Happy Moon Recession Birthday To Me

My older sister, Andrea, likes numbers.

She prefers prime numbers, so the best birthdays are those years when your age is not divisible by any other number except 1 x itself. She enjoys books about physics, reads articles about string theory, and she often sends me links to quantum theories, anomalies found in the galaxy and beyond. Oddly, she’s not into science fiction. Time and space are fascinating enough, making embellishment unnecessary.

Which is not to say she isn’t creative. Or inventive. Years ago when I was visiting my family in Illinois, she explained Moon Recession Birthdays and I foolishly believed for a few seconds this was a real thing.

Andrea explained how the moon retreats from the earth by 3.8 centimeters each year (for those of us who slept through the entire world converting to metric, that’s roughly 1.5 inches per year). If you, like me, have grown rather fond of that chunk of galactic dust and rock in the sky, this news is alarming. Of course, over your lifetime you won’t be able to notice the difference, but Andrea felt we ought to celebrate the moon’s proximity by honoring the birthday on which your height = the distance the moon has retreated from the earth.

When she finished explaining, she excitedly told me, “Your Moon Recession Birthday is the year you’re a living yardstick for how far the moon has receded.”

We were eating dinner at our parents’ home, so I turned to my other siblings who had already heard Andrea’s calculations.

Matt said, “Mine is coming up when I turn 47.”

My younger sister Eileen pouted. “I missed mine already. It was last year.”

I am 5′ 9″ and that means a total of 69 inches. How many years would it take for the moon to retreat by 69 inches? Forty-six years. This year, less than two weeks away, is my Moon Recession Birthday.

On a business trip years later, I explained the concept to some California coworkers. We were celebrating happy hour, cheers-ing each others’ drinks and laughing over the miniscule stories of our lives. I’m not sure how the Moon Recession Birthday topic came up. I mean, only I could have introduced it (since it’s not really a thing outside our family) but at the time it seemed relevant to our conversations.

Alcohol makes many stories seem relevant.

My coworkers listened in awe and the silence that followed was either deep admiration for my sister’s ingenuity or deep fear that they were sharing drinks with a psychopath. Hard to tell. Three work days later I decided they must have felt deep admiration because these California coworkers built a website called the Moon Recession Birthday Calculator and sent me the link. You type in your height, click Submit, and wallah:  your Moon Recession Birthday.

Of course, I sent the link to everyone in the family, promising our lives would be easier now that we could track this important milestone birthday. This past June, while celebrating Mom’s birthday/Father’s Day at Olive Garden, Andrea hinted over breadsticks, “I think someone‘s having a Moon Recession Birthday this year…”

She’s right.

Happy Moon Recession Birthday to me.

I’m not sure to celebrate.

It’s confusing for two reasons. First, this is a completely made up thing, so there really aren’t any rules. Do I instruct friends to buy me moon-related gifts? Do I have to stare at the moon until dawn? I can only assume a round cake, right? Secondly, big birthdays freak me out, the significant changeovers. I was never irritated by turning thirty or forty, but the year after those:  thirty-one and forty-one. Those were the years that meant ‘you’re really in this decade now.’ (Of course, Andrea would argue thirty-one and forty-one were some excellent Prime Number Years.)

I’m not sure how to spend the significant ones. I guess every birthday is significant, the older I get.

George Orwell said, “At fifty, everyone has the face he deserves.” Fifty seems like a significant birthday to me for this quote alone. I wonder about the face I’ll wear on that day. Wrinkled, sure. How will I feel about that man? Will he still love the world and feel its small wonders or will discouragement and disillusion scratch up my face into something unrecognizable, a face beat down by the world? Fifty isn’t that far away. Maybe who I am now is who I’ll be then.

Aging scares me. I’m worried I’m not strong enough to handle the things like degenerating cartilage in the knees or the disappointments of never being President of the United States. Never going to become a dancer. Never going to visit the Amazon rainforests. Never going to own an ostrich farm. It’s not that I wanted these things in life, but each birthday reminds me ‘this is your life, the one you’ve carved out.’

I like my life. I could book at trip to the Amazon tomorrow, but fuck that. There are some big fucking snakes down there. But growing older means receding a little from youthful possibilities, the years where anything could happen. My youth is receding, just like the moon. I am a living yardstick to the chubby tot I once was.

Once when I was a seven or eight, mom yelled at me from the top of the stairs and I was so enraged I stormed out the front door, trotted down the front steps just like a big boy and marched away from the house. I’d never stormed out like that before. I had no idea where I was headed. The screen door banged close behind me and Andrea immediately fell into a half-step behind me, begging to know what was happening. Where was I going? When would I return? Even at that age I recognized the worry in her voice.

“Are you running away?” she asked.

