There is a weird deal in our culture when it comes to birthdays.
As cynical as it might sound, we make them into way too much of a big deal.
There is a truth we ignore: Once you have turned 21...birthdays are overrated.
You were born on this earth 23, 31, or even 75 years ago? Good for you. That doesn't mean that you get a free pass to do whatever you wish.
Other than to your family and friends, you are just another being who will spend a cosmically short time on Earth, help some people, harm others, do (hopefully) something worthwhile along the way, and die with a few people remembering scant and vague memories about you.
And yet, when it is your birthday, you truly hope that those around you who you care about, who you have helped, and who you love will remember and say those simple words that are like chocolate to a child: "Happy Birthday!"
I say this with a form of clarity in my mind. Today was (or at least is for the next forty minutes) my birthday. It should be a big deal. I'm entering my final year of twenties, which seems to frighten so many of my generation, but I don't care.
My day? I woke up with my son at 7. My wife looked tired, so I decided to let her sleep in and had breakfast with Poozer. Later on, my wife awoke. We both got ready, got Little Leab ready, headed out to lunch. Nothing fancy, just a meal at Noodles so my son could have some Mac and Cheese. Then my wife went shopping while I walked around with my son. Next came grocery shopping. Then home so my wife and son could nap while I cleaned up the fountain in the front for winter storage as well as washing down my son's high chair for storage. Dinner was fish sticks, tater tots, and yogurt (all for my son) and then we played until he fell asleep. With Poozer tucked in, I graded. My wife looked over her work email. That's my birthday. Now my wife and son are asleep, and I sit here alone. Just a normal Saturday. The only difference is that 29 years ago, I was cut out of my mother.
And so my next birthday is my thirtieth...and it seems like no big deal? So what?
To me, birthdays stopped being a big deal after I turned twenty-one. My now-wife/then-fiance threw a surprise party for me, which was nice...and had a Halloween theme. People had a great deal of fun.
However, every birthday after that has been nothing more than another day.
And this is where the problem starts for me. The Taoist in me says, "Yes, it is your birthday, but it's also just a Saturday. So it's just a normal day. No reason to get excited. Some people are glad you're here, but some are not."
At the same time, there's a little eight year old Leab in the back of my mind saying, "It's your birthday. Everyone should be celebrating. You should get to party and have fun and let go."
I should point out that I'm not a huge fan of eight year old Leab as he has had a hand (nice alliteration) in getting me in trouble in the past and present.
Let me be clear: I don't want a giant party where I'm the center of attention. All eyes staring at me makes me uncomfortable (which is ironic as I am a teacher and have students staring at me all the time). What I want is my family members to call me and tell me they love me and wish me a joyous day of my exiting the womb. I also want my wife to give me a hug, tell me she loves me, and wish the same tidings. That's it.
I don't need presents.
I don't need billboards.
I don't need people to show up at some restaurant and toast me.
That's just not me.
You have to understand, my in-laws forced me to create an Amazon wishlist (and unlike some of my colleagues, I won't be linking to it), because they feel that gifts are the main way of showing you care about someone on their birthday.
The unfortunate idea, however, is one that I also had to explain to Sister #1 today. She is currently in the process of sending me a gift for my joyous Uteral Exit day and feels bad that it will be late. I tried to explain to her the same sentiment: it's not about the gift. She doesn't have to send one. All I require is a phone call or an email saying nothing more than, "Happy birthday." That's it.
My generation has unfortunately created some major problems on the birthday front. It is the people around my age who have children and want them to have AMAZING birthdays that create these outlandish and overdone parties and give overpriced and overdone gifts so that they kids come to expect it.
Parties where kids are flown to other states.
Crazy Sweet Sixteen parties that cost more than my house.
Presents that have a price in the range of my zip code (starts with 55, folks).
There's even a fear of giving the wrong birthday present to someone. God forbid....
And yet this is where my hypocrisy and split nature comes into play.
