The Birthday I Wanted and the Birthday I Got

It was my birthday on Thursday. Birthdays were, for some reason, one of the only things my family did really well. No matter how depressed my mom was, she’d make a birthday cake and give me great ideas for parties: costume parties, pool parties, skits, games, and more. My dad would get into it and help and be silly and it was always really fun.

Maybe because of that, I still really like birthdays, even at my advanced age of just turned 42. But it’s also hard to not have expectations or dreams of what my perfect birthday would be. It’s even harder because I’ve had what I’d consider my ideal birthday.

My ex-boyfriend also did birthdays well, because he knew I loved them. For my 40th birthday, he took the day off work and we went to my favorite places in San Francisco: the mural stairs, the Japanese tea garden, the Palace of the Legion of Honor, and an excellent seafood restaurant even though he doesn’t eat seafood. It was a wonderful, wonderful day, and I think we ended with watching the sun set over the ocean. Then he had all my friends over for a potluck with a children’s book theme, where people got really creative and had a lot of fun. He did a really good job and made it really special, even though he’s not a big birthday person.

That’s what I wanted again. And it’s harder, because it’s not a baseless fantasy – I’ve had this. I wanted someone for whom I am the first priority to spend the day with me, flowers, natural beauty, nice walks, good food, cake, and quality time. I wanted reassurance that I was that special for someone.

That’s not what I got. But what I got was very good, if in a totally different package. My housemate got me balloons and gummy bears, because she knows I love gummy bears. One dear friend sewed me pillows that have black labs on them because they look just like my dog. Over a hundred people wrote on my Facebook timeline to wish me a happy birthday, and while Facebook does prompt people to do that, some of them were really personalized. Others called or texted. A student’s family showed up because I had told them that they could meet the dog, and they brought me a beautiful bouquet, birthday cards, and a Target gift card. A few friends went 80s dancing with me on my actual birthday, which was a wonderful escape. Two friends who don’t know each other went out to dinner with me on my birthday.

Then the absolute crowning event for my birthday was a friend who threw me a birthday party. She asked me if I’d like that and I was a little nervous because she is someone who struggles with a lot of fatigue and her own issues and who also does events really well, down to the last detail, so I didn’t want her to take on more than she would be comfortable with and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be the center of attention with the depression/anxiety struggles.

So I was honest. I said that I didn’t have the bandwidth to plan anything and I didn’t have the money either. And that it sounded like a wonderful offer but if there was any way she’d be resentful or would need me to do anything, that it wouldn’t work, and that I would still appreciate the offer. She said she would love to do it for me.

She asked a few others to co-host and it was absolutely beautiful. The co-hosts made amazing, amazing food, and the hostess had thought to make it a Moroccan theme because I love Moroccan food (and have been to Morocco!) She made me a wonderful memory book, with photos and memories from each friend who came, as well as photos of the flowers and food. She remembered that I love princess cake ( which is fairly unusual and got that.

It was amazing. I had friends from church, knitting, and other places I can’t even remember. There was not one person there who knew everyone, except for me. And people mingled, and got to know each other, and made new connections. I was worried that people would feel awkward, and it didn’t seem that way. I saw really excited conversations between people who had never met. And I had people who have been part of my life for periods of time from between 6 months and 17 years all together for me.

So, I didn’t get what I had wanted. But what I got was a beautiful, beautiful gift, and I’m so grateful.


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