old birthday

My birthday is coming up and in preparation for it my mom asked me what I wanted. This really threw me for a loop. ‘Cause I don’t really want anything. Hell, I’m not even sure I’m going to be celebrating it this year. What’s worse, the things that I did think of were really more things that I need rather than want. And that’s kinda sad when you think about your childhood and how it was the complete opposite. You didn’t really need anything. All the things you got on your birthday were largely just things for your enjoyment. I mean yeah, you’d get clothes too, and you probably need clothes more than you’d want them. But it wasn’t like you had the thought “Well if you really want to get me something, get me a check for this month’s groceries” when you were 8.

The birthday experience follows a specific arc as we grow up. When we’re infants, a birthday is a physical thing we’re unaware of. It’s the moment we went from that warm cushy pad to this weird loud bright and cold place where everyone’s all up in our grills all the time. Thankfully, as far as I know we’re blissfully unaware that most of this is going on. Basically, the official day of our birth and our first-year anniversary of such are largely for the people around us rather than for us. We don’t really give a sh*t.

Until we do. And that’s when the magic starts kicking in. We realized that everyone around us is paying us super-special attention. And we get to do things that we normally aren’t allowed to do. And our parents bring over our (milk) drinkin’ buddies and they put colorful stuff all over the walls and on the the table. Then they bring us a giant candy that’s on fire and everyone sings. Hot damn that’s awesome. Life doesn’t get any better. But then it does because we get handed these shiny colorful boxes that contain treasure that we get to keep.

This magical time of birthday-ing really hits its peak in the 8-12 range. At that point we’re seasoned vets at this whole birthday jam, and we know how to get the best out of it. Our addiction to cake is full-blown, and we can milk that sweet fix. Plus our parents have hopefully felt like they need to up their game every year, so the ridiculousness of the party is really hitting its highs.

But then something happens. Sure, we still enjoy birthdays, but the things we want and the things we get begins diverging. Mostly due to the fact that the things we want become more and more expensive. The cake lust subsides as we build up our sugar tolerances. Besides, our friends are saying that cake is lame. The wild parties of yesteryear turn into more subdued hangouts as we try to look cool.

Thankfully, just when we think that birthdays are starting to suck, alcohol comes into the equation. Our birthday experience catches second wind. Holy balls, we live it up. Why, who needs cake when there’s booze! We figure out how to organize birthday parties on our own, and while the games change from ping pong to beer pong, we still have the same general experience as we did in our birthday heyday. We get to act like our 8-year-old selves for a night with minimal judgement.

This phase of the birthday generally continues throughout our college years and some time past. The phase after, though, is the worst. This is when the novelty of drinking has worn off. When people totally judge us for acting like an 8-year-old, in spite of it being our birthday. When throwing a birthday party becomes an act of project management and schedule coordination.

These are the birthday doldrums. We’re living on our own, possibly nowhere near our parents, and even if we do, we generally muster up a fancy dinner. It’s during these times that birthdays become cumbersome. Reminders of our advancing age. Hell, downright silly. It is because of this that we must remain strong of heart and unwaveringly faithful to the birthday, because better days are indeed ahead.

The better days arrive with family. Be it with just a spouse or with kids. Birthdays begin to regain their magic. We have someone who will treat us special once more, and we have a built-in cheering squad to get us pumped for our special day. The presents start going back to things that we want (since we’re paying for them anyway), and the sentimental value of the presents skyrockets since they come from our loved ones. We’ve been off of the cake jam long enough that it has once again become a special feature in our life. We savor these moments as we transition to the final stage.

As with life itself, the birthday cycle ends where it began. If we’re lucky enough to make it that far, we ultimately become yet again blissfully unaware. We reach the point where every day is treated as our birthday, because we’re still alive. But the birthday itself is largely for the people around us rather than for us. They cheer and hug and kiss and give us things we don’t need or want and revel in the amazement that we made it another year. But as with our very first birthday, we really don’t give a sh*t.