There’s about ninety minutes left in my birthday. I turned forty today.
Numbers have never been important to me, I’ve never had that mystical moment where a birthday turned me into someone else. I don’t know if those really happen. From what I’ve seen in popular culture, and experienced with friends and family, there are ages which are supposed to be more special than others. Like the age when you can drive, then vote, then drink.
But the only ages I ever set deadlines for were 25 and 30, and both of those birthdays I planned to be my last, and if certain criteria hadn’t been met they probably would have been. But when I was 25 I was in College, and when I was 30 I was making $45k/year.
I’ve never had a birthday turn into a reflective moment. I don’t even really celebrate them so much as just acknowledge that it’s happening. I spent today mostly by myself, like most days. I helped my girlfriend with her incredibly out-of-control screaming four-year old around supper time. When he calmed down two hours later he gave me a birthday gift he had picked out for me — a set of Hockey Canada glasses and two photo albums.
I’ve wanted to celebrate my birthdays in the past, and I really would like one surprise party before I die.
I did have one memorable birthday party… my thirtieth. I think it was the kind of party everyone wants to have once, so I’m glad I have it as an experience. It was actually over three days in Toronto… there was a lot of friends, alcohol, cigars, excellent restaurants, a concert, sex, falling down, people stuffed into car trunks, others bleeding from their eyes, a free night at an arcade for adults, and it ended with breakfast birthday steaks at Fran’s Diner.
But that was both the exception for birthdays, and pretty much an average weekend while I was living in Toronto.
There is a certain vulnerability to my aversion to birthdays. I’ve written here several times about how the cult I grew up in didn’t celebrate birthdays, so I didn’t get my first real birthday — friends, cake, hats — until I was eight. And when we moved away from that insanity, my mother tried to make things as “normal” as possible for my little brother and I, and that meant inviting kids from my class over to our apartment for cake and games.
And there was the typical classroom reciprocity, where birthdays become like free daycare. So I was invited to birthdays when I was nine, ten and eleven. But when the singing started, I didn’t. I was more likely to hang out with the parents in the kitchen than with my classmates. I was quiet, introverted, and not comfortable in groups. How many kids like that end up getting return invitations?
The vulnerability comes from inviting people to anything, only to have them not show up, or have them show up but not react well to the quiet kid.
I cannot over hype how quiet I was as a kid. I wasn’t entirely insecure, I’ve never had a problem explaining to a teacher where they were wrong. But in any party situation in this area, from age 8-12, I would’ve been surrounded by kids who had known each other since before nursery school.
So take the insecurity of being the permanent ‘new kid’, throw in the loss of half my family via leaving the cult, then add the tendency towards introversion, and the natural feeling of being isolated by the group when only three of ten invitees show up for my own birthday party because I was so quiet at the seven birthday parties they thought I was too aloof or didn’t like them… and a certain vulnerability grows.
And the best way to not feel vulnerable is to just simply stop sending, or expecting, the invitations.
I actually did have a birthday party this year. There are five members of my family with birthdays clustered around the end of January and the beginning of February. I also share my birthday with my 84-year old grand-uncle. Then there are two close family (re: mom’s) friends who are in the cluster as well. So mom had a catered lunch party / get together for us all on Saturday.
It was very nice. The food, made by a local tea room, was great. And seeing everyone, and giving them all an opportunity to meet my son, was nice.
Mom also called tonight, like she does every year, and left a message wishing me a happy birthday.