Monday, January 30, 2012

How to Make a (grown-up) Birthday Special

In a way, I was really looking forward to turning thirty.  That was a milestone, a really special one.  Unlike many of my friends, I wasn’t worried that our youth was over, nor was I dreading getting old.

On the contrary, I was looking forward to moving out of a decade of youthful insecurities and body hang-ups, a long awkward phase of unrequited crushes and zig-zaggy career moves.  Newly married and full of ideas, I was convinced that my thirties would find me more mature and confident.  That I’d be able to make the intelligent, true-to-myself decisions that would inevitably lead me to Permanent Happiness, a concept I’d only sporadically visited in my teens and twenties.  And I was ready for the new me.    

The trouble is, I now can’t even remember what I did or where I was for my thirtieth birthday, nor the three that have passed since.  It’s not that I was too drunk to remember…  it’s that I was too preoccupied with life.  I have another birthday coming up soon, and I’m pretty much unmoved by it.  My husband feels the same way about his birthdays.   What happened to us? 

Our birthdays aren’t completely ignored.  Our families host special events for us, it’s true, and I may have lunch with a friend or two around that time.  I do genuinely appreciate everything done in my honor.  But I don’t feel it.  The excitement, the anticipation, the birthday-morning giddiness.  My husband and I don’t really do anything special to mark the occasion, or exchange expensive/meaningful gifts between us, rationalizing that money is too tight and we’ll celebrate these things later. 

Life gets in the way, I suppose, of daydreaming of what to do for my birthday like I used to: what kind of party I wanted to have and where; who I would invite; what to wear; the infinite pleasure of drawing up a wishlist of items I’d been pining for all year.

I even created an important rule for myself: No Work on Birthdays.  I would literally cram all of my favorite things into that one day.  Sleep in, get woken up by friends belting out “Happy Birthday!” into the phone, have toast with Nutella in my pj’s, hang out and watch a cheesy movie (or two), read magazines, have a massage or get our nails done, have dinner at my favorite restaurant and then, of course, get ready for a night of partying (and really enjoying it)!

Case in point: On my twenty-sixth birthday I was at my favorite club with all my people when someone told the lead singer of the band that it was my birthday.  Next thing I knew, I was up onstage belting out a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” in front of hundreds of screaming fans.

this is what it looked like

Birthdays were mile markers worth celebrating, a time to reflect on everything I’d done in the past year and set a bunch of thrilling new goals for the coming one.  A time when I could spoil myself in the name of fun and surround myself with all my favorite people.  Each December when I bought a new calendar I’d go straight to May twelfth and write MY BIRTHDAY in huge capital letters, not to remind myself of the date, but because it was a priority.

Now birthdays feel like ordinary days that pass by unobserved like any other.  No faint feeling of enchantment, feeling ever-so-slightly older and wiser as soon as I open my eyes in the morning.  No balloons on my breakfast chair.  No love notes found throughout the day.  The magic has dried up and blown away.

But this is not how I want things to continue.  I want to create new traditions for my family, especially since our baby girl just arrived.  Traditions are important: they shape our actions and help create memories.  I don’t want the inherent specialness of things to just erode just because we get busy (and by that I mean lazy).  I want to feel it in every way I can.

So here’s my how-to list for making the most of birthdays:

1.     Throw a party in your honor.  Get all your favorite people in the same room together and show up, really show up.  Don’t forget to revel in all the details of the planning, that’s the fun stuff.  A last-minute potluck dinner counts.

2.     Do not go to work.  Make sure you do all your favorite things.  Go to your favorite places (wandering aimlessly in a bookstore all afternoon?  Don’t mind if I do!) and restaurants if you feel like leaving the house (a table for One is perfectly acceptable), but definitely eat your favorite foods.

3.     Get some perspective.  Go to an old-school photo booth and get snapshots done, just as you are.  On the back, write the year, your age, and one word or phrase that sums up your year, such as “had a successful year career-wise” or “the year I became a mom”.  Collect the strips of photos in a special box or envelope so you can look back on how you’ve evolved over time.  You may think you’re the same as always, but you’re constantly changing.

4.     Make the world a better place – for cheap!  I’ve read that if you deliberately leave money in public places, in tiny amounts like a dollar or two, you can turn someone’s luck around.   This is because when they find it, they will feel lucky and consciously do good deeds toward others that they may not otherwise have done.  Also called good Karma, and Paying It Forward.

5.     Reflect on the joy of life itself.  Take a break from your life’s daily problems and consciously think of all the good things in your life.  How are you lucky?  Really take stock.  It’s important for us to stop and think of these things.  Figure out how you can swing the balance to spend more time on these good things in the coming year.

6.     Consider your window.  Your birth was the beginning of the window of time you were given to accomplish what you were put on this earth to do.   Are you spending your time wisely or are you getting sidetracked by all kinds of crap?  Here’s an idea for your tombstone:  “spent a lifetime getting sidetracked by all kinds of crap”.  Focus only on the things bringing you closer to your goals.  

7.     Make It Count.  It matters.  Write this one down.  Write it down many times.  Post it up where you work, where you brush your teeth, where you keep your keys.  Make it your screensaver if you need to.  The most important thing, above all else, is to make it count.  What you do matters.  Make everything you do really count.   

And lighten up a little, will ya?  Happy birthday.

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