A Birthday Card From Me

These past few days, I’ve gotten an unusual amount of emails from people with upcoming birthdays. It seems like everyone is stuck indoors, self-quarantining, and this isn’t exactly a fun way to spend the big day. One such email comes from Abbie, who writes:

“My daughter Emma’s birthday is on Sunday. She will be turning 9. She’s a typical kid. Hates vegetables. Whines. Says ‘Mommy’ at least one thousand times a day. Usually her aunt and grandparents come over for a birthday lunch. Complete with cake and presents. Not this year.

“This year will obviously be different. I prepared for a breakdown when I explained what a global pandemic is and why we are quarantined. She just looked at me and said, ‘I understand. Can I help you make my birthday cake?’”

“I’m pretty proud of her and the little lady she has become.”

Well, on the off chance that Emma is reading this, I want to be among the first to wish her a happy 9th birthday. What a great year.

When I was 9 years old, my teacher read “Where the Red Fern Grows” aloud in class. This book became a favorite book. I hope you get to read it one day, Emma. It always makes me feel good.

Consequently, that was also the year my cousin, Ed Lee, ate three worms on a bet. He did it during a baseball game. We boys sat in the dugout watching in pure amazement. When he finished, Ed Lee had earned fourteen bucks, but he had also puked in someone’s glove.

These are the kinds of stunts my generation was famous for. This is probably why the most notable cultural contributions my generation ever made to the Greater Good were: Angry Birds, air-fryers, and Spanx.

Anyway, I know it sounds silly, but did you know that I’m jealous of you right now, Emma? It’s true. Because you’re a kid. You might not know this, but being a kid is the greatest thing you will ever get to do.

Oh, I know you probably can’t wait to be a grown-up, but did you know that most grown-ups wish they were kids again? I kid you not.

Arthritis is no joke.

So even though we don’t know each other, I’m pretty excited for you. Because this year you’ll probably learn lots of new kid-things. Like how to climb trees, sing songs, act silly, hug hard, make messes, stick up for your friends, memorize jokes, chase dogs, eat too much candy, and die of boredom while your mom is waiting in line at the DMV.

You’re also going to figure out what sorts of things make you into Emma. Everybody has things that make them who they are. Sadly, some of us don’t figure these things out until we are, well… My age.

But, hey, that’s part of the fun. Growing up means bumping into walls, trying to find your way through the Maze of Life. It means listening to the little voice inside you that says, “Wow, I draw pretty good pictures, maybe I’m an artist!” Or, “Wow, I never knew I was good at science!” Or, “Holy Toledo! Ed Lee ate a dang worm!”

What I hope most for you this year is that you feel loved. And I hope you know the joy of loving people back. I don’t mean kissy huggy romantic stuff. I’m talking about something much deeper.

Listen, I’m not the sharpest pencil in the box, and you probably shouldn’t pay attention to a guy like me, but if I could tell you one thing about the world it would be this:

Life is not that complicated. A lot of people will tell you it is, but these people are drinking their own bath water.

People will say you need lots of money, or a decent job, or the right car, or a great house, or fame… Blah, blah, blah. They’ll try to make you believe that there are lots of requirements to simply being alive. Just ignore them.

I don’t want you to think I’m saying life is easy. It’s not. People will hurt you. Friends you trust will let you down. Sometimes the bottom will fall out and you’ll start to question everything, even yourself. People you love will pass away. Sometimes you might even lose hope.

But life means figuring stuff out as you go. It isn’t a performance where you have to get it right the first time. It’s more like a giant roller skating rink.

Sometimes you fall and bruise your kneecap. Sometimes you get asked to couple-skate with a cute person. Sometimes the chili-dogs don’t agree with your lower intestinal regions.

The main thing is you’re here, skating. In fact we’re all here together, busting our shins, trying to not to trip. The idea is to laugh, dance, drink plenty of milkshakes, and help those who have fallen. Emma, I think the trick to life is learning how to have fun, even when it’s not easy. Then showing someone else how to do the same thing.

Maybe everything I just told you sounds a little too deep for your 9th birthday. But you’ll have to pardon me, Emma, when I got to thinking about how you’d be stuck at home for your party, and how bad that must feel, I just wanted you to have something special.

I know this isn’t much, but maybe one day when you’re older you’ll read this again and remember that some faceless writer stayed up late one night writing this especially for you.

Don’t forget about “Where the Red Fern Grows.”

Happy birthday, from your friend, Sean.


  1. Sandi. - March 27, 2020 7:42 am

    Happy 9th Birthday, Emma!

  2. Nan - March 27, 2020 9:16 am

    Good birthday letter! Happy Birthday, Emma!!!

