Today I celebrate my husband Dohn’s birthday.
I say “I”, because he is only participating in the celebrations under sufferance. (Or so he says. :-) ) Despite this being a “-ty” birthday, and therefore a “big one”, he has refused any fuss. I was allowed to make him his favourite Almond Puff Pancakes for breakfast, and his mother was allowed to take us out for coffee and cake this afternoon. He even permitted me to take him out for dinner at Nunzio’s, a fabulous new Italian restaurant in Fremantle.
It’s been quiet, but he’s had a good day, which is the main thing.
In the wake of our — er — “discussions” about how we would celebrate his birthday (he most emphatically did not want a party, or even to go out with family), I started to consider the nature of birthdays in general.
Those major milestones in particular, that end-of-decade punctuation we apply with deliberate, dreadful regularity throughout the span of a person’s life, can be somewhat confronting. I mean, forty sounds so much older than thirty-nine. Fifty sounds so much older than forty-nine. And sixty? Heaven forbid.
One wonders, should we even continue to keep count?
Yet, incomprehensible as attaining such an age may have seemed to us when we were kids and even as younger adults, we all aspire to reach these very milestones, every single one of them. After all, the alternative holds even less appeal.
On birthdays, we do what we can to make those whose birthday it is feel special. We’re so happy about their very existence! And in that sense it’s as much about us as it is about them. We want to express how glad we are. When we pare it down, birthdays are the anniversary of the day on which a person was born, a celebration of the fact they are alive. We make it a point to note the passing of each year because we are thankful for every one of them, and we think it a worthwhile exercise to stop and mark the day by openly acknowledging our gratitude for them.
I can’t help feeling that birthdays are probably more important to mothers than to anyone else. Other than the birthday child (whatever their current age), mothers have by far the most intimate experience of the actual birth. It’s the mother and her baby that endure the physical trauma and the emotional upheaval that accompany it. But the mother, unlike her child, actually remembers the occasion, usually with vivid clarity. On my kids’ birthdays, I celebrate their lives but I also recall their individual births, each unique to the them and to me. Each was a momentous and miraculous occasion and truly worth celebrating every year — in fact, every day!
I know, because she told me, that Dohn’s mother remembers his birth like it was yesterday. I know, because it was in her card to him, that she is grateful for every year of his lifetime. Birthdays are an extra-special special occasion for mothers.
The perspective of the child is quite different of course, but I also want to celebrate the births and lives of my parents, who gave me my own life. And I want to similarly honour every single person who is important to me. Their lives matter, and birthdays are the traditional, accepted occasion for me to articulate what I already know and hope they do too, which is how very glad I am that they are alive.
While we don’t theoretically need a special occasion for this, the reality is often that birthdays provide a useful prompt, especially when we have been drowning in the stresses of everyday life.
I feel so badly for those who don’t have anyone to celebrate their special day with them, even when they don’t themselves appear to mind. While my hubby, and my Dad too, for that matter, would prefer not to make a fuss on birthdays, I know they both do appreciate that others care. Those of us with family and friends to care about, who care for us too, are truly fortunate.
So birthdays, I feel, are very much about gratitude for life, and for family and friends, and give us an occasion on which to make a particular point of showing it.
I want to celebrate! What do you think?