For most of my life, my birthday and I have had a pretty dysfunctional relationship. It’s not about age–I’m seeing the first hints of the aging process taking its toll, and I don’t like that, but psychologically speaking, I think this whole obsession with youth is ridiculous. No, it’s about the day itself: the purpose of celebrating, the proper way to celebrate, the attitude I should be cultivating.
It’s a day all about you! Your day, your way! You should get to do whatever you want to do, and no one and nothing should stand in your way! In other words: me, me, me. For one day, I am the center of the universe.
The trouble is, for thirty-seven years I tried that route, and I’ve had way more bad birthdays than good ones. You know why? Because the world isn’t all about me, even on my birthday. It’s no one else’s responsibility to make me happy. In fact, they couldn’t possibly succeed in making me happy, because what I really wanted was for someone to read my mind and figure out what I needed in order to be happy and give it to me, because I didn’t know.
(Sick, I know.)
All I had was a vague sense that I shouldn’t have to work. Every year I trotted out the tradition from my parents’ household, that the birthday girl didn’t have to do dishes. And from that I drew up a wholly unsustainable vision of a birthday as a do-nothing, responsibility-free day. And then I was never happy, because it never turned out that way.
This year, my thirty-eighth birthday, I accepted a truth I’ve known for a long time: a birthday for a mother (or a father) is different from a birthday for a child. You don’t necessarily get the first piece of cake (I mean, you could, but your ice cream would be half melted by the time you finished getting the little ones’ cake and ice cream cut up for them, so what’s the point?). You don’t go wild with excitement over presents (what do adults go wild with excitement over?).
You don’t stop being an adult just because it’s your birthday, and trying to act otherwise is a recipe for unhappiness. Like it or not, there are still kids to feed and dress, clothes to fold, and dishes to wash.
And if you can make peace with that, you will find that the efforts your family puts forth on your behalf will be enough to evoke that little glow of satisfaction you were looking for all along.
For a rain chain, three pairs of pajamas, an umbrella, and a rain gauge….
and more importantly, 4/10 of an inch of rain to go with them
(even if that’s barely enough to scratch the surface of the worst drought in 50 years)…
For a twenty-mile bicycle ride with my husband
and a relaxing picnic beneath a tree beside a soybean field
For hundreds of online well-wishes (Facebook rocks, I don’t care what anyone says)
especially the thoughtful and personalized ones from people I respect
For a student coming to help me clean house in exchange for lessons
and the end of the overwhelming set of deadlines coming into view
For Nicholas officially becoming the first of my children to be completely toilet trained, even at night (woohoo!)
It sounds like a wonderful birthday! And hurrah for Nicholas being completely toilet trained, what a milestone!
I so agree. It’s not about lowered expectations, but rather about our culture’s obsession about happiness in general. And one of my major pet peeves is over the top adult birthday parties. (It’s usually the childless people doing this, but surprisingly, not always.)
I haven’t experienced those, so much–but I do think the standards for kids’ parties are over the top, too. We don’t do parties every year for every kid. Sometimes it’s just inviting a friend over for the night, or having the grandparents.
I felt the same way about Mother’s Day for a long time. When my kids were small and even now all I insist on is not cooking my own dinner on my birthday or Mother’s Day. And that meant eating out so the kitchen wasn’t a disaster. Still doesn’t seem too much to ask for.
Ha! I sympathize with that. Yes, Mothers Day is another bugaboo loaded with too many unsustainable expectations.
I lived like that for years. My birthdays were first robbed at an early age, by a dysfunctional childhood. I found out years later that the expectations just aren’t worth it, and birthdays as a mother are far better to deal with than the overly high expectations before it. My only goal is to laugh at least once throughout it, even if my birthday means taking my child to someplace she wants to go. I’d rather have her happiness, since it seems so linked to my own. 🙂
That is so true!
Stumbled across your blog for the first time today and I just love it. Rare are the places where writer-mothers gather to sift through all these shifting vocations, and I’m delighted to have found another. Thanks!
Glad you stopped by!
Ah birthdays. It’s good they keep coming. Hang in there and enjoy your youth. Our old old deacon says old age isn’t for whimps. I get what he means, especially after feeling every one of the three steps he had to ascend with the help of another old acolyte after distributing communion this morning.
I’m trying not to think about aging, since I have a left knee and a right ankle that are causing me no end of trouble staying active already!
I’m trying not to think about old age, too. It does have a way of imposing itself, sometimes before its time. For me though, it’s time has come.
After celebrating a bunch more birthdays than you, I should have gotten “here” before now. But what you wrote made me realize… for the first time ever… that I STILL expect birthdays to be what they were when I was 10. And I didn’t even know I had that attitude! Thank you!