Saturday, November 17, 2012

You Say It's Your Birthday

Today is my birthday. I am now 44 years old. A nice, symmetrical number. Half a lifetime ago, I was 22. Another lifetime from now, I’ll be 88 (God willin’ and the crick don’t rise). I spent my 44th birthday with my grandmother, my sister, my husband, and my kids. For presents, I got earrings and a CD.

The way we celebrate birthdays changes through the years. When you’re age 1 or 2, there’s cake and balloons and your immediate family and that’s kind of fun but you don’t really get the significance of it. Once you hit age 3, you’ve very aware that the day is all about you and that there will be cake and presents and balloons. At age 6 or so, the party changes from family to school friends and the presents are really all that matters to you. Once you hit age 13, birthdays become not about the presents but all about the money that comes inside the birthday cards. That lasts until about age 21, when you start getting mostly dull, practical presents like clothes and stuff for your apartment, and the most exciting thing about your birthday is going drinking with your friends.

And then you turn 30 and birthdays begin to remind you that time is passing. And it’s passing faster and faster every year. You have enough of the basics that the presents turn from practical to fun again – instead of the sweater you got from your girlfriend and the lamp you got from your folks when you were 23, you get concert tickets from your wife and a night of free babysitting from your mom. And the fun stuff kind of makes up for the rapidly advancing numbers on the calendar.

And then you hit 40 and maybe you’re not so excited about birthdays. Eh, it’s just another day on the calendar. Nothing to be upset about, but nothing to make a big deal about, either. It’s much more fun celebrating your kids’ birthdays. Or, if you’re fortunate enough to have living parents and grandparents, celebrating their birthdays and the fact that you ARE fortunate that they’re still around to celebrate birthdays.

And it stays this way until you’re 70 or so. And at that point, birthdays become something to celebrate and be excited about again, because you are aware that each one is a gift, and that you never know which one will be your last. And because birthdays are a reason for your kids and your grandkids to come and visit. The cake is nice, and the presents are nice, but the family is really what makes your birthday happy at that point.

So half a lifetime ago, I probably had a party with my parents and my sister at my folks’ house, and maybe I went out to dinner with some friends, and I likely got presents like a slipcover for my couch and a bag of potting soil for my window boxes. And a lifetime from now, I’ll probably have a party with my children and my grandchildren in the private dining room at Shady Pines and my presents will be things like the good brand of denture cream and a box of designer Depends.

But I’m glad to know that I’m in the very happy middle right now, where I can enjoy spending time with the generation ahead of me and the generation coming up behind me, and that the presents I get are purely for my enjoyment, and that time is passing but that there’s still lots of time left that hopefully I will use as successfully as I’ve used the time gone by. In the words of Dr. Pangloss, this is the best of all possible worlds.

Happy birthday to me!

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