Sunday, September 28, 2014

What's the Big Deal, Anyway?

I was talking to a friend about my birthday the other day. Why? Well…because it’s coming up (Four days!)! I wrote about it last year, because everyone always wonders why I make such a big deal about it. Basically, it’s because it's mine.

Anyway, I realized something during that conversation: I have never had a ‘spectacular’ birthday. Not one to write about, anyway. 

I have to mention this: in 2010 my then-17 year old daughter surprised me two months in advance with tickets to see Tears for Fears. The best gift ever for three reasons:
  • That she thought of it, knowing they were my favorite band (and it was cool to see them 25 years after the first time I’d seen them--ON my 18th birthday as a gift from my sisters!)
  • She planned it perfectly. I was surprised—I thought I was going out with my family.
  •  She was even able to arrange to have my best friend Donna there (at the moment of surprise) to go with me—and Donna’s schedule is not easy to arrange! And Donna would have been my first choice if I’d been able to choose.


But it’s not about the gifts. I had to mention that because I was and am so happy and proud (and humbled) that she went out of her way like that for me (she and I had been struggling for a few years). And I know she’s very proud of herself for surprising me.

After some thought, I realized that I’ve had some spectacularly bad birthdays. More than good, in fact. One year my first ex planned a beautiful night “for me” which was really a “look what a great boyfriend I am” to everyone else, and I spent the evening dealing with him white-knuckling the edge of the table because he “couldn’t be normal and drink alcohol like everyone else.” (He’s sober now, thank God). Another birthday was particularly memorable a number of years ago, when my then-husband and mother and sisters planned a surprise party for me—and this one affected my birthday every year for the next eight. The party was being held north of Boston, an hour’s drive from my house, and on the way we had a little almost-fender bender that resulted in having to take my daughter Deren (by ambulance) to the hospital (extreme whiplash). My sister, daughter and I were four hours late for the party; basically we got there when the time was almost up for the room. On the way home, Deren’s father called me and I was talking to him about how Deren was doing, and about the party that “my family” planned for me. Now, I didn’t even know my husband had a hand in any of the planning; it wasn’t evident when I got there (my sisters and mother did all the work), or even mentioned. Well, he heard me say “my family” and assumed jealously that I deliberately omitted mentioning him in an effort to protect my first ex’s feelings (yeah, everyone wants me). For the rest of my marriage to him he downplayed my birthday, and would pick a fight with me first thing the morning of. In spite of my happy pictures in my tiaras, those days I inevitably started my day crying.

Our marriage officially ended—we finally split up one month before my birthday in 2010. Anyone who’s ever gone through that knows the many directions “special days” can take. That one took all of them.

In 2011, I was struggling to find (read: afford) a home for my daughter and I, who were living at my sister’s place. I did what I could.

By 2012, I’d just found a place and met a special person. Don had cancer; the last day I saw him was my birthday, and he died 11 days later.

Last year I felt I was getting back into the swing of things. My friends and I got together for a nice combined party at a bar. Nothing over the top, but very nice. And four days later a very close friend of mine, Maria, had a sudden heart attack and died.

This year is particularly bittersweet. Maria will have been gone a year, I will forever think of Don on my birthday, and it's not going to be what I thought earlier that it would be. So, there has been nothing surrounding my birthday that should generate the excitement I feel every single year before it gets here. But I still feel it. Still.

It’s not even about the attention, although I must confess to getting a little tingle every time someone wishes me a Happy Birthday.

I’m not downplaying my good birthdays. I’m constantly talking about how wonderful my family and friends are, and I’m so very lucky to spend any days (not just birthdays) with them. The year Don died, Donna showed up to see me the night of my birthday because she knew how upset I was—that I knew that day would be the last day I would see him. My friends have always made time for me—and I hope when all is said and done that they feel the same about me.  I’m just pointing out that by comparison to how many bad birthdays I’ve had, I should have no reason to be looking forward to them. But I do.

I am also not complaining about my life. I've been very lucky and have experienced many wonderful things. But I'll be honest, too; it sometimes amazes even me how excited I get before my birthday. I get more excited than any ten children on Christmas Eve. Still. Now.

So, what’s the big deal?

Like I’d written last year, it IS about reflection, and celebrating myself and being happy with myself. During this year’s reflection I realize it is about more than that.

I realize that for me my birthday is also about hope. Not hope for gifts, not hope for parties or anything tangible; it is hope for each new day of the coming year. Maybe it’s even more than hope. I realize that I do believe things will always be better, and apparently I believe that they always are with each new moment. I can feel it. I love every new year that comes. And even if I feel I’ve had a bad year (or two, or three…) I am still looking forward with a smile.

And I’ll take that wherever I can get it.


Happy Birthday to me.