email, I discovered how to download voicemail as an audio file. Despite my delight to discover this important task handled so simply, I decided that with the next conference call in ten minutes, I couldn’t afford to listen to the full singing at that moment.

Quietly thrilled, I emailed the audio file to myself to listen later, at home.

After work tonight, I was exhausted. But I dragged myself to the Geek Squad to soak up a rich 17 minutes of free problem-solving. I think we sorta fixed the email problem. I guess. After that, I knocked two other things off the To Do list.

Then, I got home.

Ate my takeout pasta and green salad.

When I dragged myself away from an hour of Hulu and cracked open email to check if tonight’s problems were truly solved, I found an email from my work self and an attachment I very much wanted to hear.

I opened it.

I listened.

My parents sang to me in their sweet-song tones, cheerfully bestowing birthday love that felt fresh and true. My dad’s voice is strong, his pre-cancer voice. My mom sings lightly and she has always had a beautiful voice. At one time, she sang professionally. She always sings beautifully.

Dad sang well, too. In fact, after he died, the young grand daughter of a church friend mom and dad saw at daily mass, a grand daughter who attended mass daily too, looked around one weekday morning and asked about my dad. She said, “Where’s the singing man?”

When her grandmother explained that he had passed away, the girl said, “Oh. The Singing Man is singing in heaven.”

I gotta tell you, for a non-Catholic, that’s a hard image to let go of. I really want that to be true. And I love thinking of my dad as ‘The Singing Man.’

Tonight, my parents singing rejuvenated me so I bought construction paper and made a huge sign to celebrate my sisters’ Winter Birthdays, which I will tape to their hotel room door. Then, we will put on our swim suits and mom will escort us to the pool area, where we will scream our guts out, dizzy, laughing, ridiculous kids on water slides.

My brother and I will giggle like when we were young co-conspirators. My sisters and I will share ‘what it was like for me’ stories as we march toward the stairs, headed back to the top. Just like we were when we were kids and mom and dad watched us run around and scream.

How often do you get to time travel like that? To visit the siblings of your youth?

I guess I’m getting two miracles this weekend.




If you need someone to think you’re awesome, so wonderful that you’re absolutely worthy of song, I invite you to listen to the link below. You can borrow my mom and dad’s love for a while.

mom and dad singing

13 Responses to “Happy Birthday To You”

  1. Jeffrey Fillion Says:

    Edmond, that is absolutely wonderful. And I’m so happy that you have that message saved now to listen whenever you need or want. Blessings to you.

  2. Harry Says:

    That’s beautiful, my friend. Happy Birthday — I’m glad you were born.

  3. Jodi Wille Schultz Says:

    OMG Teddy, you’re written words brought tears to my eyes, but to actually hear their voices!!!!! Thank you so much for sharing this!

  4. Kaje Harper Says:

    Have a great weekend. I’m glad you saved that message. And BTW? You really are that awesome :)

  5. Tony Says:

    Your parents’ love shines through this song! I was cringing a bit while reading your blog — worried that with the phone changes and computer problems and work busy-ness , this precious voicemail would be lost.

    Hooray it’s saved. And now this bit of magic is forever.

  6. Edmond Says:

    Thank you, Jeffrey, for you lovely blessing.

    Thanks, Kaje, for thinking I am awesome! Whoooo hoooo!

    Tony, as always, thanks for reading and sharing my delights with me. You are a magic friend.

  7. Jeanne Says:

    Some years ago I bought a hand-held digital recorder, but it never saw much use. Fortunately, I thought of it at one of the Boy’s birthday parties, and was able to record the whole family singing to him. Even more fortunately, my mom happened to stand near the recorder at the time, so her voice stands out a bit from the rest.

    I haven’t listened to it in a very long time, but it is so comforting to know I have her voice, even now that I can’t just hear it on the telephone anymore.

    I’m so glad you were able to save that file, Edmond. Next item on your to-do list: back it up somewhere, even just to a thumb drive.

  8. Jamie Schounard Says:

    So it’s been years since we saw each other. I sent you a friend request yesterday on Facebook, on my birthday. This morning I’m thinking I’ll google you and this is the first thing that I see. My mom sang to me yesterday over the phone, like she has for many many years. Oh, what great feelings and memories your post has reminded me of. Flippin’ sweet man!

  9. Edmond Says:

    Thanks for the awesome comments everybody. It really wasn’t my birthday recently…just celebrating that it *could* be whenever I listen to that message!

  10. Diana Says:

    Aww, Edmond instead of the usual laughter you gave me happy tears. Thank you for this beautiful memory you shared.

  11. Dawn Says:

    Sigh… That made me cry.

    Happiest of happy birthday days to you. Every day.

    I think you’re awesome too. Every day.

  12. Sammy Goode Says:

    I never knew my Mother, Edmond–she died when I was two and my now 94 year old father never remarried. But all my life my Dad told me stories about her…over and over. And from the telling I grew to know and love her. I am so very, very glad you have this –this exquisite recording of your Mom and Dad. Many here have already said this–but it bears repeating: the ones we love who leave us all too soon live on through us and through the telling of their story. Isn’t it just lovely that you were given the gift of storytelling so that your Dad would never be but a memory away—a soft spoken reminder of how much he loved you and you, him. Thank you for sharing him with us.

  13. Mary G Says:

    Edmond, this is a beautiful post. You parents sound wonderful together. What a lovely gift to keep giving yourself!

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