Thursday, July 28, 2011

The History Of My Birthday (With Bowie)

[To set the scene]

(I'm not implying I am the lady in question. I could never be that cool/cold in a million years.)

Last night I learned I didn't walk until I was almost one and a half years old. My eldest sister walked at nine months. Now, some people might be embarrassed by that piece of information. Not me. I think it set a precedent for a life of doing things in my own time... (or just being very comfortable taking it easy.)

It's my birthday in two days. I've been trying to play it cool and I've been doing pretty well at times, but now we're on the home straight there's no denying it: I'm fucking excited. Tomorrow is my lovely little niece's first experience of the wonderful phenomenon that is a birthday, and even though she's not here for me to strap to my back and hit the pub with, knowing she's just a few hours north (actually getting to make a party in her nappy) is so festive it's making my build-up almost unbearable. Plus, tomorrow already has the advantage of being a Friday, complete with Friday feeling, and after our usual happy time at the pub, my marvellous friends and I will be hitting a karaoke bar where I will then hit them, with this:

Genesis: Birthdays were second only to Christmas in our house. I think the difference with our family is that a birthday isn't just a card in the morning and dinner at night; it's a full day celebration, and being the youngest, I had four people at home, all older and more capable, who had secrets beforehand and then celebrated me all day long. Then when I was about six I got a lucky book called The Choosing Day about a little girl who picks everything on her birthday so her mother has to wear her wedding dress and she invites all kinds of riff raff to her birthday picnic, and it had a profound effect on me. I'd always been comfortable in/followed the limelight, and on a birthday I was at my best - I would be magnanimous and gracious and enthusiastic, and it was easy because, in my mind, I was queen for the day. It was my duty. Also, I felt like there was something special about my birthday that everybody felt (reserve judgement; we're not done). I distinctly remember a birthday at McDonalds when I was turning five, I think, dressed to kill in my denim mini and white Sunshine California jumper, when every time I hopped on the Mayor McCheese roundabout (I always went for the top of his hat, of course) kids would come out of nowhere and start spinning me, like little mice, running round and round and then hopping on once we had enough momentum. There's a photo of me sitting atop his head looking bored, but inside I was intrigued and thrilled. They didn't know it was my birthday. They must have felt it was my birthday.

The Golden Period: At secondary school I didn't know what to expect; my birthday was the first in my small group so I didn't know how it was done. How it was done was that everyone in my class had put in for a bouquet of flowers and at lunchtime my friends blindfolded me and led my up to the top of the three-storey block where they had candles lit on a little cake, and the new Exponents album and a tshirt to go with it. I was floored. Every year girls would turn up with flowers, cakes and cards; some years so many that I would need an assistant to help me lug everything from class to class. Girls I barely knew would give me chocolate bars with bows around them and little Happy Birthday labels. It gave me the strangest feeling; like a beloved monarch, even though these girls were my peers and I made a good few cakes for other people's birthdays myself. But it was the range and number; it felt like everyone remembered. In hindsight, I did have a birthday countdown on several of my classes' whiteboards, but still, it felt special, like birthday magic.

We Meet Sparta: As I got older, this feeling became a problem. There were birthdays when I had meltdowns (early twenties [insert cringe here]) because everything had become so loaded with meaning and there were far fewer people sharing what had become a load. I started expecting things, and reading into everything, and the day just became a stress for me and everyone else. I'd become a dictator, or the entire French monarchy (there certainly wasn't anyone else in my lonely, crazy bubble). However, from inside the bubble, there didn't seem anything crazy at all, and my patient friends and loving family didn't have the heart to tell me I was insane.

Greener Pastures: I still struggle a little with my birthday. I can't help thinking of it as my day, and I have expectations that I don't want to have. But I think I'm getting better; the expectations are more of the day and less of the people. I know that's because my best ever birthday was one when I only saw three people I know and the day was spent celebrating something I truly feel was more important than my birthday - my marriage to Vincent.

Epilogue: I'm a little less excited about my birthday now. Decidedly embarrassed about past birthdays, to be honest. But that will pass, no doubt more quickly than it should. I told Vincent the other night that I think twenty-eight will be the making of me, and although it was just something I said, maybe it will be. I want to be better. I try to be better, most of the time. I love my birthday. I will try to my best to make it so everyone else can love it too.

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