I hit a big milestone birthday tomorrow. A really big one. You know the one- Party City has a whole rack of “Over the Hill” black decorations for it.
It’s got me thinking about things like the MEANING OF LIFE (how trite and predictable is that?), what happens next (career is at a crossroads), knee pain (oh my god, it is excruciating), and learning to care less about pudges and plumpies on my tummy. It’s got me wondering what happens when my kids are grown but all I ever really wanted was to be a wife and mother, so what the hell do I do now? It’s got me wondering if I want to stay where I am: it’s comfy and safe, but the wanderlust that I have held at bay for thirty years is getting really itchy.
It’s got me looking back.
I was kind of “The Girl Without A Birthday” throughout my entire growing up. I know, cue the sappy violins. But seriously, I never had a birthday party. Not one. The only cakes I had as a child were when I turned one (so all I have is a photo, no memories) and six, and it was an awful thing with shredded coconut on top. I didn’t even eat it. Who gives a six year old a coconut-topped cake? I don’t think my mother even waited for my dad to get home before she gave it to me, cut me a piece, then went to lay back down on the couch. I ate it (or rather the ice cream- no way was I eating coconut) pretty much alone.
That was it until seventh grade, when my friends Tricia and Angela brought me a Carmex jar filled with dried flowers and my very first bag of gummy bears. They delivered them at the cafeteria lunch table, sang the song, licked the gummy bears and stuck them to my chest like a corsage, and that was probably the best birthday of my life until my Travis came along (for my nineteenth, he proposed by way of decorated birthday cake at one of the swankiest restaurants in Lubbock). When you’re in junior high, the public demonstration that you actually have friends goes a long way, especially when you just humiliated yourself with an ill-timed cartwheel at cheerleader tryouts. And when you’re nineteen and came from a broken up mess of a home, being publicly told you’re loved is pretty awesome, too!
Sorry for the seemingly unrelated cheer photos- I don’t have any birthday ones!
When my sweet newlywed husband learned of this birthday party deficit, he planned a big shindig for my twentieth birthday. It was my first birthday party! We held it in our tiny little apartment on 34th Street, just a bunch of college kids in the middle of finals. Probably only five of the 20 invited guests came, but that was fine with this introvert- all that really mattered to me was that I had a cake (blessedly coconut free) with candles that I could blow out, a few gifts to unwrap, and a handful of good friends.
I healed. Unconditional love will do that.
When you look at Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook, it’s clear that the elaborate birthday party is a crucial measurement of how much one is loved as a child. At least it seems that way. Intricately decorated gourmet cookies, giant bouncy houses, and even, for the love of all things holy, pink limousines are how today’s American youngsters celebrate another year on the planet.
For our kids, we alternated parties-one year would be a party for friends, and the next year would be family dinner at the restaurant of their choice. I did my best to decorate theme cakes with zero training and no fancy supplies, I usually made the decorations out of what was in the art cabinet in my classroom, and enlisted the help of elder siblings. Hilary had a rainbow party at seven, Travis had a Nintendo party at nine, and Libby had a makeover party at the same age. Other themes over the years included Thomas the Tank Engine, Hippy, Secret Garden, and Teddy Bear Tea Party. Family dinners usually involved Valley Ranch BBQ in Tomball, Mr. Gatti’s Pizza, and later, as their tastes became more sophisticated, the Olive Garden or Buca di Beppo.
My kids turned out just fine.
I am not especially excited about this birthday. I know I should be- my mom died when she was 46, so I have already lived longer than that. At a recent Willie Nelson concert, he sang a song called “I Woke Up Still Not Dead Again Today.” That’s a pretty excellent song! I truly am grateful for each day that I wake up.
But there is shadow with it. A life-is-short-so-what-are-you-still-doing-in-the-same-place shadow.
A your-kids-are-grown-so-you’re-not-needed shadow.
A your-body-is-changing-and-you-can’t-do-a-damn-thing-about-it shadow.
Heck, even Pres. Obama looks birthday sad! Maybe he’s as worried as I am about our current POTUS.
It’s all quite silly, I know. I am actually in a good place: happy marriage, wonderful kids, good health (except for the goldurn knees), a job that I like. Friends who sang “Happy Birthday” at Sunday Drunch (that’s not a typo, Drunken Brunch=Drunch) last weekend. I adore my house. Look at all those blessings!
Am I the only one who gets blue on birthdays? Surely not.
I imagine we will have a simple birthday- we are working a big event, so there’s really no time to celebrate. When I wake up tomorrow, I will try not to cry as I curl up in my chair with my dachsund for daily meditation. I will try to remind myself that getting older is okay. Some people even say (rightly so) that it’s a gift. I will try to be grateful and ignore the handful of grey strands in my hair and the deep wrinkles on my forehead. I will endeavor to remember how dearly I loved my grandmothers, and that there are older women in my life like my mother in law, aunts, and dear Dorothy, whom I love, and who continue to live beautiful lives.
I will not, repeat NOT, accept any black over-the-hill cards or decorations.
And by God, I will start figuring out what I want next out of life. Because time’s running out for dilly dallying.