“Everything happens at once” from The Secret Language of Birthdays by Gary Goldschneider & Joost Elffers

Leslie Cartwright by © Emily Dozois

Image © Emily Dozois

An Interview with Leslie

Q. What is the best memory you have from a previous birthday?

A. Having a summer birthday, I remember the happiness and excitement of childhood birthdays spent at the beach. We’d invite several friends and Mom would come with a cooler packed with food, as well as the big birthday cookie. The birthday cookie was literally one big chocolate chip cookie baked on a large pizza tray. Mom put an appropriate number of candles on the birthday cookie, and everyone would sing happy birthday from a picnic table in the warm sun. The birthday cookie was always devoured; it was a favourite request by both myself and my two sisters for several years. On birthdays when we hosted indoors, my parents would have a variety of games planned. We had a baggie of small goodies and when someone won a game, they got to reach into the baggie to pick a prize. Musical chairs, handstand contests, and pin the tail on the donkey were favourite games as I recall. For the latter, I remember Dad printing out the outline of a big donkey from his plotter the day before the party. When the time came to play, he would put a bandana around a kids’ head to cover their eyes, and spin them around 6 or 7 times. Then, with a sticky in hand, my dizzy sister or friend would try to ‘pin the tail on the donkey’. Whomever’s sticky was closest to the donkey’s tail would win! Then of course was the singing, the cake and the presents!

Q. How about the worst? And why?

A. When I turned 20 I went to breakfast on my own. Everyone was busy but I wanted to enjoy a good breakfast – it’s my favourite meal of the day. Cora’s restaurant offers free breakfasts for people celebrating their birthday, so that’s where I went! It was nice, but it definitely would have been nicer if I had had company.

Q. What was the present you’ve received for your birthday that surprised you most?

A. I was a Ranger with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources during the summer of 2007. It was a two month flurry of raking beaches, maintaining trails, carrying and dumping bags of wood chips, swimming, girl talks, and stuffing my face with good food after each day in the sun. On the night of my birthday, AFTER I had showered and gone to bed, the group of girls (twenty of them!) pulled me out of bed and took me to the beach. It was dark out and I was tossed into the water; I was actually a little scared! Once I was thoroughly wet, they sang happy birthday, and handed me a box. Inside was a brand new Nalgene water bottle with an “Ontario Parks” logo. It was definitely a surprise – a bit of a shock even – but I was actually really happy to finally have a Nalgene like nearly everyone else had, and we all had a laugh. I still have it to this day, although it’s not as shiny!

Q. Is there a food or dish that you insist on eating on your birthday?

A. I definitely make a point of having a slice of cake on my birthday. Any kind of cake will do! I celebrated my 21st birthday in Edinburgh, Scotland with my best friend Angelique. We were living in a flat there together for all of July and August, working and sightseeing in the city and surrounding areas. I remember Ange bought us each a single slice of cake from a small shop. It was so delicious, and I thanked her a lot. We did a guided tour that day as well, and simply enjoyed the day and time spent together.

Q. What do you believe is the most important aspect of celebrating a birthday?

A. Enjoying the day together with family and friends, and also taking a moment to yourself. I look forward to the birthday cards, a dinner at a restaurant or a thoughtful dinner at home, a phone call from my Oma and Opa, and birthday hugs. It’s making a point to say “cheers to being one year older and one year wiser!” It’s celebrating life, and thinking about what goals and wishes you have for the year ahead.

Q. Do you have any traditions or thing you always do to celebrate a birthday? What is it?

A. I was born at 5:10am on my birthday. Since I’m never awake at that time, a tradition of mine is to set my alarm clock for that moment, on that day, to rattle me awake. I whisper a happy birthday to myself and then happily go back to sleep.