“Yes, I am six today.” Behind this cherubic grin was also the hope that the teacher would not remember that I had said it was my birthday last Sunday.
“Well, okay, come on up here and we will light the candles.” Out came the delightful little metal birthday cake with the holes for the candles all over the top. One by one the teacher placed the colorful candles in the pretend cake and began to light them. The class sang “Happy Birthday” to me. With one great breath I blew out all the candles to the cheering of my little classmates. What a wonderful feeling that always was!
“I see that you already have the birthday button on your collar so we will keep this one for another person.” Still smiling I returned to my seat at the table.
I was new to Mrs. Peterson’s* class and I just loved it. At this church it didn’t matter if your parents went there or anywhere for that matter, a kid could go to the class on Sunday if he wanted to.
Mrs. Peterson’s five-year-old’s classroom was located in the basement of the church, just around the corner from the elementary grade classrooms. We were allowed to join them at the beginning of each Sunday session. The huge area held the chairs of all sizes, with the smallest chairs down front. After the singing and Bible Verse, we all went to our own classrooms.
As soon as everyone was in his seat at the table again, Mrs. Peterson asked if there were any visitors so we could learn everyone’s names. Then she wanted to recognize the children who had had birthdays during the week. I had never seen such a thing and the metal cake was such fun for us children. No way could we ruin the cake when we blew out the candles, even if we slipped and actually touched the cake. Of course, we could not eat the cake either but Mrs. Peterson always brought treats so it didn’t matter that it was not cake.
If any child had had a birthday during the week, she asked him or her to come forward and stand in front of the birthday cake with the candles burning. The rest of us sang “Happy Birthday” to the child and, then, he could try to blow out all the candles in one breath. Of course the kids cheered when the flames were gone, even if all the candles did not go out on the first try.
Next, the birthday celebrant was shown a little birthday pin to wear. It said “Happy Birthday to You” on it but it was not really the kind of “pin” that had a sharp end. It had two round disks that were joined with a thin bar. The writing was on the larger of the two circles but all of the ornament was very colorful. The teacher found a flat place on the garment and folded the birthday pin around it so that the larger circle with the lettering on it could be displayed in front and the smaller circle with a slight elevation in the center could be folded into the fabric to secure the button in place. A collar or neckline of a dress worked the best. Of course, it meant that for the rest of the day the child would be pulling on that place to try to see the upside-down lettering for himself! No matter, it was a terrific addition to our outfit! I loved my birthday pin and I didn’t care that she would not be giving me a second one this week.
One week later
“Now that we have met our new friends, is there anyone who had a birthday this week?” When my hand shot up, Mrs. Peterson looked a bit more than perplexed. I reckon she knew that one mistake in the day might be normal, but three Sundays in a row? Suspicious. As for me, I was a little nervous but figured I should just “go for it”; one never knew, maybe she would let me blow out the candles again!
“Uh, you had your birthday last week. Did you get the date wrong?” Great, right question! I nodded my head vigorously and pushed my seat back to head for the teacher’s side. She was a little less enthusiastic than the other two times but, still, out came the little metal birthday cake and the whole process was repeated to my great delight. Again, no birthday pin, but it was the candles not the pin I wanted anyway.
Later the same day
“Hello, Mrs. Hawley. I am the Sunday School teacher for the five-year-old’s class and your daughter is in my class.”
“Oh, hello, Mrs. Peterson. Yes, she loves your class.”
“Uh, well, I was calling to ask you when her birthday actually is.” Mrs. Peterson’s hesitation did not seem to register with my mother.
“She will be six on April 30.” Since it was only October Mrs. Peterson was looking at a LONG time yet before the real event would roll around!
“Hmmm, Mrs. Hawley, I wonder if you could ask your daughter to wait until it is April to tell us it is her birthday.” Well, my mother’s confusion and surprise quickly turned to embarrassment.
“Is she telling you it is her birthday now?”
“Well, we have sung to her and she has blown out the candles for the last three Sundays so I just thought I would give you a call to see when we really should be doing this.” Mrs. Peterson was chuckling but my mother was not.
“Okay, well, I am so sorry. I will tell her to not respond to the birthday question until I tell her it is the right Sunday.”
I knew that things were not quite right when my mother called me in from play because it was no where near suppertime. I guess I knew I would be found out sooner or later but I was so hoping it would be much later. Once in the house I tried to explain to my mother about the whole birthday thing. I mean, what was the harm in it, really. No one else had a birthday and the kids just loved to sing the birthday song and watch someone try to blow out the candles. I was not taking more than the one pin so I was not really doing anything wrong, was I? After all, it was a very long time until my birthday arrived and maybe there would not be any pins left by then or, maybe, they would not be doing the birthday cake/candles then. This might just be my only chance to do it.
While my argument found a tiny bit of merit in the heart of my mother, still, she was just not going to have me telling a lie to the Sunday School teacher. I learned that day that “not hurting anyone” and “making everyone happy” were not excuses for not telling the truth. The truth was absolute and she expected me to tell the truth, even if it might mean I would not get a birthday pin in the spring. Yes, I confessed to her, I knew that none of those times had been my birthday and, yes, I would wait until she told me to raise my hand in response to the birthday question.
The following Sunday was a little tense for Mrs. Peterson as she voiced the call for children who had a birthday during the week. I was looking down at the table until she gave the call a second time and explained to the visitors about the birthday cake she was showing them. My eyes just sparkled at the sight of it! As my grin widened, Mrs. Peterson braced for the raised hand she just knew would follow that growing smile. But, when I opened my mouth to respond, the poor lady stiffened.
“Guess no one had a birthday this week,” I said and Mrs. Peterson visibly relaxed with a lovely, kind smile.
*The name has been changed.
****Life 101 Answers to Questions…. Coming Tomorrow