Birthdays and Disabilities Are Like Cake and Ice Cream

by Jul 27, 2020Holidays2 comments

Birthdays and disabilities go together in our family like cake and ice cream, like joy and sorrow. I didn't always appreciate the combination, but now I do.

Birthdays and disabilities are like cake and ice cream for my family. We can’t have one without the other. For many years I didn’t appreciate this truth. Now I do. Today is my birthday again, and I’ll welcome joy and sorrow to my party. They’ve put in appearances before.

I have no doubt that they’ll do it again.

They first showed up the year I turned either two or three. I’m not sure which, but it was the first birthday I remember. My mom made a chocolate birthday cake with chocolate frosting. She decorated it with the outline of a clown holding a bunch of balloons. The strings were thinly piped icing and the balloons were round, sour ball candies. Then she covered the cake with foil, put it and me in the car, and drove to where my dad had been hospitalized since his diagnosis multiple sclerosis. We celebrated with him and a little girl he’d befriended. She was a few years older than me and lay on a stretcher throughout the party. She liked the cake and the candies, too.

Two things about that day remain vivid in my mind–her joyful wave when the nurse wheeled her away when the party ended, and the sorrow in Dad’s eyes as he waved back.

Joy and sorrow visited on my twenty-sixth birthday, too. My two-month-old son was in a hospital 750 miles away from home, and I was with him. He was recovering from an emergency operation to correct complications related to the life saving surgery he’d undergone at birth. I sat next to our two-month-old’s crib and watched his chest rise and fall.

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By Jolene

Jolene Philo is the author of the Different Dream series for parents of kids with special needs. She speaks at parenting and special needs conferences around the country. She’s also the creator and host of the Different Dream websiteSharing Love Abundantly With Special Needs Families: The 5 Love Languages® for Parents Raising Children with Disabilities, which she co-authored with Dr. Gary Chapman, was released in August of 2019 and is available at local bookstores, their bookstore website, and at Amazon.


  1. Jolene

    Thank you, Mary!

  2. Mary Dise

    Happy Birthday Jolene

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Meet Jolene

Jolene Philo is a published author, speaker, wife, and mother of a son with special needs.



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