When I was little, the date May 17th glowed on the page of every calendar. Anything else that occurred on that date, no matter how mundane or unrelated to me, would sparkle with a reflected glow.
It wasn’t just that May 17th was my birthday. It was MY day and mine alone. Which is no small thing when you have an immediate family consisting of 5 other kids and 4 adults (the unique makeup of my family is story for another time. Let’s stay focused on me here).
When it was your birthday, you got to pick the meal that would be served on the Sunday nearest your birthday. I know this doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but it totally was. Especially for me and my two younger brothers, affectionatly (I assume) known as “the little kids” (while our older sisters and brother were known as “the big kids”). When it was your birthday you were also allowed to stay at the table as long as you wanted, even after the time when he little kids would normally be encouraged to go play while the grown ups (and big kids) talked. For me this was huge, and I’d often stay for a while, even though I didn’t understand or care what anyone was talking about, just because I could.
Since my birthday was in mid-May, it came to symbolize the official beginning of summer for my family, and my meal choice was hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, with chips and macaroni and potato salad, and we’d eat out on the porch instead of the dining room, and play frisbee and tag in the yard.
In my memory it was sunny and warm for every single birthday.
At some point in the last 2-3 years it occurred to me that is statistically impossible since I lived in upstate NY and meteorological records would prove it was probably cold, rainy and possibly even snowy more often than not.
But in my memory, every single year it was a day with my whole family laughing in the sunshine eating picnic food and strawberry cake, with me at the center.
But then I grew up and I went away to college. Birthdays were celebrated, and always enjoyed, but slowly I came to accept that the day would no longer entail me being the center of everyone’s universe. There are actually people, I eventually learned, who don’t know, or care, that May 17th is my birthday. By the time I was in my 30’s I was comfortable with this fact. Which isn’t to say I haven’t always enjoyed my birthday. I’ve always had wonderful friends and family who have made the day special in some way. But the truth is that adult birthdays are rarely as special as childhood birthdays. It’s not a bad thing per se, just a reality thing.
Today I turn 35. And I am aware of my birthday as a signal of the passage of time in new way. Suddenly today isn’t just about me getting more than a normal amount of attention, but about me moving into a new phase of my life.
As marked by the rapid deterioration of my body.
However, one upshot to getting older is that my appearance is catching up to my actual age. I used to consistently look 10-12 years younger than I actually was. Now the gap has closed to about 6 years.
When I was in my 20’s and looked like a teenager, or when I was in college and routinely mistaken for a visiting high school student, I hated my youthful appearance. Teachers, parents and random strangers would routinely tell me I’d be thankful for these genetics someday.
I was always pretty sure I wouldn’t.
But now while I might not love it, I don’t hate it anymore. And I can already tell that when the gap closes even more, I’m going to miss it…
While my face appears to be that of a carefree 20-something, my body appears to be that of a retiree.
My arches have fallen.
Which means I have to wear special inserts in my sneakers, and ideally my non-sneaker footwear will also have arch support.
Let me restate that, to make sure we’re all on the same page here. Only a few hour into my 35th year and the concept of arch support is front of mind for me. Take a moment and digest that.
The falling arch issue was discovered while I was being treated for a badly pulled Achilles tendon.
How’d I do that, you ask? Well that’s a funny story… wait, actually it’s not a story at all since I have NO IDEA how I did this. Because that’s what happens when you get old. YOU HURT YOURSELF BY WALKING.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the next time I stumble while walking through Target it’ll be my hip that goes.
When I commented on how slow my recovery has been, my physical therapist, who is 25, said “These kinds of injuries take a long time to heal at your age.”
Also, my metabolism, which took a nose dive when I turned 30, has slowed down even more. Now just looking at cake makes it show up on my ass.
Also, this morning I discovered a mole on my leg with a hair growing out of it. That wasn’t there yesterday…you know, back when I was a spring chicken of 34.
And as if all of that weren’t enough, I also have Endometriosis. Which basically means that my body, much like my grandmother, has given up on the idea that my reproductive organs will ever be used for their intended purpose, and so my uterus has begun to look like that spare room in your house, with random cells and uterine tissue just tossed in there like last year’s Halloween decorations and that futon you can’t bring yourself to get rid of.
And it would be fine if those junk cells just sat in there collecting dust behind a closed door. But they don’t. They are wreaking havoc in my body. Kinda like a family of mice that takes up residence in the futon and now runs amok through the whole house, eating through your power bar wrappers, making tiny teeth marks in the fresh fruit , and leaving poo all over every surface…
My hormones are out of control. I’m as likely to cry from a credit card commercial (no interest for the WHOLE year?!) as from hitting a red light.
I’m retaining water. Specially, I have swollen ankles. But on the bright side, if there’s one thing that looks good with orthopedic shoes, its cankles.
I’m frequently exhausted. Which is actually ok, because I need to spend a lot of time with my injured tendon elevated and iced.
I’m not all that unhappy about my birthday. Maybe its just the crazy hormones talking, but I find myself feeling a bit warm and fuzzy, a bit optimistic about life as I enter into the second half of my third decade.
Turns out there are certain perks that come with advanced age.
Like the fact that I have acquired an almost embarrassingly wonderful list of friends and family who love me. Before 10am I’d received heartfelt birthday wishes via text, phone, email, in person, and on Facebook by more than 30 people. And this is outside of birthday wishes and a present that I got on Sunday, cupcakes from my co-workers yesterday, a birthday dinner with my wonderful boyfriend planned for tonight, and a full on birthday party on Sunday, which is being planned by one of these wonderful friends. And I haven’t even checked my mailbox in a few days…
I am humbled by this out pouring of love. And grateful that at various points in my life I’ve had whatever combination of luck, wisdom and heart to make the decisions that allowed me to make, build, and maintain these relationships with both friends and family members.
And then there’s the boyfriend.
My friends and family make me feel loved, but he has managed to make me feel special on a level I haven’t felt since those childhood birthdaydays.
Tuesday night is not usually a night we see each other, and I was perfectly comfortable with celebrating my birthday with him on Wednesday night, our standard date night.
But he said he wanted to see me on my birthday, so we made dinner plans. Which was enough of a treat for me.
Then he called me at work this morning , which he’s never done before, to say Happy Birthdaywhich was a wonderful surprise and great way to start my day. It was already one of my best birthdays in recent memory.
And THEN, he showed up at my office in the middle of the day carrying roses, a balloon, and 2 slices of cake, complete with candles and matches.
Sorry Mom and Dad, but I think this just officially become the best birthday I’ve ever had.
The possibility that he would be walking through my office door with flowers and a balloon and cake was so far from my mind, that it actually took me around three seconds to realize I recognized the delivery guy.
I was so stunned, my memory of the first few minutes of him walking in and setting the flowers and cake on my desk and me hugging and kissing him hello plays back like watching a YouTube video on a slow internet connection – all jerky movements and missed dialogue.
I’m actually still a little speechless. Which to some people may be the most impressive part about the whole thing.
All I can say at this point is that, so far, being 35 has kind of rocked.