Add to Technorati Favorites

Saturday, September 8, 2012

I love to celebrate birthdays--

--just not my own. There are valid reasons for my distaste for my birthday, most of which have been explored annually on this blog, and the one before it, and the one before that...

The last birthday I remember anticipating was when I was five. I'd been riding a bicycle for more than a year, which meant I would steal my older sister's bike while she was at school. This created a number of problems my parents didn't want to deal with, so I'd been promised a bike of my own for my fifth birthday. And I got one. And it was lovely.

Then, for some inexplicable reason I still do not understand, my father switched the seat from my new bike, put it on my sister's, and fastened her old seat where the new one had been. I'm pretty sure it had to do with size, because I was tiny and the new bike came with a larger seat than my older sister's bike, but it still felt like I'd been given something amazing and then my father ruined it. I think I probably cried for weeks about it. And I continued to steal my sister's bike.

In subsequent years, the pattern of forgetting my birthday and remembering six days later when my sister's birthday rolled around, became set and predictable. By the time I was twelve, I no longer anticipated my birthday, hoped anyone would remember, dropped hints or wrote it on calendars. I was resigned to the fact that I would be forgotten. That's just the way it was.

Which doesn't mean it didn't hurt. I wanted my parents to remember. I wanted my siblings to celebrate with me. I wanted a cake that wasn't a mess because my mother remembered at the last minute and tried to throw one together with disastrous results. The disappointment was dreadful.

So I began to pretend my birthday did not exist. When I was asked about it, I would mumble something and change the subject. When the day was forgotten, I would console myself with a walk in the mountains near my home, or cuddle with our dog, or reread a favorite book while hiding in the hayloft of machine shed--making sure I could not be found just in case I decided to cry a tiny bit. I did not want anyone to know that I felt anything about being forgotten.

A few years ago, under Therapist's advice, I sat down with my parents and explained to them the reasons why it bothered me when they forgot my birthday. I told them I didn't like the oversight being treated  as the family joke and I thought it was disgraceful that they wouldn't celebrate the day their daughter was born. I explained I didn't expect anything special, just a phone call or visit (since I only live three blocks away from them), wishing me a happy day. That was all.

My mom felt incredibly guilty. My dad tried to brush it off. I didn't allow it. I told him it was hurtful that he made no effort to remember when I was born. I was his daughter. He apologized, but it didn't change anything in the following years. My mom tried, though. I have to give her credit. Usually she remembered around 10:00 p.m. on my birthday and I would receive a frantic phone call or rushed visit. And sometimes she brought me a card or small gift. But I still felt slighted. No one wants a guilt gift. I wanted her to remember because she was happy I'm alive, not because she was afraid I'd think she was a bad parent.

For six years I tried to stop hiding my birthday. I wrote about it in my blog. I told my friends the date. I celebrated it with Darrin and my kids. But I hated it, and I dreaded the day. I was always relieved when it was over.

This year, however, about a week ago, I was sitting outside in the sun and it occurred to me that my birthday was coming. And for the first time in my memory, I found myself looking forward to it. There was no reason. I had nothing special planned. I just wanted the day to arrive.

I wanted to have a birthday.

When I recovered from the weirdness of that sensation, I waited. I wondered if it would recede and be replaced by the familiar dread. It didn't. A couple of days later, I even told a friend about it, just to see if that would trigger the ugly feelings that generally accompany the realization that my birthday is approaching. The anticipation continued.

And so, two days ago my birthday arrived, and I was happy. It didn't matter whether anyone remembered or not--I was glad to celebrate me. Darrin got ready for work, kissed me good-by and wished me a happy birthday. A little later, two of my sisters texted birthday messages to me. Around noon I started to leave and Adam asked where I was going. I told him it was time for my birthday adventure. His eyes got very large as it dawned on him that he had forgotten (Adam has never forgotten my birthday before) and he apologized a bunch of times, then asked if he could join me. I almost said no, because I wanted to have an "alone" adventure, but I changed my plans and told him we were going to find a restaurant at which we have never dined and have lunch. In our small town, that's a very difficult challenge.

So Adam and I finally found a place and had a fun lunch and spent some time together. When we returned home, someone had posted a birthday message on Facebook (which does not advertise my birthday because I don't want it to), and several people had seen it and added their greetings, as well. Tolkien Boy even wrote a birthday poem for my Facebook page. He called me that afternoon and we talked for a few minutes before a neighbor stopped by unexpectedly. She brought me a card and small gift. It was very unexpected and sweet.

TB found me later online and we continued chatting. He presented me with a beautiful email and another, more serious poem which recalled one he had written a few years earlier. I was delighted, but when it comes to TB's writing, I'm easily won.

Darrin, Adam, and I had a nice dinner and a quiet evening. I thought about going to a movie, then decided against it. I just wanted to sit and enjoy the feeling of loving my day. There was something amazing about being happy to celebrate me. And there was no hint of defiance that has accompanied my determination to enjoy my birthdays the past few years. I felt free of resentment and anger.

Today my parents called. My dad said, "I think I missed your birthday again." I said, "You did." He said, "Can I take you and your family to dinner for a late birthday celebration?" I told him that would be nice. And it was.

I was born on September 6th. I had lots of very black hair, olive skin, and eyes so dark it was difficult to see the pupils. I weighed six pounds and was nineteen inches long. I was one day overdue. And I believe my birth--my life--is something to be celebrated. I know that I'm very happy to be alive. I believe others are happy to have me here, as well.

This year, the gift I received from myself was a release from my past. I cannot change the birthdays filled with disappointment and unfulfilled wishes, but I have many more to look forward to. I plan to enjoy each one. Perhaps one day I will heal enough to throw myself a party. Let me know if  you'd like to come. We might dance or play charades or just watch the sun set--but the food will be wonderful. I promise.


  1. This is a beautiful post. I am glad you had a happy birthday.

  2. I would love to come to your party! May I bring a cake?

  3. Absolutely. It wouldn't be a party without you. :)