Birthdays sure aren’t what they used to be. The birthdays of my childhood were like mini-Christmas, and I was the babe in the manger. There was usually a party, and the wisest among us would come bearing gifts.
These were not the bouncy-place, pizza-for-everyone, invite-the-whole-class, pink-and-purple princess parties of today. No, I’m old enough to remember when your birthday meant primarily family gathered for dinner; the leaf placed in the dining room table to accomodate aunts, uncles, and cousins; the nice table cloth used on a Tuesday. My mother had a red plate with white letters around the edge which spelled out “You are special today.” The plate only came out for good report cards, opening nights of the school play, and, of course, birthdays.
Despite the generational difference between those relatively spartan celebrations of the 70s and the stop-the-presses clusters of these modern times, there is an aspect of the childhood birthday that has remained the same: the child feels special.
The shift in the birthday experience which took place as I entered my 20s was a true shock to the system. I had moved away from my family, so the dinner and the cake went the way of the pterodactyl. Presents became less . . . well, convenient at first, I suppose, and then just not even considered. That wasn’t too horrible. I sucked so badly at remembering others’ birthdays that I was grateful to be let off the hook by the benign treatment of my own. I settled into the acceptance of birthdays marked by a card in the mail from my mother, a call from my sister, perhaps a casual acknowledgement at work, and a possible gathering of a few close friends, if one of them remembered and put forth the energy to spearhead the event. Not bad. And some of them were even quite nice. But, somehow, birthdays as an adult had become somewhat of a disappointment. The anticipation I felt by force of habit far outweighed the reality of the day.
Then came Facebook. Yes, I said, “Facebook.” The first year I was on Facebook, it was a total shock to see post after post on my wall wishing me well on my birthday. At first, I was kind of, “Yeah, yeah, whatever.” I mean, Facebook tells them it’s my birthday. It’s not as if they have it circled on their calendar with a red sharpie.
And Facebook tells me when their birthdays are as well. Thus, I conversely felt a bit shallow and pathetic when I would send well wishes to dear, precious, old friends who really deserved better than for a social network to nudge me to do so. But, I didn’t know the birth dates of many of my Facebook friends to begin with. And everybody needs a reminder. (I contend it is the primary role of a partner to remind your circle of friends that your birthday is coming.)
It took a couple of years to get used to the social implications of this new way of celebrating a birthday. But now when my birthday rolls around and the timeline posts start stacking up, I am absolutely THRILLED by it. I LOVE that my friends, both close and casual, are reminded and then care enough to send me their best. It is such a tidal wave of positive energy that my entire day seems elevated. It’s far better than the annual feeding of my messiah complex in my youth. It beats the hell out of the bouncy place.
No, birthdays aren’t what they used to be. They’re much, MUCH better.