Happy birthday to me, I mean you

The alarm went off at 5:00 am last Tuesday, but I was already awake. I had been lying there wondering if I could still cut one last rose this season to put in a bud vase. I got up with atypical morning energy and began the planned preparations. Over the next hour and a half I chose fall toned linens with assorted pieces of Japanese porcelain and arranged them on a bed tray. I baked pumpkin muffins, peeled a clementine and brewed espresso. The rose, not yet ruined by frost, added a restaurant touch. I called to my son, then raised my voice, then yelled him into motion. Finally we marched in with the tray, me singing a rousing chorus, my son trailing along grunting. My husband sighed, sat up and feigned gratitude.

Last week was my husband’s birthday. In our house it is a tradition to make breakfast in bed for the person of honor. For twenty four years we have done this, and for twenty four years my husband has endured his turn at the festivities with grim resignation.

There are two kinds of people in the world, people who love their birthdays and people who hate them. I love mine, my husband hates his. I start telling people a month ahead, counting down the days. My husband just shrugs when asked and changes the subject.

I love my birthday for reasons that range from shallow obvious to true confessions.

First, I am always the one to make a fuss over something. I am tickled by daily wins, mini milestones, any excuse to celebrate what feels like progress. Over time I appreciate the rituals and markers that represent lines in our life’s sandbox, offering vantage points to look backwards and forward. Birthdays are a year’s culmination of such moments and provide a collection of snapshots to sort and reminisce. My mother made me my own pot of homemade spaghetti sauce for my sixteenth birthday. My coworkers once bought me a giant cookie with my name misspelled in frosting. My son boxed himself as a gift. Every memory burns as distinct as each yearly candle.

Birthdays have a magical “all about me” factor. I am a woman with little sense of entitlement, a helper, the oldest and most parentified of children. I am one of those self deprecating people who responds to a compliment by insisting “this old thing?” or “it was on sale” or “I look fat” or “seriously, yours is so much cuter.” My birthday is the day I dig deep below the socialized layers of “no, no, you first” and allow my inner diva to sing her aria, “I was born today!!” It is indulgent, freeing, a sparkling tiara perched on my head just one day a year.

And I get presents on my birthday. I love presents.

My husband hates any fuss he isn’t in charge of, moves through time fluidly, unfettered by time lines and never, ever wants to be the center of attention. Presents are problematic because he is an ascetic and wants for nothing.

There is also the age thing. I love getting older. I fully expect to live into my nineties and I imagine endless golden years of crocheting afghans and sewing doll clothes. I tell people proudly of my solid middle age status. I look better and sound better and act a million times better than I did when younger. I was tortured in my teens, awkward in my twenties and angry in my thirties. My forties have glimpsed the “I don’t give a shit” light at the end of a long neurotic tunnel. It is not that I don’t try hard anymore. I try hard at things I enjoy and know I am good at versus what I think I should do. The want and the should are merging. Such is the gift of aging. When people say, “Are you turning 39 (wink, wink) again?” I say, “Thank god, no.”

My husband hears a clock ticking.

This birthday business is tricky. It has streamers leading into many different issues, touching on whether we prefer to process our movement through life privately or socially; whether we need one whole day a year to consider our existence or just small increments every time we jog around the park. Do we wrestle with mortality or bask in the immediacy of carpe diem? Do we like cake with raspberry filling or butter cream?

My husband was a good sport all day. He bravely faced the giant Mylar smiley face balloon at work, the over budget presents and my gleeful happy birthday chorus every 20 minutes. He was more than relieved to wake up the next day to his normal anonymous indispensability. He will need time to regroup, my birthday is less than three months away.

4 responses to “Happy birthday to me, I mean you”

  1. F. P. Smearcase says:

    My birthday may be the one day of the year I don’t think about mortality. It’s my favorite day* and somehow I allow myself to turn off most of my neuroses and be happy all day. My last birthday was so decadent and fun and relaxing I am trying not to think too much about it right now because I don’t want to use it up; I will need it in January or February for sure. I sometimes make a joke about how of course I love my birthday because I’m a leo, but 1) astrology is obviously rubbish, and 2) I don’t demand tribute most of the year, that I know of. Unless I’m just telling myself stories about not being all that self-involved, my birthday is the only day where I want it acknowledged by all beings that I am a Big Fucking Deal. (Ok I’m not that bad, but I do like to be taken out for dinner and kissed on the cheek.)

    *neck and neck with New Year’s, I guess, which is like…everybody’s birthday, or anyway that’s how I experience it. I’m aware most people find it chronically disappointing, but they generally seem to tolerate my love for it.

  2. PB says:

    F.P., you and I birthday soulmates. Such a great comment. From here on I will only use the word “tribute” to describe my birthday loot. And I will definitely demand kisses this year from all diners.

  3. Swells says:

    Loved this post, especially your vision of age!! Your husband is very patient to endure all that birthday singing. I never really believe people when they say they hate being fussed over for their birthday, which is obviously projection on my part. In your husband’s case, though, it seems like he means it. Great title, too!

  4. Kirsten says:

    Ooooo! I’m so glad you love birthdays… Just wait until you see what I’m getting you this year!