My dear sweet husband is throwing me a birthday party this weekend. I could pretend that I didn’t want him to, or that I am embarrassed by the attention – but frankly, I am looking forward to it.
Birthdays have always been kind of a mixed bag for me. I was a firstborn on both sides, so they started out pretty special. Big parties, homemade and hand decorated cakes, and gifts from every aunt, uncle, and distant cousin.
The first birthday I actually remember was the year I turned two. My mom made me a chocolate cake shaped like a cat, with licorice whip whiskers and gumdrop eyes.
For the first few years, I got to have two parties. One night was with my dad’s side of the family, then one with my mom’s. Our house would be bursting with aunts, uncles, and cousins for the entire weekend. I would drift off to sleep to the low buzz of late night adult conversations punctuated with loud laughter and quick shushing.
The next day would be dinner with Grandma and Grandpa. We would light the special “birthday candle”, the long white taper that melted away the year past before being stored for the next. There was more cake, more presents, and more warmth.
My birthday was the day that I felt more loved than any other day of the year. The circle of my family expanded to embrace me, and my entrance as the firstborn was celebrated abundantly.
Over time, my aunts and uncles grew up, got married, and had children of their own. When I was four, my brother was born and then my sister five years after that. I outgrew animal themed birthday cakes and the adults started going to bed before I did.
The last party I had was when I turned 19, when my then-boyfriend-now-husband got together with my roommates to throw me a surprise party. It is the best birthday I have had since those preschool days.
We don’t celebrate like we used to. Adult worries like money and child-care get in the way of a full on birthday party. Since I know that my friends are all struggling with the same issues, I don’t want to add anything to anyone’s already full plate. It seems selfish to be celebrated for something so simple as being born.
And yet, each year I try to find a way to return to that place of my childhood birthdays. We are a culture that values humility, but to be brutally honest, it still feels damn good to be special once in a while.
So this year, I am having a real birthday party. I decided that life is short, and each birthday we have gets us a little closer to the last one. My husband has done most of the planning, and I am just along for the glorious ride.
We invited the friends who we knew would come – so I didn’t have to worry about sitting at the desert table crying into my cake balls – and mixed in some friends who just make me feel good. We ordered lots of desert and bought lots of beer. We hired someone to clean the house, and we are sending the kids to Grandma’s for the night.
This birthday, I own, along with every day from here forward. And just like the old days, I want to be surrounded by the people who add life to my years, which is the best birthday gift of all.