OPINION | SHARON RANDALL: Making kids' birthdays wingdings no matter the age

How many birthdays do you celebrate in your family? My husband and I share five grown children, their "others" and nine grandchildren. At our house birthday candles burn nonstop.

My daughter's birthday is this week. Never mind how old she'll be. Age is only a number. She grows more lovely, inside and out, with every passing year.

I wish you could know her.

Birthdays in my childhood were simple affairs. My mother baked a cake and we ate it. No gifts, no games, no parties. The cake was good and I was happy. But I told myself, when I had children, I would make their birthdays real wingdings.

That was before I had three kids, a job, a house that defied order and a dog that shed giant clumps of hair that rolled from room to room like tumbleweeds.

So my children's birthdays became simple affairs. I'd let them invite as many guests as we could fit into our VW van. I'd drive them to the swim center, where they'd splash and laugh and try to drown each other.

When they were totally exhausted, I'd dry them off and take them to our house to sing "Happy Birthday" and eat pizza and a store-bought cake. Then they'd all fall sound asleep on the floor under a cozy blanket of dog hair tumbleweeds.

That's how my boys celebrated most of their birthdays. They liked it. At least, they never complained. But my daughter had her own ideas about most things, including birthdays.

Two weeks before her third birthday, she handed me a note on which she had scrawled in crayon (I couldn't read it, so she translated) her plans for "a fancy birthday tea party."

When she saw the look on my face, she patted my hand and said, "No worry, Mama. I help."

And help she did, with every detail, flowers, tablecloth, cake decorations, teacups (from her tea set) and even what she and I would wear. Her brothers could wear what they wanted, she said, but they had to take a bath.

It was quite a wingding, the first of many to come. She did the planning. I followed orders.

In high school, she celebrated birthdays by going out with her friends. But we still celebrated as a family with dinner and cake, laughter and love.

Why does time fly when you're having fun? She's all grown up now, incredibly busy, teaching school and being a mom. She makes sure her little guy's birthdays are wingdings, but she doesn't have time (or energy) to plan a celebration for herself.

So I will plan it for her. She never forgets my birthday. And I will always remember hers.

I was there the day she was born. I had kept her to myself for almost 10 months, before delivering her into the world. Then I held her in my arms, looked into her lake-blue eyes and whispered in her ear: "I'm your mama. You're my girl. We are going to have a good time."

And with that, the celebrations began. Not just birthdays and special occasions. But any time we're together. Some times are more fun than others. And there've been a few that we would rather not repeat.

Raising children is like raking leaves in the wind. You try to move them where you want them to go. But children and leaves have minds of their own. They love to fly on the wind.

One day, the wind will stop, and they will settle wherever they land. For the child, that is called growing up. For the parent, it's called letting go. For the leaves, it's just called mulch.

One of life's greatest gifts is getting to share, in good times or bad, your heart and soul and very last dime with a child you adore — to see that baby, that toddler, that middle schooler, that teenager (who aged you by several decades) grow up to be a beautiful, capable, caring adult.

We'll celebrate my daughter's birthday with dinner and cake, laughter and love. She doesn't want it to be a "big deal."

But I am her mama. And she is my girl. And we are going to have a good time.

Sharon Randall is the author of "The World and Then Some." She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or by email at randallbay@earthlink.net.