There is an interesting duality about a 40th birthday. I feel compelled to embrace the age, the era, and celebrate the achievement of arriving at a new decade of life. But then I feel silly. My birthdays haven’t been a big deal for me for about twenty years. So what’s the BIG DEAL now?
When I was younger my family was spectacular with my birthday. Being born the day before a huge holiday could set a gal up for a let down, but I was never disappointed. From the moment I woke up until just after lunch I felt like royalty. (After lunch I surrendered the day to Millie and her traditional Christmas Eve dinner – an event that had been happening since before I was born.)
I arrived at the breakfast table in the kitchen and could count on a tidy pile of thoughtful gifts and cards waiting for me. Lunch, for years, was my favorite feast of spaghetti O’s and potato chips. The birthday cake was a typical grocery store sheet cake in my early youth, but by the age of ten I had discovered red velvet cake and my life was all the better for it.
It wasn’t over the top, it wasn’t ridiculous, it was special and lovely.
As I got older and family dynamics shifted I surrendered more and more of my birthday until it became just another event on the calendar. My mother always made sure I felt special – but she’s pretty great at doing that every day.
The decade of my thirties saw some horrible birthdays. Awful. I felt alone and sad. I was depressed and far away from any sort of life I had imagined for myself. Arriving at my birthday didn’t feel like something to celebrate. It felt like something to endure. Something I could easily forget.
But this year I feel hopeful and excited. And I am thankful that it is an inner feeling and not something I have put upon someone else. I like when hard chapters end and this birthday feels like I can close a book and put it away. It feels like things might be fresh and new. I know I don’t need a birthday to embrace these feelings, but it helps. It will help a lot to have my thirties in the rearview mirror.
I know it will be a quiet and simple day when my 40th birthday arrives. I have no plans and I am not expecting plans other than listening to W sing in the church choir that evening. I imagine watching him perform will make me cry with love and I imagine those tears will be a sort of personal baptism welcoming me to the new book of my life.
I’m not going to feel silly about looking forward to my birthday. I have a lot of birthday embracing to make up.
Pictured above: Me celebrating my 5th birthday. “But there are SIX candles!”, you say. Yup. I know. We were a, “and one to grow on” family. So every birthday cake has one extra candle.