Again, I don't want a huge party, nor do I care about what gifts are given to me, nor do I really want people fawning over me. When I turned twenty-one, I didn't tell most of the bartenders that it was my birthday. I had stopped being carded long before that, so it wasn't a big deal to me.
When I was a kid, my parents threw me a really nice party for my tenth birthday. The school I was at had an auction, and my parents won (ratherly cheaply my mother told me) a party at a local movie theater. So I invited my class (all eleven of them) and we watched a movie, had some pizza, and had a nice time.
It may have been the nicest party I've ever had, but that's not why I'm a hypocrite.
No, the hypocrisy comes from wanting my family members, especially my wife, to say those words. None of them ever have to send me or give me gifts. I don't need or really want a party. They just have to call.
This is why my heart is hurting a little tonight. With only a few minutes to go before October 28th sweeps into existence in the Central Time Zone, my wife has not said those words. And though I rarely ever admit it, this is one time that my feelings are actually hurt.
Thus, it becomes easier to lower your expectations for what people will do.
Indeed, I thought about totally screwing with people this year and sending them gifts for my birthday. Hey, I turned twenty-nine. Happy birthday to me; here's a new Nintendo Wii for you!
That would totally blow their minds.
There's also another aspect to it: ever since I was fifteen, I have a had dream about dying on my thirtieth birthday. I'm sitting at a table, and a faceless woman who I know is my wife brings me a birthday cake. I make a wish that my friends and family are prosperous in the next year, and then as I blow out the candles, I die of a heart attack. The dream comes to me a few times a year.
I am also a hypocrite, because my wife will turn thirty in a few weeks, and I will throw a huge surprise party (and I can write that here because she'll never see this. Three years of writing, and she's never looked once). Her friends will be there and possibly her family as well. Because to my wife, her thirtieth birthday is a huge deal. I don't know why.
Well, I sort of see the deal.
The day you're born is supposed to be your day (though with 6.5 Billion people on the planet, it's hard to believe it's YOUR day). It's the one day where everything feels about you. No matter how small you feel, no matter how bad things may be going, this is supposed to be your day.
And we are told that certain years are important:
First birthday (technically 2nd): You have achieved a year on the Earth.
Thirteenth birthday: You have made it to Teenager.
Eighteenth birthday: You're now a technical adult (helllllo, Army and voting).
Twenty-first birthday: You're now a real adult, Pinocchio.
Decade birthdays (30, 40, etc): You're getting older.
But why do we care so much? This could lead me to go off on on the useless holidays for which we suddenly have to buy gifts. National Teacher Appreciation Day? Really? It's as if we as a culture are saying we can't show love without a physical representation in the form of a materialistic good.
Off topic...moving back.
Maybe I'm just too cynical, maybe I'm just a bad person, or maybe I'm just hurt that as the clock strikes midnight, my wife has not said those words yet, but I think we do make too big a deal out of birthdays. Parties and gifts and such are for children. This is not an indictment, this is truth. The look on a six year old's face when they rip open the paper is priceless, but at the same time I wonder if they would feel the same way if they were unaware of the materialistic goods out there.
Because this is the bottom line for me: I ask for gift cards...then I turn around and buy things for other people using them.
So what have we learned in this silly rambling?
1. Apparently I'm narcissistic enough to believe that I can write about myself, and you'll learn something.
2. Birthdays are fine until after you're twenty-one and then it becomes just another day.
3. Birthday parties and such are really for kids, but we have to be careful about what we do. Too much and kids become spoiled; too little and kids wonder what they did wrong.
4. That even though birthdays are just another day, the people whose birthday it is want a hug and want to be recognized.
5. Don't forget a loved one's birthday. If you have a memory issue, write it down. And say the words. Say them or write them, but let them know that you know.
6. I may have only a year to live....
Of course what do I know? I'm just a narcissistic cynic sitting alone at the end of his birthday wondering what will happen to me in the next 365 days. I could be wrong.
Namaste...and happy birthday John Cleese, Roberto Benigni, Dylan Thomas, Roy Lichtenstein, and Teddy Roosevelt.