Birthdays are strange creatures. Thoughts have been running about concerning this subject for a long time, which means it is time to put pen to paper.
Early birthdays are magical, rather like Christmas. You wait for that special day, YOUR special day, for months and weeks on end. One day, finally, it arrives. You wake with delight and anticipation, bask the entire day in exclamations, hugs and kisses, love, gifts, honor and most importantly, acknowledgement that you are special to other people. Special enough to have all this time, effort and objects lavished on you. Reliably, year after year.
Then, you grow up.
Somewhere along the way, usually the same year that you discover that your parents played Santa all these years, birthdays start to loose a bit of their fairy dust. The battle to balance reality with disappointment and childhood hopes ensues for a few years.
When you reach the independent, adult drinking age, you are able to enter the real party years. Use any excuse to party, but a birthday is still super special. You can plan, endure or enjoy, and hope for surprise parties for quite some time, right up until your first baby is born.
Second chair comes naturally at first. Everything centers around your child's birthday, until your birthday rolls around. If you are lucky enough to have a husband or family that remembers your special day, life continues as usual with only small differences. Now, you are the one footing the bill for your own surprise party, or cleaning up after the meal cooked in your honor.
After your children are grown and spending their main birthday celebrations with their own friends and family, the empty nest syndrome has a birthday side effect. Perhaps this is why so many pets of the 'over 50' have birthday parties now? The need to celebrate is still alive and well, but since your birthday cake is so heavily covered with candles, you aren't convinced yours is the one you really want to focus on.
I have not reached sixty yet, (it's looming very close around the corner) so I have to stop with the analysis here, subject to change in the next, hopefully, thirty years. Speaking from observing my mother's birthdays, while she is not anticipating, expecting, or desiring any large celebration, she also is very glad to be around for another birthday!
Presents are now a bit annoying. Alright, seriously annoying. When I was experiencing the party hearty years, I remember thinking a particular person should be handing out presents on their birthday opposed to collecting them, awards for putting up with them another year. I mean really, why should I be getting a present for simply not managing to get myself killed or run over? And useless presents are a vexation. I don't mean to sound ungrateful, its is truly the thought that counts, but if you can't come up with a present that doesn't scream, "I couldn't find or think of anything else!" then just send a truly meaningful card or a flower bouquet. Don't devalue the thought with thoughtlessness.
Presents for children are another subject all together. How can you resist? You want to make your child's birthday a Disney Magic Kingdom event! Just like the truth about Santa, you have the burden of watching for the day your child realizes birthdays are not going to remain fantastic forever. How big of a fall you want to set your child up for is strictly up to the individual. I personally paid for it, big time. I should have sent Jena's birthday dresses to the Smithsonian.
Presents when you are older are two fold. By the time you are 'middle aged' you probably have everything that you honestly want or need. Who needs another tie at this point? My mother is very hard to buy for since she spends her own money on what she wants, resulting in very few shortages. I break my own fast rule about sending flowers (they die, sure as shooting) by sending a plant (which she has to water, not so easy for her any more) and a huge bouquet of flowers in her favorite colours, every year, without fail. I excruciate over her birthday card for hours. I want it to really say what my heart feels, not a packaged, boxed sentiment.
Mom's presents are without a doubt, pure joy. She is renown for her weird purchases to the point where co-workers requested I opened her boxes that arrived at work so everyone could enjoy seeing them. Her tiny notes are always a highlight. Each item has a small post-it attached with some explanation or mystery comment whose meaning is revealed once the present is opened. Stories of past celebration presents loom large in her legend. Some of the items might be, well, odd, but they are still a delight I will miss beyond words someday. I want to follow in her footsteps, and my children assure me I am well on my way.
All this does bring us to a main theme: expectations and what birthdays mean to me. I am not sure if I am writing for my own clarification, to share my ideas with others, or as an apology to my own family. In either case, it is what is true for me regarding other people's birthdays, as well as my own.
I don't remember anything particular from my childhood except that wondrous expectation I described above, so I must have had some terrific birthdays. The party hearty years were good, but I would have preferred to throw a surprise party opposed to receive one. I may be the group clown from time to time, but I groaned to think of being the focus of attention. When my husband forgot my birthday for over eighteen years, I developed the tendency to ignore it in an attempt to lessen the hurt. I made it clear for several years that Turkey Day meant, "Watch out, Mom's birthday is near!" to no avail. It was so much easier and saner not to expect anything and to avoid the hurt. Each year, my birthday went further under that rug. When I met David, it took him several years to get me to enjoy them again, helped tremendously by his complete and total spoiling of me. I am a very lucky woman, and will state that often and repeatedly.
