This photo is from my fifth birthday party in 1967–the year Elvis married Priscilla, Otis Redding died, Thurgood Marshall became the first African-American on the Supreme Court, and the world was rocked by the Six Day War. We don’t look very concerned, do we? I’m the second girl from the left, who looks like she has to pee. It was one of the most anxious days of my life.
I was the kind of kid who got so internally wound up about things that I routinely got hives, threw up, or screamed–loudly–to get some release. About half an hour after this picture was taken, I threw such a major tantrum that there are no pictures of me smiling over my birthday cake. Fortunately, the cake stayed in tact, but my face was a blotted mess. (I have a vague memory that I was disappointed with the cake or was angry that I couldn’t open presents before we ate.) It was my very first real birthday party with friends and party hats and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and treats for the guests. I remember spending lots of time trying to decide which girl would get which book of paper dolls. I have no memory of what the boys got, poor things. I mean, they were boys, and I think they were only there because their sisters were invited. Also because I didn’t have very many friends.
Thinking about that party is very painful. I don’t know about you, but reflecting on my own bad behavior is never any fun. Last Friday was my forty-eighth birthday, and I couldn’t get that day in 1967 out of my mind. I even called my mother to apologize for my five year-old self. She says she doesn’t remember what happened, bless her. I’m glad.
Are birthdays loaded with emotion for you? Mine used to be uber-loaded with expectations. They needed to be SPECIAL, dammit! They needed to be the biggest thing happening for miles around–or woe betide those around me. Birthdays were a time when everyone was supposed to know exactly what I wanted, how I wanted it, and how much of whatever it was that there should be. I didn’t realize I’d always been like this until last Friday–and when I did, oh, did I feel terrible.
It’s a cruelty to expect people to be mind-readers. One of my ex-husbands was into EST (Erhard Seminars Training) back in the 1980s. It seems the movement drifted during the last part of the decade and eventually disappeared because it was diluted into a bunch of narcissistic b.s. But the one thing I remember about it was that it taught that we’re responsible for our own happiness. I buy that. But owning one’s happiness goes wrong when the image of happiness is one’s only goal in life. Our happiness is hugely determined by how we handle suffering, both psychic and physical. How we handle life when reality stands between us and the thing that we’ve decided will surely make us happy. It’s come as no surprise to me, finally, now that I’m old, that the happiness part is simply in the being–not the desperate wanting or the weighing or judging or the height of the pile of presents on the dining room table.
I had a great forty-eighth birthday. A few days earlier, I spent the afternoon birthday shopping with my mom. She had in mind to get me a lamp for the living room (She’s a fabulous gift-giver and always comes up with things people like, want or need–all on her own.). But we never really found one, and I felt like the one I’d put in place of the one the cat broke sufficed. So she bought me a couple of summer shirts that I found. The best part was hanging out with her, though. Shopping is what we do together. And later my parents took us to a Japanese restaurant because they know how much we like sushi. It was so sweet and thoughtful.
The actual day was very low-key. Lunch and dinner out because I decided I didn’t want to cook a thing. I had my two guys around all day–they were terribly solicitous. I did some decorating stuff and puttered in the garden. I watched a movie and ran some errands. I talked to my lovely friends who called. I was absurdly tickled by all my FaceBook birthday wishes. In the evening, we ate barbeque from 17th Street and watched Alice in Wonderland and I opened presents. Then we ate cake. No games. No booze. No crazy expectations. I was amazingly content. I did spend the day wearing a virtual tiara that I constructed myself. (Pinckney made me a real virtual one on FB!) I smiled a lot, like I had a secret, and had to stop myself from telling various cashiers, “Hey! It’s my birthday!”(That whole ADHD thing–I tend to be a little impulsive, even when it’s not my birthday, you know.) In all, I think it was my best birthday ever–or would have been if only our daughter had been at home instead of so far away, working hard.
Maybe it was because I finally apologized to my mom. Who knows?
So, what are your birthdays like? Do you own your own birthday happiness? ; )