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How I Failed My Children On My Birthday

Photograph by Twenty20

It's my birthday, and I wake up to the voice of my 3-year-old daughter, who has snuck into our bed in the middle of the night.

"Happy birthday, Mommy!" she says.

I don't bother opening my eyes because I sense it's very, very early.

"Thank you, bunny," I say.

"How old are you?"

"43."

"I want to be 4." (Seriously, it's all she ever talks about.)

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"I love you at 3," I tell her. "And I'll love you at 4, and 14, and 24, and 34, and 44 and …"

"But, Mommy, then you'll be dead."

I open my eyes but saying nothing.

"When you get too old, you go dead."

Silence.

"Happy birthday, Mommy."

My older children— 5 and 3—are lately obsessed with birthdays, numbers and, perhaps due to a recent visit to my mother's grave, death. Despite waking to this macabre culmination of all three concepts, I am looking forward to my day.

My actual birthday gift is a trip to a literary festival in Cambridge, England, which I'm pretty over the moon about. But that's a hard thing to wrap, so at breakfast my children see me open a book and a running shirt—great by adult standards, but …

"Oh, Mommy," says my son, "you should have asked for dinosaurs."

We decide to spend the day with our children on the beach. We put on our coats and scarves, and head for the Zandvoort strand, where there is a nice playground next to a café.

After playing in the sand, walking along the water and having a nice lunch, my children say we need to go home, to my party.

"This is my party," I explain.

"But you need friends. And children," says my son.

When we get home, my husband dashes out to buy a cake, sensing the children think he has let me down. But he explains we can't have it until after dinner.

"Oh, Daddy," my 3-year-old daughter says. "You're doing the rules wrong."

The youngest, 2, sticks her finger in the cake anyway.

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Later, I am putting my son to bed. I am wearing my heels and dress, heading out to dinner with my husband.

"Mommy," my son whispers. "Next year, we have to do something when it's your birthday."

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