  3. Cathi Russell - March 27, 2020 9:24 am

    Happy Birthday Emma! AND you got s birthday column from Sean Detrich! That’s a whole lot of special right there. ❤❤❤

  4. Nell Thomas - March 27, 2020 9:36 am

    It is a Special Birthday message to a special girl
    from a special gentleman. Treasure it.

  5. Sharon Lawson - March 27, 2020 10:00 am

    Thank you. This column made my day. I always start my day by reading your column. And this one to be especially written from your heart. In this time of high anxiety this is exactly what I needed.

  6. Sheila Bolyard - March 27, 2020 10:43 am

    Very sweet Sean. You’re a good guy

  7. Sylvia Diederich - March 27, 2020 11:02 am

    Wonderful birthday message. Happy Birthday Emma. Make sure someone prints Seans’ message for you and you will be able to read it over and over…

  8. Small Town Southern Girl - March 27, 2020 11:26 am

    Happy, Happy, Happy Birthday Emma!🎂🎁

  9. Hazel C. King - March 27, 2020 11:43 am

    Hi Sean. I am a new reader/fan who found out about you from Helen Taylor Andrews. I enjoy all your columns and have read Will the Circle Be Unbroken and Stars of Alabama. My mother was originally from the Dothan area and I have lots of cousins in Alabama there. Now that I have established my fan credentials, I wanted to share a personal anecdote brought to mind by today’s column, specifically:

    “Anyway, I know it sounds silly, but did you know that I’m jealous of you right now, Emma? It’s true. Because you’re a kid. You might not know this, but being a kid is the greatest thing you will ever get to do.”

    When my granddaughter Sarah was about 3 years old, I used to ask her questions, like “are you married?” just to see what she would say. One day, we had this exchange:

    Me: Sarah, what do you want to be when you grow up?
    Sarah: I like being a kid!

    Smart girl.

  10. Judy Tayloe - March 27, 2020 11:49 am

    Best wishes for a great 9th Birthday, Emma!

  11. Becky Jackson - March 27, 2020 12:16 pm

    Happy Birthday Emma! I will be 72 on the 31st and I usually celebrate the entire month of March. This year my husband who has been working from home has to go to the office 30 miles away, and with the Pandemic you know I’ll be alone all day. This is a birthday you and I will always remember!

  12. Tom Shaw - March 27, 2020 1:12 pm

    Happy Birthday Emma – Great card Sean. Wished I’d have gotten one like this 60 or so years ago and taken it to heart. Actually, I would like to get one like this now
    Because maybe now I’m old enough to really take it to heart.

  13. Stephanie - March 27, 2020 1:20 pm

    Thank you Sean for yet again making me smile and making my eyes a little sweaty all at the same time while enjoying my morning cup ‘o joe.

  14. Norman Purdue - March 27, 2020 1:33 pm

    THAT’S nice Sean. Emma will down load your note , print it out, frame it, after she shows it to her best friends(when the quarantine is over). Any way you made her day.

    Speaking of making one’s day, I will celebrate my 85th on Tuesday. You don’t need to write anything for me. Just pray for me .



  15. Ann - March 27, 2020 2:13 pm

    Some day she will get this wonderful gift message you sent her…. and everyone reading it…it’s bursting with “ life”!

  16. AlaRedClayGirl - March 27, 2020 2:31 pm

    Oh, to be nine-years old again. Happy Birthday, Emma! Here’s wishing you a lifetime of love and happiness!

  17. Jess Rawls - March 27, 2020 2:37 pm

    Happy Birthday, Emma. I hope you get to read Where the Red Fern Grows. I read it many years ago and I identified with the boy in the story. Heck, I even wrote the author, and as I recall he wrote me back. I still have his letter……..somewhere in the mess of stuff I have kept over the years. Have a great birthday and every day following it. Take care…….Jess

  18. Tom Wallin - March 27, 2020 2:52 pm

    Very sweet and good words of advice.

  19. Phil - March 27, 2020 2:55 pm

    Super, super message to Emma (and us all), Sean.
    Emma, you are a special young lady. Happy Birthday!!

  20. CAROLYN - March 27, 2020 4:30 pm

    Happy Birthday Emma!! Hope it’s the very best one yet.

    I think it may be a special one that you’ll remember for a very long time.

  21. Ann Gramlich - March 27, 2020 4:34 pm

    Sean, You are a blessing to Emma AND to us all !!

  22. Connie Pearson - March 27, 2020 5:02 pm

    Hi Sean. What a sweet note for Emma. I have been wallowing in a little extra self-pity of my own lately. I will turn 70 in May and was expecting to express my amazement on such a momentous occasion with a trip to the U.K and Ireland with my Silver Fox (husband of 49 years) and a big hoopla with our children and 14 grandchildren. The trip’s been canceled, and unless this whole pandemic thing makes a very fast turnaround, the hoopla will not happen either. But, you know, just typing words like “husband or 49 years” and “our children and 14 grandchildren,” I realize that I truly do not have good reasons to wallow. We will eventually celebrate, and I will get to hug all these people I love and who love me back. So, thanks for letting me comment. I feel better already.
    And by the way, my husband and I met you when you were in Gadsden, Alabama last year. We’re big fans. The ways you look for the good in people makes us want to do the same thing.

