Monday, October 24, 2016

Happy Birthday!

We've been celebrating a lot of birthdays month. My mom hit a milestone this year -- one that surpasses the 29th anniversary of her 29th birthday -- and we celebrated a friend's (substantially smaller) milestone last Saturday. My husband's birthday is three days after my mom's, and our friend and his college-aged daughter both celebrate in October as well.

Clearly, this is not the first year that we're celebrating all of these birthdays, but as I look at the range of ages, it strikes me that not all birthdays are created equal. When we're kids, we can't wait for our birthdays to arrive. Birthdays mean cake and presents and parties and a day that's all about us.

As young adults, we begin celebrating our birthdays differently. Our friend's daughter celebrated her first at-college birthday, something our daughter will do next month. As we head deeper into adulthood, the shimmer of birthdays begins to dull. We focus more on the celebrations of our children, and, over time, acknowledge our own birthdays only grudgingly.

Why did we develop this backwards view, where youth is to be celebrated, but that a life well-lived is to be somehow brushed aside, obscured by a number which, in the end, means nothing?

I don't mean to get morbid here. I'm just wondering: why don't we strike up the band and create a big fanfare for every year that we're alive and accomplished? Do we find it somehow frivolous? Do we think we're too mature? If so, who convinced us that trading in a party for maturity was somehow a good deal?

My mom has been alive for more decades than she wants me to tell you. She and my dad have been married for more than fifty years. They've raised two daughters who've grown up, moved out and added new branches to the family tree. My parents have friends, family and colleagues who value them, support them and remember when they could dance all night, but who love them just as much now that they'd rather stay in and watch Netflix. When my sister and I planned their golden wedding anniversary celebration, it was small, at their request, but what it lacked in numbers, it more than made up for in love.

Love. Pride. Relationships. Friends. Family. Respect. These are indicators of a life well-lived, things that are earned and burnished with time. And birthdays give us an opportunity to acknowledge them. So why not make the day of our birth a celebration? Instead of measuring them against the high points of years past -- and often coming up short -- why don't we make them a day that celebrates the things that take a lifetime to achieve and appreciate?

I know, I know. I'm being childish and self-indulgent. Maybe I should just grow up.

Or maybe that's what I want to celebrate in the first place.


  1. I don't think there's anything childish or self-indulgent than wanting to celebrate the birthdays of your loved ones and letting them know you love them!
    I'm guilty of making much less of birthdays (my own, as well as my husband's and my kids as they get older) than they really deserve. I think you have the right idea here.

  2. Thanks, Barb. I've always loved birthdays, thanks in no small part to the way my parents celebrated them. I'm guilty of putting the number before the celebration as I get older, though, so I think it's time for a paradigm shift.