The Last Birthday Gift I got from My Parents

Closeup of a child wearing pink pyjamas holding a yellow birthday gift box.

By: Giselle General

It was May 1999, and my family is planning for another set of birthday celebrations. As my brother and I are born on the same month, and less than two weeks apart, the family is not very keen on having two large-scale parties so close to each other. In our small village in Philex Mines in the Philippines, birthday parties usually consist of inviting dozens of neighbours and their entire families, the adults and the kids. So it is a big affair.

My sister is a year and a half older than me and a bit taller. Her love of sports made her pretty fit and athletic. Also being the oldest, I imagine that even then, my parents were already either asking her help for more mature things, or she started being privy to information that wasn’t passed on to me or my brother.

My parent’s closet in their bedroom has four shelves. The top shelf was too high that I cannot reach it. Even climbing on top of the first shelf to boost me up wasn’t enough. I’m unable to cling onto the edge of the top shelf, let alone stick my arm further to search for whatever is inside.

Like most siblings, my sister loves teasing me. Well, it’s more of a back and forth really. She loves to give me jump scares, hiding on a hallway or behind the door and as soon as I walk by, she would jump and startle me. I tease her about being afraid of the dark, that whenever the electricity shuts down and it’s pitch black, she’d shriek and grab my arm for dear life.

It looked like she knew ahead of time what our parents bought me for my birthday. She said that as a surprise, our parents tucked it at the very far back of the top shelf of their closet. I thought, darn it, they are smart!

Their bedroom is not always open so I knew I had to be swift if I wanted to find out what it was. Apparently it was already gift wrapped so it should be easy to spot. But try as I might, I still haven’t grown tall enough to climb up and reach.

Then a week before the birthday celebration, my sister said that she’s positive that I will like the gift they got for me. But apparently, our parents moved it to a different cabinet. Disappointed, I stopped searching around altogether. The birthday party is just a few days anyway.

Then it was the day of the party! It was pretty fun as always, with our neighbourhood friends – both kids and parents – enjoying the treats and the balloons and just getting together. It was my turn to blow the candle for my cake, a green and white pandan-flavoured cake like I requested. Then it was my brother’s turn. Since he is still pretty little as it is his fourth birthday, my mother held him as he tried to lean on the cake to blow his candle.

And then finally I got my gift! It was a skipping rope (back then we call them Jumping Rope) and I was indeed delighted! My sister sheepishly told me that actually, our parents didn’t move the gift away from the cabinet. She just thought saying that will make me stop snooping around and ruin my own surprise.

That skipping rope was well used and well loved over the next few months. In our house it is the only one we have that is factory made, with the fancy colorful rope and plastic handles. My sister, her best friend, and I would spend afternoons trying to beat each other’s records for the most amount of jumps in a row. Sometimes they would show off by skipping barefoot. That never appealed to me – I had to wear flip flops at least.

And then a few months later, the accident happened, the one that killed my sister and both of our parents. Since I had a fractured skull, I was prohibited from doing any physical activities. I never saw that skipping rope ever again. I was also stopped from returning to the community Martial Arts class our parents registered us for.

I thought about it for a while as an adult. For some reason I’ve felt reluctant to get myself another one. Perhaps in my mind, it seems like it’s something only for little children. Despite seeing ads and videos of people doing skip rope in professional gyms, it didn’t resonate with me.

Four skipping ropes and two small hand weights on a gym floor

But all that changed this summer, right after I resigned from my job. I finally bought myself one, one of those sleek, athletic looking ones from the gym equipment section of the store. To my relief and delight, the rope is adjustable. I have the height of a 10 year old child so I was a bit worried it would be too long and awkward for me.

The first time I tried it again it was awkward. Since about six years ago I started suffering from plantars fasciitis and I had to be more careful when my feet land! I had to make a dozen attempts to get the rhythm right as well. After a few days, skipping rope felt comfortable and delightful again! A goal for my summer being unemployed is to recapture how life was like when I was a kid, to have a leisurely summer again. With the other activities I did, plus the skipping rope, that goal was achieved!

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