Birthdays: a personal holiday that, for me, rivals Halloween as my favorite. I have always loved my birthdays, until more recently, when they started to gain more weight (along with me), the realization of aging and bodies, lost friends and relatives adding up as the years passed. As I just celebrated my 36th yesterday, I began to think about the evolution of my celebrations and wanted to share them with you.
Growing up in Texas, it didn’t matter that my birthday fell on January 8. I had sunshine for outdoor celebrations with a piñata drifting in the wind, hung from an huge oak tree in my backyard. Birthdays were a blur of family and friends and strawberry shortcake and presents and candy. I reveled being the center of attention, surrounded by those who loved me. These parties set the bar high.
There was something about my 20s that required “epic” birthday: unforgettable parties, tons of friends, and gallons of alcohol. The height of one particular year included a re-creation of my childhood: a piñata hung in the rafters of my enclosed porch in Chicago. I found candy and bottle caps along the tops of my door cornices (thanks tall friends) and scattered in odd places for years after.
The kitchen and living room in my small two-bedroom apartment was packed with so many people that I couldn’t get to and open my refrigerator. These parties were for meeting new boyfriends, private room karaoke, friends experimenting with making me cakes and being my DJs, making out in the pantry, and vomiting from “pre-gaming” too much. They were as epic as my friend group was large and wild. I think of them fondly and am so glad that I don’t have to clean up after them anymore.
My 30s slowed down significantly. I lived with my boyfriend (whom I met at one of the epic parties), I had decided to go to graduate school for library science, and in order to focus on my career, I had made the heartbreaking decision to quit roller derby after 5 years of hardcore commitment.
My friend group shrank as people moved away, paired up, had children, and slowed down themselves. I still felt this need to pack in enjoyment into one day. I still wanted my birthdays to be epic. They would be epic, damnit, from the sheer force of my will.
This led to disaster.
The year I was going to turn 30, I decided to go a casino. I had gone for the first time about a month before for a work function and had the greatest time (albeit, a highly chemically enhanced and monetarily lucky great time). It held all of the glitz and glamour that I saw for myself. It would be epic and different and epic, so epic.
First, my boyfriend and I waited for an hour and missed the shuttle that would take us to the casino in the dead of winter from Chicago to Hammond, Indiana. We had to rendezvous with friends who were driving and squeeze into the backseat of their car with the rest of the passengers. We finally arrived very hungry and then had to wait two hours to get into the buffet. By the time everything was said and done, we were all ready to go home and go to bed. I won nothing at gambling and my boyfriend and I opted to take the next shuttle out of there into Chinatown and onto a freezing train. It was a total bust of a birthday and I feared it would be an omen for years to come.
After I broke up with that boyfriend (unrelated to the disastrous birthday), I felt this need to “treat myself;” a day PACKED with a massage, a trip to the spa, drinks, dinner, karaoke, etc. As I ran from place to place trying to keep up with my appointments, I wondered why I kept doing this to myself. I finally stopped once I realized that it actually stressed me the f out to try to squeeze so much in.
This year, I took a different approach. I decided to accept that my birthday didn’t have to be “epic,” it didn’t have to be THE MOST AMAZING DAY EVER. All I needed it to be was an appreciation for another year of being alive, of health, of breathing, of having the ability to leave my house and take a Lyft to go hang out with my friends. I wanted to have fun, sing a little karaoke, eat, drink, RELAX and give myself time to rest.
At 36, I am so happy with my life and that decision. I have partied, I have climbed, I have achieved and I will continue to do so. I know when to slow the f down and appreciate what I have, and how to take care of myself. I have small but mighty group of wonderful, smart, funny, lovely, beautiful friends who love me and buy me presents and come to my brunch and laugh with me. I even got some sunshine this year (though it was 10 degrees with windchill). And now, I’m going to celebrate with cuddling my cat and maybe taking a nap.