I have always loved my birthday. Even as a child I planned my own birthday parties. I would ask my mother if we could take out the linen tablecloths, fine china, and the silver. She’d say, “ Only if you polish it yourself.” And proudly, I always did! I’d usually request these celebrations be held at my grandmother’s house, during one of our family’s after-church Sunday dinners. My grandmother would make a roast or my great-grandmother would serve her fabulous fried chicken. My aunts, uncles, and cousins filled the house and celebrated with me.

My mom (read about my amazing mom, Betty, here) was one of six children and so I have lots of first cousins. Though many lived in Florida, we always got together at Christmas. There was quite a crowd of us and we always had such a good time. Over the years we gathered for graduations, weddings, and births.

Because those celebrations and gatherings with my cousins are such happy memories for me, this year when I was asked the inevitable question, “What do you want for your birthday?” the answer was easy. A big family reunion of the Bacher family. I’m getting my wish without even blowing out the candles!

In honor of my 50th birthday, my family on my mother’s side is gathering in Mississippi. It will be an opportunity for me to see my extended Bacher family — my aunts and uncles, my cousins, and my brother and his family — some of whom will be meeting my daughter Elle for the first time.

I’m so glad that we can get together this weekend to celebrate. Like many extended families, we Bachers get together mostly at funerals now. And sadly, with the death of my cousin on my father’s side — the Myers portion of my family — I’ll be attending a funeral soon as well.

This has been a tough week. In addition to losing my cousin, I’ve had a painful and frightening eye infection. I’ve spent more time than usual at home, trying to recover. It’s been a time of reflection for me. I’m so grateful, for both the big, wonderful features of my life — my family, my career, and my passions — and for the little moments that shaped my character.

I’ve spoken and written about the big events of my life: becoming a physician, my Graves’ disease, founding my company, and becoming a wife and mother. However, I’ve learned that in so many ways, it’s the small joys, sorrows, triumphs, and setbacks that make us who we are. Looking back now from the perspective of (almost!) fifty years, I can see that simple, little things impacted me far more than I could have ever imagined at the time.

For example, my favorite childhood poem was A.A. Milne’s “Waiting at the Window,” which I can vividly recall my mother reading to me and my brother many times as we sat together by the window on rainy days. Like the narrator of the poem, I had a vivid imagination.

These are my two drops of rain
Waiting on the window-pane.

I am waiting here to see
Which the winning one will be.

I made up stories, games, and even competitions around ordinary objects and events. Lots of my daydreams involved winning instead of coming in second to my brother Townsend! I imagined him as the “James” drop and myself as the “John” drop.

James has just begun to ooze.
He’s the one I want to lose.

John is waiting to begin.
He’s the one I want to win.

My brother is 18 months older than me. I often struggled to keep up with him — he was bigger, stronger, and smarter! — and I wondered why I couldn’t do what he could. I’m sure my drive to succeed started in those early days, as a result of striving to be as smart and good at everything as my big brother, Townsend.

John is rushing down the pane.
James is going slow again.

James has met a sort of smear.
John is getting very near.

And just like Milne’s narrator, I would never just spend my time waiting for the sunshine — I’d make my own fun with whatever I could, in whatever situation I found myself in.

I’m still that way today. I don’t always get the sunny day I’d like, however, I never let that stop me. I try to use the talents I have — including that drive that was likely courtesy of my big brother, Townsend! — to make the most of any situation.

John is there, and John has won!
Look! I told you! Here’s the sun!

As I turn 50, I rely more than ever on this trait. I see now that it began in those simple days of my childhood reading by the window on a rainy day. I think that trait, and family, are my most precious gifts. I’m so thankful for both. And thankful for all of you, too.