Thursday, February 18, 2010

Birthday Neurosis

I have a confession to make: I am an absolute baby about my birthday. I am pitiable enough to wish every year, in the needy recesses of my mind, that the fairy godmother of birthdays would bestow upon me a magical day filled with presents and goodies and adventures. My wretched heart would love to wake up to Queen for the Day treatment and soap operatic outpourings of love that would convince me once and for all (until next year) that I am truly so loved and valued that my poor family and friends just couldn't help but devote time and effort to displaying how very glad they are that I was born. Two weeks ago, I even tearily asked my husband to please not let my birthday be just a regular day. (No pressure, right? In my defense, it was bedtime. I'm at my lowest then.)

I realize that I may feel so strongly about this belief because I not so secretly want to make up for past deprivations. I didn't grow up feeling, shall we say, treasured; birthdays were a mite predictable in my past life; and there were years when those who were supposed to love me didn't seem glad enough that I was born to do anything about it. Those neglects hurt, but they forced me to stop using my birthday as a test of my worth to the world and to take responsibility for my own day in the same way that I try to take responsibility for my own life. They also made me determined to let others know that I'm glad they were born, so they'll never have to feel unimportant like I did. Besides I can't expect to get what I don't give, now can I?

So you see, I've had my therapy. I do not let my inner child terrorize the household. I'm honest about her whining, but the considered adult in me mostly commands the executive desk of my mind. I long ago quit expecting that others should provide for me. However, I still believe that birthdays should not be ordinary days--for anyone. In fact, I staunchly maintain that everyone's special day should feel special, full of treats from morning til night. We should all have at least one day each year to feel happy to be born.

For me, having the same old day doesn't produce the glad-to-be-here joie de vivre I have in mind for a birthday. To this end, I usually begin thinking about how I'd like to celebrate (taking personal responsibility, remember) and making countdown announcements well in advance. I'm not playing emotional games, I enjoy the anticipation, and my loved ones are properly advised in case they might want with me (not that I expect them to).

Well, Wednesday was my birthday, and I hadn't even noticed it's approach until it was nigh upon me.
This year I was too preoccupied with other things to plan my own party. First, I was scheduled to be in class on that day. Then there was the unpredictability of my son's schedule and the unending snow, both of which made planning any outing problematic. I also wasn't enthused about spending a bunch of money right now that could be saved for the house building in our future. I have no place to put most material gifts I might want anyway. Plus I was experiencing heart palpitations and chest pressure. And my grandfather died, producing my biggest hanging decision in the days before my birthday. Could I make it to the funeral two and a half hours away or not? (I didn't. Cursed snow!)

For all those cheery reasons, by Tuesday night I was fending off micro pity parties caused by the lack of anything to anticipate, and on Wednesday morning when my husband said "Happy Birthday" first thing, my only response was a weak "Whoo hoo."

But once I was up and cognizant, I shifted into grown up mode and had chai tea with milk and honey to wake up, and French toast and bacon for breakfast--both different, special, holiday worthy. Then I asked myself what treat I could provide for me in the city before class started. The answer? Tour the biggest Liquor Barn in that town for some expensive chocolates. Reading David Lebovitz's archives has reawakened both my Francophilic tendencies and my passion for good chocolate, so my plan was to look for some of the brands that he had mentioned as being particularly delicious. Of course, a few other things jumped into my basket. I didn't throw them out because it was MY BIRTHDAY!

I welcomed the Comte cheese, just because I've heard of it and never tried it--and it's French. The Paris tea couldn't be rejected because the tin was just too pretty, and it was the last one on the shelf (Always a sign, right?). The other tea was one of my favorite brands and a half price orphan. It needed me. And though I blanched at the cost of those mostly teeny bars of chocolate, I bought them anyway because it was MY BIRTHDAY! The names alone made me feel like a princess: Valhrona, Dagoba, Scharffenberger. Mmmm.

And yes, that torn wrapper means I sampled in the parking lot. Hey, it was MY BIRTHDAY! And now it felt as if it was. I had given myself luxurious, definitely out-of-my-ordinary treats that I could enjoy for days to come. I even pushed past the face flushing when I saw the total cost because it was MY BIRTHDAY! And I was satisfied, in the best grown up, I-did-it-myself kind of way.

The great thing about being responsible for yourself is that you aren't at the mercy of others when you want to be happy.
Anything else is gravy, icing, sprinkles on the top. Like the unexpected Facebook and email wishes, and a humorous Paris-themed e-card from my sister. Those and my mad little tour of culinary pleasures took care of my festivity needs well enough.

But there was more. When I finally dragged home at 11-something, my husband had a gift bag waiting for me. He bought me an inspiring book, a CD of French music, and a monogrammed note pad. Very sweet. But the best part was the card. I had wondered what I could hear his parents finding so delightfully amusing over the phone earlier in the evening. This was it.

It's a jaunty little fold out creation with parts that move (bobbing piggies!) and swing (the sign), impressive because of its engineering and ridiculously cute. Plus it symbolizes our farm dreams. It's a card, and it's not just a card. It's like the best, most unnecessary toy. Pure fun. I'll be leaving it out to admire for a while, I'm sure.

I still remember a birthday six years ago when my then-fiance asked me what I wanted to do in honor of the day. All I could think to say was that I wanted to be somewhere up high where I could see the stars. So we and my son coated up, drove to the farm, took the four wheeler to the top of a hill, and admired the stars in the cold and darkness, while eating chocolates that I had brought and shooing off nosy cows. That day had seemed underwhelming, too, but turned out to be quite memorable because I didn't wait for someone else to figure out what I wanted and provide it.

And then there was the very first birthday that I consciously gave to myself instead of hoping someone else would make it good. I headed out to shop in the city but was blocked by snow. After I dejectedly returned home, a friend called and invited me to lunch (lobster bisque and salad with my first Thai peanut dressing), after which I laid on my tiny love seat with my feet up listening to an uplifting book on tape and watching the snow fall. It was nothing like I'd planned, nothing much at all in fact, but I remember it still.

The point here is that three birthdays out of the last seven have begun disappointingly only to end memorably when I didn't get caught up in trying to make the day super special. My goal is to someday convince that inner girl to quit wondering if anyone really cares if she was born, so the days can be naturally good. And while I've ceased hoping others will make my birthday wonderful, I need to take some pressure off myself, too.

It also occurs to me that my compulsion (which had been puzzling me) to write about my birthday neurosis dovetails revealingly with an article and quiz that my husband shared with me recently. Through them I learned that my locus of control is still too externalized, a fancy psych phrase which means that I haven't taken full hold of the reins of my life. I still wait too much for life to move rather being the mover.

By the way, I was making significant progress in the birthday area, but this year that long list of challenges made it harder--a little back sliding, as my Granny would have said. Here's hoping that I have many more birthdays to practice being worry free about getting and many more years to try dancing on the wire without looking down. I'll probably need them. But being a little less neurotic would be a fine birthday gift any year now.

1 comment:

Samantha Roberson said...

I am in complete agreement regarding the importance of birthdays and how they should be celebrated. I think that you did a wonderful job making your day special! Your loot of goodies looks heavenly. Eli and I have adopted a firm birthday weekend policy. We have decided that one day simply isn't enough, and when a birthday happens on a weekday it is even harder to properly appreciate. During said weekend, the birthday boy or girl gets to do whatever they want, and the significant other provides whatever gifts and luxuries possible to make the weekend more special. I am so glad your day turned out well!