At some point over the past few years, I began to dislike my birthday.
This comes as a surprise because I’ve always been a holiday person. When I was growing up, my mom and I celebrated every little holiday that came along. We’d exchange gifts for the Fourth of July, have a party on Arbor Day and make cherry pie for President’s Day. Her attitude was “anything to make life a little more fun.”
Birthdays were always extra special, with lots of presents, a party or a night out with dinner and a show. She always made me feel like a princess for the day.
I still get presents and celebrate, so why do I dread my birthday now?
My birthday was this past Saturday and it should have been a really fun day. I got a Keurig coffee maker, went out to lunch and saw two great shows. I got a few emails from friends and serenaded on my voice mail. I even ended the evening with brownie sundaes and champagne. You can’t get better than that.
But for some reason I was miserable. I spent the first show crying. It wasn’t a sad show, I just felt like crying. So I did.
I refuse to believe that it has anything to do with age. I have friends my age and older that still love their birthdays and wait for it all year long.
I did have a rather traumatic event last year on my fortieth birthday. The night before my birthday I drove an hour and a half to see Sheryl Crow in concert. I thought it was very fitting to see a strong, forty-something woman perform the night before I turned forty.
On the drive home, just after midnight, a moose came running into the road and smacked his chin on my car. I won’t say I hit a moose because that makes it sound worse than it was. He just bumped into me.
My car was only dented and the moose kept on going after a brief, dazed pause, but it was still scary to have a giant, gangly moose come at you on a dark road in the middle of the night. Have you seen a moose? They aren’t pretty. And I drive a little car. It could have been devastating.
I told everyone I talked to – the insurance people, the garage guy – that I turned forty and boom, a moose attacked me. At least it’s a funny story.
But I was starting to lose pleasure in my birthday before that moose came along.
I think there are two causes of this birthday malaise.
First, when a whole day is supposed to revolve around you, you tend to have high expectations. You think it’s going to be like a Disney movie, with birds doing your laundry and mice cleaning your kitchen. The mailbox is going to be overflowing with cards and gifts. People on the street are going to wish you a happy day and give you balloons.
Then you have a perfectly lovely, but more realistic, day and it doesn’t live up.
Second, and I think this the bigger reason, I tend to reassess my life on my birthday.
When you turn another year older, you can’t help but think about where you’ve been and where you’re going. Even worse, where you should be. I despise that word, should. It represents every societal norm, every judgment of other people’s lives and every way people are made to feel less than. It even sounds smug when you say it.
Most days, I’m perfectly happy with my life. I have a nice home, a good career. My mom lives with me and we have a great relationship. My group of friends is small, but I’ve never needed large groups of friends. And I can do the things I love to do, like read and write, when I want to do them. I’m very lucky.
So why once a year (Ok, twice a year. I do the same thing on New Year’s Eve and hate that holiday too.) do I sink into a funk? Why do I think “I should be married by now. I should have kids by now.” I don’t even want to be married and I do not want kids.
I know what you’re thinking, that deep down I really do want those things. “Every woman wants those things.” Well, maybe according to the movies, but trust me, I don’t. I. Really. Don’t.
But a couple of times each year I start thinking about what society tells me I should want. I start to wonder if maybe “they” are right, and I don’t really count unless I have kids or a husband.
Now, four days after my birthday, I’m thinking more clearly and can tell society to “fuck off.” But something about that day puts me in a vulnerable state.
So my question is, what do I do about my birthday? My poor mom tried to make my day special and I was such a crazy bitch that she said we’re not celebrating at all next year. Is that solution? Pretend my birthday doesn’t exist at all?
I can’t help feeling that would disappoint me too. (See reason number one for my birthday depression.) This year my birthday didn’t appear on people’s Facebook calendars for some reason and I was really hurt that only two people wished me a happy birthday on my wall. I know that is an absolutely ridiculous thing to be upset about. It’s just Facebook, for crying out loud. Get over it.
Maybe I should just suck it up and pretend to have a fun for the people around me. If I can’t have a good day, there’s no reason that my friends and family can’t. I’m in the arts, I can act happy for one lousy day, right? And someday, if I pretend long enough, I might even be able to convince myself that my birthday is happy.