Okay, I admit. I am completely full of it. Last year, I renounced the birthday week for good. But this year, I ran into a snag. 30. Milestone? What the heck are you supposed to do when you turn 30? For a moment, I naturally went back to the birthday week. And realized I have no idea how to have fun on my birthday.
For all of you who think I made up "the birthday week" I am sadly not that clever. The Birthday Month was indeed championed by my mother. With all her grace and goofiness, it hung in the hallowed halls of anticipation as a kid, way above what Christmas provided, which she just turned into the birthday of Jesus so we could eat cake on that day (see: I'm obsessed with all things cake).
Birthdays were the ultimate time in my life. It was my favorite breakfast with a giant hand drawn "Happy Birthday" greeting from Mickey Mouse, or whatever I was into that summer, never ending shopping trips, never ending ice cream runs, late night fast food runs like we were in college but I was only eight, cleverly choreographed birthday parties that my friends would talk about for weeks with all of the games invented by my mom front and center of the best memories. Getting our ears pierced together when I turned 12. Queen dance parties. Bawling while watching "The Lion King" in the theater and washing down the tears with a post-movie milkshake or two. Always a balance of mom-daughter activities with family and friends. My birthday was forever the most exciting time, simply because of the way she made me feel like the most loved, most special daughter in the universe. Every year.
The last birthday we spent together was my 16th birthday. She was in the hospital again and I wore a new party dress. My grandparents brought the traditional brownie cake, that year without candles. I have one picture of that day, of me in my dress, back against a generic hospital whiteboard graffiti'd with nurse notes, a closed mouth smile. We lost her the following March and I wore that dress for seven more years.
Every year since, I fervently plan "the birthday week" months ahead of time, subconsciously, or semi-consciously preparing enough events and chances to drink too much so that one birthday part of me doesn't have to feel the giant cavern that my mom left when she transitioned. I've written about it every year. It's the same story. And it's never ever enough. I predictably get the birthday blues weeks before, I think about cancelling every year, I overwhelm myself with details and it somehow never stops.
This year, I broke down. The knowledge of missing her and the tradition of burying it deep finally came to the surface, finally. Through a series of replanning, flyer creation and a sinking feeling that nothing that I planned felt right, I was forced to deal with my birthday head on. I miss my mom. That's all. It's not ego or craving to be in the center of everyone's world for four days. I just wish that she was here to wake me up with cinnamon apple pancakes and dessert before dinner. I wish she was here to draw a cat tattoo on my foot with a sharpie. I wish she was here to remind me to be silly, to teach me how to hang a spoon on my nose in a super fancy restaurant, and hug me, and tell me that I'm doing everything right. And with this "milestone" birthday comes with this reality: I don't want to run around and exhaust myself to simply create opportunities for everyone else to have fun. What I really want for my birthday? To sit on my couch and watch Gilmore Girls. To sleep in. To have a donut for breakfast. To watch the sunset. To go into the woods and get lost. To stare at the lake and breathe in real deep. And to accept that she's not here for birthday week, but to give myself the gift of birthday week, 30-year-old style, meaning doing something for myself for a change instead of worrying about everyone else having a blast. Even if it's only for a day.
I am thankful that I had a mom that taught me to not take myself so seriously. Ironic that on the very days that are supposed to be the most silly, I take it so serious. I'm supposed to have fun, even if it's in a bubble of fun, party of one newly-turned 30 year old.
I was afraid that I didn't know how to celebrate without her influence. No one can live up to her birthday legacy. But maybe no one should, myself included. I want to let go of a nice eco-friendly balloon, and in it, a commitment to letting go and allowing the universe in, starting a new tradition that gently reminds me of what my mom did for me, but also creating space for something new, starting with me. Growth is painful and so rewarding.
So here's to 30. And burritos, cupcakes, naps, balloons, party hats and never ever ever growing up, no matter what number I become. At least I know that much.
Giant cupcake! Made by my dear friend Becky.