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I just finished another trip around the sun. I think I have jet lag this time. Or maybe it’s motion sickness I’m feeling. Or both. No matter, there’s no rest for the weary. The next flight took off in the wee hours of the morning and I boarded with my suitcase full of dirty laundry.  Up, up and away for the 54th time in as many years.

The last ten trips have admittedly started off a bit lonely because I haven’t had Mom alongside me to hold my hand during take-off. For 44 years, our trips around the great ball of fire coincided perfectly, thanks to her giving birth to me on her 25th birthday. As a child, I’d always thought July 9th was all about me, but the older I got, the more aware I became of our shared birthday, and the more important it became to both of us to celebrate our day together. No matter where we lived, we’d make great efforts to travel to one another’s homes in Missouri or Texas or Oklahoma to dine and wine and shine in the glow of our birthday candles.

I’d always sign my cards to her: Love your birthday baby. Not very original but I loved being able to write that in big, sloppy cursive letters year after year. The year I turned 26, I painted t-shirts for us with a pink cake, gold candles and green and pink confetti on each. On her’s I put the words: It’s my birthday. On my shirt, I scrawled: It’s my birthday too. Granted, I’m not an artist of any magnitude, but like a young mama who displays her toddler’s watercolor pictures on the fridge, she proudly wore her customized costume for a full day.

A few years later, we bought matching outfits at a department store – flowing, flowery jumpsuits that were all the rage of the early 90s – to wear out to a dinner. Another time, it wasn’t our wardrobe that drew the attention of our dinner guests, but the belly dancers who posed with us at a Greek restaurant in Kansas City. Then there was the year my mom turned 55 and I, 30; we donned baggy shorts and t-shirts as we jumped in colorful plastic balls, doing our unlevel best to avoid crushing the little kids who stared at us like we were crashing their party in the ball pit. But it was our party, our day, our marking of another trip around the sun.

Ten years ago, I sat on Mom’s bed, helping her eat what she could of the French toast she had requested that my siblings and I make on the occasion of her 69th and my 44th birthday. Cancer stole her appetite, but not her spirit. She had a card for me and I for her. (I still keep that card in the top drawer of my dresser.)

We held hands and prayed without speaking. I leaned in and hugged her, whispering: “Happy Birthday, Mom. I’ll always be your birthday baby.” She held me tightly, expressing more love in those few seconds than any words could ever convey in a lifetime.

Not many days later, her trip around the sun was diverted to a place beyond the stars that I cannot see, at least not with open eyes. Sometimes when I’m sleeping, I can see her vividly smiling with bright blue eyes (like mine) and laughing carefree as if we’re just two birthday girls jumping in plastic balls together.

Today, as my annual excursion reaches cruising altitude above the clouds, I think I’ll cozy up next to the window and take a nap.