It was my friend’s birthday the other day. He’s getting “up there” as the saying goes, and while he seemed to have a good day, he wasn’t exactly shall we say, thrilled about the whole affair. How do you feel about your birthday?
For a kid, it’s easy and clear, it’s like a mini - Christmas with the celebration and presents. Very straightforward, no one is going to object to that. It’s only the size and contents of mini-Christmas that matter to a kid. Was the celebration large enough? Were you allowed to invite all your friends and have it where you wanted, or did your Mom do something dumb like make it just family and combo it with your little cousin? Did you get the phone you wanted or did you get a bike instead? Another dumb Mom move.
So, yes, there could be some misfires here and there, but certainly every kid looks forward to their birthday with the hope of a mini-Christmas. Whether their mother misses the boat is another matter.
But somewhere along the line it shifts. I imagine it starts in your teens when it’s no longer cool for your parents to host a party for you. Then your 20’s your friends are responsible for the celebration (with mixed success), and then it kind of fizzles out altogether - except for the obligatory milestones all featuring black as the primary color.
And then we get into this weird relationship with the birthday. You know social decorum requires you to act like you like it, but really you resent it. Some people do a better job of faking it than others.
My dad is one of those who’s not great at faking it. Although he likes a nice orange sponge cake (his usual birthday request for the resident baker) and he likes the cards and the sentiments, he’ll slip into a bit of a funk every year. I say “a bit” because my dad is a committed happy-go-lucky guy. His go-to song lyrics are “you’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, don’t mess with Mr. in-between.”
That’s probably why I noticed his reaction so acutely. It was out of character and threw the equilibrium of the house off. Then it would pass. I think he didn't like the whole higher number thing. If you notice the number at all and let’s face it, you’d have to be dead not to - you could view each birthday as a step on the ladder to the sky or the ladder down into the dirty, depending on your orientation.
It’s more of an escalator, rather than a ladder though - it moves you along whether you like it or not. I suppose that’s what he objects to. The forced part. Now, we all know that we could get hit by a bus tomorrow and it would all be over, so even the idea of the escalator is a fiction - somehow, we’re entitled to 90 steps, which of course, we’re not. But even so, we resent the escalator, pushing us along.
We should stop it. Stop the stop the escalator. But where? Where’s the best place to stop it? Our 20’s? God, no. How dumb were we then? 30’s? Still dumb. 40’s? Frazzled and gaining weight. 50’s? Straight up losing the mind, starting to sag and still gaining weight. No, none of those will do.
And so, it marches on. And every year the little reminder. Just in case we’re getting complacent, too comfortable, too entitled. Happy Birthday! Oh yeah, that. The alarm clock went off again in the middle of the night and scared the shit out of me. For whom the bell tolls.
Isn’t it a celebration of the miracle of life? You ask? But then come the inevitable questions. How did I get here? Why am I here? Am I making the most of it? After all, that escalator is still moving….
Maybe this is the day we allow ourselves go deep. Maybe it should be existential day. Maybe Happy is a suggestion. Look on the bright side, you’re still here, kind of thing. Want some cake? I think I’ve lost my appetite.