If I ever felt a bit slighted because no one ever plans a surprise party for me, I remember I go out of my way to reveal the date and contentedly shift back to my position of support for other birthdays. I also remember someone did plan one once, and it wasn't pretty. Elementary years, I went through weeks of agony because everyone would stop talking when I walked into the room. I was avoided like the plaque. By party day, I was having such a pity party all by myself that I refused to go to the movies with Pat as planned. I was made to go, making me madder still, only to walk into the party Pat had planned for weeks. I was embarrassed, painfully shy to begin with, endured the party with as much grace as I could muster at that age, awkward at best. The flavor of the party was 'no big deal' and it left me wishing with all my heart never to go through that again. Take this story to Freud, I am sure he will have a super theory for it. No matter, it is what is true for me and possibly set me up for years of conflict concerning my birthday. Amazing what your memories hold.
Add to this a father who never forgot your birthday. I was special enough to this man that he went out of his way to never forget, never be late, never disappoint. Every year, like clockwork, I received a card and a present, on the day. If it happened to fall on Sunday, I received something on Saturday with an apology he couldn't deliver on the actual day. That always made me laugh. After the one man who would love me my entire life without reservation or judgement passed away (another issue for Freud) it left a hole in my birthday that could not heal, regardless of how many happy thoughts you are presented with. Half empty, half full, appreciate the years you did have, on and on. None of them can come close to easing the mourning that tugs at my heart every birthday. Sad, but true.
Interesting side note. His birthday was right at Christmas, mine was right a Thanksgiving. his was often neglected, so was mine. Because he knew how it felt, he went out of his way to try and make mine better? I wish I had done the same for him, and I didn't. I wasn't that thoughtful.
For the last few years, since turning 50, I honestly stopped counting how old I was. I never contemplated I would really get this old, and I am not aging gracefully. I truly delight in being the old witch down the street and the young Anne still thrives happily inside me, wondering who that old woman in the mirror really is. It is a content compromise. This year, I had to calculate how old I was turning, again. It is then dismissed immediately, for it isn't important. I am simply old, but still a hippie at heart, all that matters to me.
My birthday fell on a Wednesday (I was born on a Wednesday, Wednesday's child is full of woe) and I didn't realize what day it was going to be until the Sunday before. I had no special plans. Besides, I had met a man who spoils me, horribly, each birthday, each holiday. I am a very, very lucky woman. I knew David knew what day it was, and I was content he would let me know with a good morning, happy birthday kiss, a card waiting at my computer, flowers at the end of the day and a night out for dinner. Predictable is good. His gifts, totally unpredictable, are always a delight. Mom's box, calls from my children, what else could I possibly want?
My younger sister, the one who isn't sure what day it is, not only remembered, but called me, several times, along with her sweet, precocious son. My older anti-computer sister sent me an email birthday card! The killer was a card from Kerry, a high school friend I met up with again years later. We were part of the same group back then, yet not bestest friends, and now we shake our heads in wonder to have found a 'sissy' that is more rare and cherished than most values in life. Her card and written sentiment made me cry, good tears, and I can't form words to write her back to let her know how incredibly precious her words are to me. See? I am counting my half full cup. Honestly.
However, I spent the day trying not to be hurt that my son didn't call (he came by in the evening as he was at work all day), my daughter called twice and never said a word (she can be rather blonde), and my other two best friends didn't call. Members of our extended family stayed silent. That got me to thinking what I wanted, and what I was trying to express when I wished someone a happy birthday.
To me, wishing someone happy birthday means one thing. You mean a great deal to me, I appreciate you in my life and love you enough to let you know, and enought to try and remember what day your birthday falls on.
David agreed not to 'squeal' again, and let those who want to send real birthday wishes do so. I don't want forced greetings, and I don't want polite or insincere wishes resulting from guilt or obligation. I don't want to remind anyone or guilt them into remembering. I prefer people to remember on their own, because they want to, not because I expect it. Who doesn't want to be loved, remembered, lavished? I try and remember other birthdays because I want a person to know they are appreciated and thought of, not for the thanks or the return on my birthday. If my name is not on your 'birthdays to remember' list, that's fine, too, and has nothing to do with the fact that you are on mine. That statement sounds so pitiful, but it is extremely sincere. How I feel towards someone is not a trade, it is not based on how they feel about me, although mutual relationships are obviously much more meaningful.
If you forget, I will be the first person to sympathize, because I forget all the time, and feel horrible! Most often, I am writing a check at the grocery store, write the date and think, "Oh NO!" My belated birthday card selection is thicker than any other holiday. I still seek a fool proof manner of over coming this! There are many people in my life that are very special to me, and I neglect telling them regularly.
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