When it comes to birthdays, I think there are two camps. There are people like me, who choose to treat it like any other day, and then there are the “birthday people.” You know, those people who claim the full month in which they were born as their own. The type who schedule two straight weeks of festive brunches and dinners with all of their different social circles so as to maximize the birthday attention. People who revel in using the day as an excuse to get others to do things for them by simply saying, “But it’s my birthday!”
I’ve always admired birthday people and the unabashed pleasure they get from abusing their birthday power. In fact, there are times when I wish I could be a birthday person. I want to demand things and eat for free on my family’s and friends’ credit cards for a few weeks. I want to expect special treatment for a full four-day weekend when my birthday was actually on the Wednesday prior. I’m a Leo; I’m astrologically programmed for it!
And yet, when my birthday rolls around, I feel nothing. Unfortunately, I’m not hard-wired that way. I realize that birthday people have the ability to sit back and let others do and plan things for them; I’m far too detail-oriented and controlling. And according to my parents, I’ve been that way since birth.
The story of the day I was born is the stuff of legend in my family. My mother was in labour for two full days before having me on a sunny August afternoon. She went into labour on the 7th and I chose to make my big entrance on the 9th. Point being, if even in the womb I was deciding how things were going to be done, you can only imagine how I behave now with a fully formed brain.
It’s that stubborn fixation on details that has invariably prevented me from getting excited about celebrating each passing year. Which is why my friends know that doing things such as throwing me surprise parties would only serve to surprise me with an overwhelming sense of panic and anxiety.
In fact, the last time I was surprised with a birthday gesture, I was 16 and working as an uncomfortably socio-phobic sales associate at a children’s clothing store. My parents thought it would be a cute idea to send over a balloon-o-gram to both salve their guilt for having scheduled a vacation over my birthday and provide a cheerful distraction from having to spend the entirety of my special day folding toddler-size polo shirts.
The balloons didn’t go over so well. Proving too bulky to fit in the staff lounge, they were then stored in a fitting room. One of three. On a busy Saturday. Needless to say, lines started forming due to the birthday surprise taking up valuable changing space. The afternoon ended with me frantically popping balloons in front of a lineup of customers and being told to work on my upsell.
Naturally, birthday people would have laughed that off; they’re emotionally impenetrable. I was horrified.
Which is why for a long time I tried throwing myself birthday parties. And while they proved worthwhile for my guests, I’d always end up distracted—preoccupied with where a box of cupcakes had disappeared to or why the DJ kept subbing in his own music when I had given him strict instructions to use the playlist I had spent a month putting together.
Nowadays, having reconciled with the fact that I’ll never be a birthday person, I find the greatest birthday gift I could ask for is time with the people who mean something to me. And if they just so happen to pay for my dinner? So be it. There are some things I won’t always be able to control.