May Brings a Happy, Happy Birthday Surprise to Me!

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by Helen Baldwin |

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While life around here resembles a roller coaster most of the year, the frenzy ramps up in May as it always has. From my days of wrapping up classes as a student, to wrapping up IEPs as a teacher, to keeping up with end of school year activities as a parent on top of all my other spring and warm weather responsibilities, May has never been dull.

May is also big for celebrations. Our daughter-in-law’s birthday in early May is followed in rapid succession by Mother’s Day, my birthday, and our angel baby Jeffrey’s birthday. Many others close to us have birthdays this month as well.

While the family loves any occasion that warrants a feast (“Whose birthday’s next?” Or, “Hey, it’s Tuesday!”), the celebrations otherwise are usually fairly tame.



My father was stationed at McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Washington, in 1954. He and my mother eagerly anticipated May 5, the due date of their firstborn — me. They had to wait 10 more days, however, and I may have arrived then only because of the navy beans Mom ate for dinner.

I arrived at 10:44 a.m. on May 15. It was a Saturday, which according to various nonscientific birthday sites means I’m optimistic with a positive disposition and willing to work hard to get what I want. I am reportedly disciplined, practical, intelligent (relatively speaking, maybe), steady, and slow.

I can definitely vouch for slow.


My husband, Randy, is a beekeeper. When the weather warms up in May, he loads our old Subaru with jars of honey on Saturday mornings and heads to a nearby busy corner. He sets up a table and stays all day, along with another vendor or two.

Usually swamped with other duties at home, I head to the corner around lunch and relieve him for a short period. Saturday, May 15 — my birthday — was like any other Saturday.

Except when it wasn’t.


During a phone conversation with Randy that Saturday, he reported that someone was about to plow into a car waiting to turn left on the road in front of the honey stand. It’s a common scenario at that location. He promptly revised his report to, “Welp, he got hit.”

The conversation ended and that was that … until a couple of hours later, when Randy called back to see if I’d heard that it was our son Matthew’s car that had been hit. Thankfully, Matthew fared much better than his car, but still. Randy had learned it was Matthew when both cars were moved to the convenience store at the corner across the road, but hadn’t thought to let me know because unbeknownst to me, something else was brewing.


When I’d finally crossed off some essential chores at home, I headed to the corner to give Randy a short break. He told me that Matthew and our daughter-in-law, Jill, and our grandchildren Clara and James should be arriving any minute to walk along the nearby New River. He said they thought I might like to go, but he also said he reminded them of my currently wonky knee.

Minutes later, a car pulled up on the other side of the adjacent crafts vendor. A young woman, apparently donning a mask before she got out of the car, strolled casually over to the table. Seeing the mask, I mumbled that she must be overly cautious for some reason, then called out cheerfully (with my Saturday positive disposition), “Hi! How’re you doing?”

She reached the table without saying a word and removed her mask.

It was our daughter, Katie, whom we hadn’t seen in 10 months and who had driven nearly six hours to surprise me for my birthday. Caught off guard completely and ecstatically, only squeals, howls, and screechy stuff came out of my gaping mouth. I hobbled over as quickly as my cranky knee would allow and hugged Katie until she couldn’t breathe. Our son-in-law, Paul, strolled up with their dog, Bodie, and got the life squeezed out of him, too. Then it was Katie’s turn again. Then Paul’s. And Bodie’s!

The big reveal brought big squeals (and more) from Helen. (Courtesy of Helen Baldwin)

Seems everyone knew about The Big Reveal but Clara, 5, James, 3, and me. I couldn’t believe the secret had been kept so long, or that Katie and Paul were really there.

Katie, likewise born on a Saturday, couldn’t believe I hadn’t recognized my own daughter.

Told you I was slow. Credit that Saturday birth.


The next few glorious days were chock full of great food, guffaws, happy tears, and perhaps a groundhog falling out of our car. Having the family together was simply the best.

Katie and Paul left for home on May 18, Jeffrey’s 24th birthday. I felt confident that our birthday boy had been right with us, keeping everyone from accidentally blabbing, luring me to the honey corner at the perfect time, and ensuring that our obligations were as minimal as possible during those incredible days.

Bring on an encore! Pretty please.


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


Jo Ann Derden avatar

Jo Ann Derden

Reading Helen's columns is always such a treat for me, but this one was doubly enjoyable because I knew the participants so well! Helen happens to be my daughter (who I'm sure hung the moon), and all members of her family are so wonderful they each should claim a column of their own! And I get to claim kin!

Helen Baldwin avatar

Helen Baldwin

It was a(nother) fun one to write! Still basking in the super vibes of the entire surprise!


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