Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Birthday Expectations

Yesterday was my birthday. It is funny how our birthdays change as we go through life. As a child, your birthday was probably one of the two or three most anticipated days of the year. It ranked right up there with Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. Birthdays meant a party, friends, cake, ice cream and most importantly, presents. You got to take treats to school (back in the good old days it meant no restrictions on candy or what could be in birthday treats too, funny how we all survived that). A carefully planned birthday meal and you were king or queen for the day. Funny how things peak for us at an early age.

Then came the teenage years and birthdays were much more complicated. You wanted it to be a big deal but only in the most non-embarrassing way. You wanted all the perks of a birthday, presents and good food, without all the humiliation of being recognized. Everything was OK if your parents didn’t tell the whole world it was your birthday. Of course, if your parents did not make a big deal, then it was grounds for a full government inquiry on just how such an atrocity could happen.

Then came the late teen, early twenties when you kind of missed your parents making a big deal over your birthday. Secretly, your parent’s kind of missed it too and that is why they probably showed up with presents and took you out to eat. I think if we were all honest, those were the birthdays both parents and children find most fulfilling. Some of the most important birthdays are during this time. The eighteenth, when in “theory” we become adults or the twenty-first and we won’t talk about that one.

After our twenty-first birthday, they become much less important. Sure, thirty is important from an insurance standpoint but really at that point birthdays are just another day with maybe a reason for a special meal mixed in. Secretly you hope someone remembers but you play it cool. There are those “special” birthdays that seem to come around every five years and in those years the idea is to lay low and hope a vengeful spouse or sibling doesn’t remember and broadcast the day publicly (in my case it may be a case of what goes around comes around).

Some people may even come to dread birthdays at this point in our lives but my theory is a simple one. There is only one way you don’t get a year older and having a birthday sure beats the alternative. In fact, I have come to embrace my birthdays, who doesn’t like and excuse for steak, cake and ice cream. So, what if it comes with a little discomfort about how big that number is getting.

Call it being an adult but I have also come to the point where I don’t expect much for my birthday and then I am not disappointed either. I guess that comes from growing up on a farm and having a September birthday. We are always planting wheat or combining fall crops on my birthday and any of those activities take precedence over everything, including birthdays. In the spirit of complete honesty, I prefer a good day of harvest on my birthday (or really any day for that matter).

I suppose in a few years I will get into the place where birthdays are a big thing again as I hit the bigger milestones (or at least I hope I do, see my early comment on my philosophy about turning a year older). Even then I am reminded of an ad that runs on tv. An older gentleman proclaims that he is ninety years old although he does not see it as an accomplishment since others have done it before him. I still suspect he is proud of it and anticipated some sort of celebration.

I am writing this column before the event happens but I would anticipate at least my immediate family remembering. The day will probably include a good meal and a cake (if I am lucky). I might say I don’t expect anything but let’s be completely honest. If my family listened to me and did nothing on my birthday I would turn into that pouty teenager or (as I am often accused of) a grumpy old man. I wonder what age that status kicks in at?

 It would seem to me that birthday excitement is kind of a reverse bell-shaped curve with the peaks being at both ends of the spectrum and a precipitous dip in the middle. Even at the low point in the curve I still imagine it is a big day for any of us. It is always good to get a little attention, a good meal and maybe even a few gifts. We all want to know someone has remembered and appreciates the day we were born, even moody teenagers and grumpy old men.



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