The calendar tells me my birthday is soon. Which is great, if you’re into birthdays. I suffer simultaneously with wanting acknowledgement that my birthday is happening and absolute dread that I am getting attention for this auspicious to no one day. It’s quite a conundrum. And one I know is quite common.
Not enjoying your birthday is scientifically proven! A vast majority of us do not care for the days leading up to or after the day. I even looked it up! A statistic exists stating those over 75 have an increased risk of taking their life in the 30 days before and after their most recent birthday. This is disturbing to me in ways I hadn’t thought of and wow, getting old is not fun.
What do birthdays mean? What do they mean to us as we grow older? If you had large parties or bucket loads of attention around your day you might likely carry that into adulthood. You’re someone who has lavish affairs that I attend and have thought, I can’t believe this over a birthday, but look how loved she is. I admire the level of commitment to planning for one’s birthday. I do not like to plan for birthdays. This is a general statement applied to almost all scenarios I like – I am not an advance planner. I want notice in advance of something, like when my takeout will arrive, but I’m not planning a party for myself, for you sure, maybe – depends how well I know you, but me, no. Got it?
And if you had birthdays that were horrible, and did suck, or weren’t celebrated, well, it’s truly understandable if you either never want to celebrate or you want to bucket list that day every year. The pressure we put upon ourselves around it is circumstantially based and weaponized by advertising. The beauty I think of a birthday is it is what we make it. We own it, completely. Even when we want to be doted on but don’t want to be doted on. We’re complex creatures!
For the most part, I can only recall two childhood birthdays in any detail. First when I turned 5 and my dad bought me a Star Wars board game. I vividly remember how excited I was and being down on the floor with him putting the pieces together. That game stayed with me so long into my adulthood that when I finally tracked a version of the game down in a vintage shop, I immediately bought it. I’m not convinced it wasn’t my own game from that time, the feeling of birthday nostalgia so strong. My other memory involved my 6th birthday in kindergarten. You got to take a treat or a cake to share with the class. At that time my favourite sweet was coconut. My Mum sent me to school with coconut cream puffs to share with the class. They were these white frothy concoctions covered in that sweet snow. I wish I knew where she’d bought them. But we were 6 and I must have thought other 6-year-olds were as bizarre as I and into coconut. Alas, the majority came back home with me because the kids didn’t like them. I was bereft. I still recall the “ew, coconut” from some kid echoing in my ears. Screw you, Mark, they were delicious.
Beyond that, all my birthdays blend. We celebrated them the same as a family, we got to have our favourite takeout, our favourite cake (black forest if you’re inclined). That my birthday also happened to fall very close to Valentine’s Day meant it was often completely forgotten by those outside my household, sometimes within. Which is understandable. However not getting discounted Valentine’s candy for my birthday would also be nice. But we can’t have it all! Can we?
Now as my birthday gets closer and in these pandemic days, everything is strange and anxious, I don’t have many feelings around the day at all. Except I do, because my brain had me write all this out. The day will come and go. It’s the only true marker of time that belongs to us. Not that other events or births or deaths don’t, but it’s the marker by which we can remind ourselves we’re here and alive. But it’s just another day. I’ll go to work, I’ll push my electronic paper about, I’ll longing wonder if I should run away to Aruba (too hot) but you know, it’s just a day. One foot in front of another.
What I’ll wish for most when I blow out the candles this year is that we all find a moment of quiet. Just moments in the day that belongs to us. Not even doing anything. Just sitting and staring off into the horizon from the bus, or laying and watching the dust bunnies dance on the ceiling, or closing your eyes and draining your mind in the shower, enveloped in steam. Just a tick every day that we mark like we mark our birthdays; a moment that belongs to no one else. Seconds or minutes doesn’t have to be lengthy. We just have to be present in it, like when the birthday candle flame extinguishes and we smile at our audience, one perfect moment. Find that one stake every day that makes it your birthday, that makes you present, reminds you – you’re your own gift. I’m my gift. Goddamn right I am!
Happy Birthday to us all.
Happy Birthday to you. xx