I don’t hate many things at all because it’s so much more productive to embrace the world, but I do hate my birthday. The low feeling starts on July 1st, because my birthday is in July and I just want it to pass without any fuss. My dislike of birthdays isn’t for the vanity reasons one might expect of a later thirty-something, although I’m not especially pleased with the new wrinkles or the gray hairs that appear faster than I can clip them.
Before I reveal why birthdays are not on my “love it” list, a little background might help. Growing up, I had an awkward phase that lasted from birth to about sixteen years old. (Not exaggerating). I tried to keep to myself, but always seemed to be a magnet for meanness. Most memories are fuzzy remnants that are buried so deep I can’t piece them together, but some words I still remember clearly.
My parents didn’t know the gory details of what went on at school, but I’m sure they noticed I didn’t have tons of friends hanging around the house. They tried to make me feel better and told me the other kids didn’t know how special I was or they were jealous of me. I rolled my eyes at the special comment, and, even at the time, the latter didn’t make sense. I couldn’t figure out what they could possibly be jealous of…was it the pale skin? The glasses? The teeth that only an orthodontist could love? Or was it frizzed-out curly hair that I had when straight hair was all the rage?
My Grandparents lived down the street and I’d play at their house after school. My Grandma always had snacks for me and the kids across the street (they hung out with me because my Grandma was friends with their Grandma and our moms went to school together too). My Grandpa made me super-sweet Nestea instant tea with so much sugar that I think bees could mistake it for nectar. No one could make tea like him. (Several years ago I tried; it was gross). My Grandpa’s birthday happened to be a few days after mine, which I always thought was cool.
My Grandpa passed away several years ago after a long sickness. Since then, my birthday has been a memorial rather than a celebration of another year of my life. I miss him and imagine I always will. Of course, I think about him throughout the year. But July is harder, because it was our time and now I’m left to ‘celebrate’ alone. Of course, I’m never physically alone, because I have family around me…but my heart just isn’t in it.
As an adult, my Mom told me stories about how my Grandpa worried throughout my childhood that I wouldn’t be tough enough. She said he worked to make me stronger. True, he did pick on me (in a nice way), but I grew up oblivious to his plan. He didn’t want the world to trample me; he wanted me to have a mind and be able to speak it. He wished I’d be able to say “yes” only when I wanted to and “no” when I needed to. He urged me to be my own person and not who anyone else told me to be. My Mom laughed at times when I would respond to him as a young child with a pouty lip, “I’m not tough.” He knew what I didn’t: if you let it, the world will eat you alive.
Guess what? I think he succeeded. I could have given up (and almost did) when I thought I couldn’t take the pain any longer. I could’ve been an eager-to-please follower, but by the time I got through high school, I learned to stand my ground. I value friendship because I know what it’s like not to have them; I have compassion, because I know what it feels like at the bottom of a deep well of sadness; and I found out that when you break, you pull it together and come back stronger. I’m sad, but feeling…well, “tough” right now. I AM tough. When my birthday rolls around, I will put on my happy face and show thanks to those who remember, because I really do appreciate that they care. At the moment, I feel like I can handle anything. In fact, bring on the story critiques, query rejections and comments that this blog post stinks. I can take it.
Thank you, Grandpa. Happy birthday to us…