Happy Birthday to me! A big old 26 years today. Though previous experience has taught me not to complain at work. The 40 and 50 year old’s start glaring at you!
The highlight of the day was my Dad coming to town and taking me out to dinner, which was great. And definitely more than I usually do.
As a whole, I don’t celebrate my birthday. I had a few celebrations when I was very young, but as a fairly lonely teenager a party would have been my definition of hell. Once I hit university I did actually want to celebrate…but trying to organise anything at the end of January is borderline impossible. Everyone’s coming back from study leave, working crazy overtime at work to make up for all the time off, flat broke – and everyone’s tired from Christmas and New Years and studying. Even after University and with a pretty great group of friends, it just wasn’t feasible. Three of my friends had a decent sized flat that could fit a good crowd, and always donated it to friends who need a place for a party…but they always hosted a New Year’s party, and then two weeks later it was the birthday of not just one of the tenants, but another friend who usually merged their parties. With my birthday another 2 weeks later, it would have been ridiculous to ask anyone to host 3 parties in a month, so I never bothered, and have gotten used to not really doing anything.
The one exception is my 18th, where my Dad took me to London to see Jerry Springer: The Opera. A weekend in my favourite city, watching a great musical, and getting to see an awful lot of things I love is a great way to celebrate. Sadly not so much my 21st – it’s highlight was a job interview.
As for when I was growing up, I only have vague recollections of most of my childhood birthdays. I know I’ve had two parties – one I remember, at a local indoor play area. It was where every kid at school had their party, and I was no exception – vividly remember flying down a very steep slide in a party dress, and opening up presents at home. The other I know of thanks to a photo of my mother holding me up next to a giant pink No. 1 shaped cake that was bigger than me – why on earth do people always go out for the first birthday? It’s not like the guest of honour remembers it!
As I got older, most of the memories are me coming home to a cake in the fridge and opening up my cards, along with a promise to go out for dinner at the weekend, that more often than not didn’t come to fruition for various reasons. One year we did go out, and my mother invited a friend and her son who had come to my brother’s birthday dinner…but forgot to tell said friend it was my birthday dinner, which was a little embarrassing for everyone. For my thirteenth I was allowed to invite a friend from the former town we lived in over for the weekend, which was a pretty great time.
However, the one birthday I always remember was when I was 6. It was my first birthday after my parents divorced, and much to my brother’s annoyance, I got to stay home from school. I had breakfast, opened up my cards, and then there was a knock at the door.
It was my Dad, and for the rest of the day, I had their complete undivided attention. We went to a local toy store, where I was told I could pick out anything (within reason!), and came home with a puppet in the shape of an otter (who would become known as ‘Ottakar’, a homage to my favourite shop for many a year). Afterwards, my mum presented me with another gift. I was really into the Farthing Wood magazine at the time, and they’d advertised some figures in it that I had begged and bugged my mother for. When I opened the present? It was my figures. I originally thought they’d just arrived that day, course, hindsight and age made me realise that considering it was wrapped, she’d probably been hiding it for today.
In the evening, my brother came home; we had cake, and my Dad left. And that has always been my best birthday ever. I didn’t realise it completely at the time, but as I got older the memory of the day became even more special. Not because of the gifts, or getting to stay off school, or even that my Dad came down just for me.
It’s special because as I got older, and my parent’s relationship went from tolerant to borderline toxic, it has become the only coherent memory I have of my parents getting along. I barely remember them when they were married, and any other time they were in the same room for any length of time has been branded in my head for sadly all the wrong reasons. But that day they were willing to put aside their differences and focus on something good. A day that became a memory I always look back on and smile at.
And to me, one good memory is better than any present or party could ever be.