This question sliced through my anger and gave me pause. I hadn’t really considered running away, but I was sure headed somewhere. But where? Did I really want to run away? I didn’t even pack any sandwiches. I paused for these considerations and my anger dialed down.

Andrea walked next to me, little jogging steps to keep up with my furious march, and she promised me, promised if I didn’t run away, she would play Monopoly with me that night. But please, come home. Come home.

I turned around.

Came home.

It’s not easy to find people willing to play Monopoly.

Though I did not know my true intentions, nevertheless, I labeled that experience When Andrea Stopped Me From Running Away.

A few years later, Andrea headed off to Girl Scout camp for a week and I cried; I bawled my eyes out thinking of her not being in the house for a week. The night she packed her camping gear, I thought I was a brave little toaster, hiding my feelings, but looking back, my weeping trips to the bathroom for more Kleenex were more of a giveaway than I thought. She came into the bedroom I shared with my younger brother and in the darkness she said, “It’s okay. It’s only a week. You’ll be okay.”

She and I are not the same people back on the day When Andrea Stopped Me From Running Away. We’re not close. I grieve that, but I accept it. We see the world differently and some of those differences create division. But she’s always my big sister and when I think of running away from her, I remember that she kept her promise. We played Monopoly.

So I will celebrate my Moon Recession Birthday the best I can, waving goodbye to the retreating moon and my receding youth. I will do the best to remember who I was, who we both were, back when I thought I couldn’t live without her for one week. We may have grown apart, but we still make each other giggle. We challenge each other to timed sudoku contests. After mom cooks family dinner, we still fight over who has to wash dishes.

A few years ago, my friend Michael came to my house just as I grabbed the day’s mail. I had received a package. No return address. We opened it and inside found a small round cake, frosted completely yellow, a blazing sun of a cake. Also included in the box were nine intricately decorated cookies (bubble-wrapped very carefully), each decorated cookie very different from the others. One was covered with blue and green sprinkles, arranged in arbitrary shapes. Another cookie was a murky orange with cream-colored swirls and a red circle in its lower left side. One cookie sported three candy stripes of orange jimmies, carefully applied individually, piece by piece.

Michael said, “I can’t see the pattern. What are these supposed to be?”

“Planets,” I said, and I knew it was true. “That one is planet earth and that one is Jupiter with its red eye. This one, the red planet, is Mars. The one with stripes are supposed to be rings around Saturn.”

We used Google Images to confirm the identities of Uranus, Mercury, and Neptune. Michael was amazed at the intense fidelity between the cookie colors and the visual representations of those planets.

“This would have taken hours,” he said, amazed. “Who would do this?”

I knew as soon as I saw the blazing sun cake. I said, “My big sister.”





7 Responses to “Happy Moon Recession Birthday To Me”

  1. Sammy Goode Says:

    Early Happy Moon Recession Birthday, Edmond. And as an ancient 53 year old I will encourage you with this–it is true your body will grow old, bur your heart, soul–that which makes yours such a creative mind–that will sharpen and age well–grow keener and wittier. Why? Because despite the creeping years you will continue to surround yourself with friends who see you, know you for who you are–they will not let you fade, just as you will not allow them to diminish. We are so much more than our skin and bones…what’s inside gets only better–trust me. Look at your nieces and nephews, your friend’s children–how they make you laugh and how you make them laugh in return–that is the future…isn’t it lovely?

  2. Edmond Says:

    Actually, that is the loveliest thing I’ve heard all day. You make me look forward to aging. Thank you.

  3. Elizabeth Says:

    This made me cry… In the dentist office waiting room. (As my youngest daughter tried to look up my nose). Thank you for your bittersweet and beautiful thoughts, Edmond.

  4. Edmond Says:

    Luckily, crying in the dentist’s office is a normal thing, so probably nobody noticed. Thanks for reading, Elizabeth! Now, go calculate your Moon, Recession Birthday.

  5. Jamie Says:

    Oh dang I missed my MRB last year. Maybe if I got a fresh jar of raspberry jam in the mail from my handsome, talented Mini Soda friend I’d feel better about that.
    OK, 2 jars would make me feel really great.

  6. Sylvia Says:

    What a great day to celebrate and what an amazing sister. My MRB was 2,5 years ago, I think it was a good one :)

  7. Edmond Says:

    Happy Belated MRB, Sylvia! I’m so sorry I didn’t send you a card on that special day. Well, not that anyone knew it was a special day. I’ll ask Andrea to invent more planetary birthdays of significance. It could be that your Saturn or Jupiter birthday is still coming!

    And Jamie, your comment suggests a thinly veiled suggestion for me to send you raspberry jam. Yes? Yes? Hmmmmm…you have to ask yourself is that *really* getting into the spirit of Moon Recession celebration?

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