  23. Linda Moon - March 27, 2020 5:08 pm

    Abbie and Emma are quite a Mommy-Daughter pair that anyone would be proud of. “Where The Red Fern Grows” was part of classroom reading for my students. I think you might be a lot a like Billy, Sean. Sometimes it’s best not to try so hard to figure things out and just look for those Angelic Red Ferns as you go. You’ll find some. I found one yesterday……someone I know and love is having a 6-feet-apart-outdoor baby shower. She invited guests to “bring and sign your favorite children’s book instead of a card for the baby to read as she grows up!” I’ll have to decide….”Red Fern” or one of the many others I love, too. Thank you for the serendipitous reminder of this children’s book. And Happy Birthday to Emma!!

  24. Nancy Edwards - March 27, 2020 5:35 pm

    Happy birthday, Emma! Sean is so right when he says being a kid is the greatest. Enjoy your special day.

  25. Kathy Daum - March 27, 2020 5:45 pm

    I’ve read “Where the Red Fern Grows.” It IS a great book. I’m an April Fool’s baby. I’ll be 68 on the 1st. So I accept your birthday wishes. Love you essays.

  26. Jackie - March 27, 2020 7:25 pm

    Happy Birthday Emma!!! To Emma’s mother: When our daughter whined my response was, I’m sorry, I don’t understand WHINESE, please speak a language I understand.

  27. Sandi. - March 28, 2020 6:53 am

    Happy 85th Birthday to you on Tuesday upcoming, Norm!

  28. Amanda Gardner - March 28, 2020 9:56 am

    Happy 9th Birthday, Emma. These are hard times right now for all of us, but they will get better. I wish we knew when. You’re a brave and good little girl. Don’t grow up too fast. I’m 56 and I wish I was 9 again. 👑🍭🎂🍧🍬🎁🎈

  29. Dawn A Bratcher - March 30, 2020 5:50 pm

    🎉🎂 Happy Birthday, Emma! 🎁🥳 You have lots of people wishing you have a wonderful day❣️👏💖

  30. Debbie Mosier - April 3, 2020 5:42 am

    I just got around to reading this one and really wish that I’d seen it sooner. My birthday was also on Sunday, Emma! I hope you had a wonderful day! I remember how awesome life could be when I was nine. My favorite things were riding my bike, fishing in the lake across the street from my house, and reading. I rode that bike a million miles back and forth to our little town’s library every summer!

    I hope you enjoyed your birthday cake. And even more, making it with your Mom! I saw my Mom for just a minute on Saturday, through the glass door, as she dropped my gift off on the doorstep. I wanted to hug her so bad!! You see, my Mom is 82, and I just turned 61. Life sure does go fast. I have a son, but he lives in another town and was working, but he called. He’s a Paramedic and works on ambulances. I’m not married anymore, so I had my birthday with my two cats. They didn’t sing, but we’re good all day. I did have a lot of friends on Facebook wish me a Happy Birthday too. I wish I could have talked to my granddaughter, but she lives somewhere else with her Mom. I guess they were busy or forgot. She’s 10, a year older than you!

    Enjoy your time at home with your Mom and give her lots of hugs. Mine lives just up the road from me, and, boy, she’ll sure get a lot when this virus stuff is over! My Mom is my best friend and always has been. And if you have a Kindle, get lots of books to read! There are some places where you can borrow them from libraries! Cool, huh? You’ll never regret reading.

    Have a wonderful year!

  31. Hester Guest - April 16, 2020 1:06 pm

    What a wonderful blessing! Taking time to wish Emma a Happy Birthday was a wonderful thing to do! Nothing is more special than a letter, and I am sure Emma will appreciate it even more when she reads it over and over again! You are an absolutely awesome gentleman!

  32. Ruth Kujawa - May 5, 2020 3:59 pm

    I love your sweet words for Emma. Thanks for the mention about “Where the Red Fern Grows.” I love that book and I’m going g to red it again.

  33. Becky Souders - May 5, 2020 7:59 pm

    Would you write my birthday in your book for next year? Please? February 25, 1943. What a fine present you have given Emma!

  34. Mary Hicks - May 13, 2020 12:06 am

    Great advice. A present that will last a long time. Happy birthday, Emma! Thanks, Sean. God bless you and Jamie.

  35. Mac - March 29, 2021 11:38 pm

    My brother, you are amazing. Thank you for the gift you gave to Emma and the gift you gave to us.


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