Considering Birthdays Past

The advantage to sharing a birthday with a loved one is that no one ever forgets it.

My father and I share a birthday. It’s also Canada day. My mother — a smart woman — has been milking this for years. What more does my father need, she says, when he has such a wonderful daughter!

This year, he turns 75. This is not insignificant. We’re having dinner at our favorite local restaurant and he’s getting some things from LL Bean and Nike. (I swear — if my mother and I didn’t give him clothes and shoes at every gift-giving holiday, the man would walk around wearing a sheet and flat-tire rubber sandals. We love him any way.)

Meanwhile, I’m hitting the big 2-9 — an unremarkable number save for the fact it marks the final year in another decade. I don’t plan to go through the same “29 Crisis” that some of my other single friends have — they upgraded apartments to ones they can’t afford, chopped off and died their hair, and got trainers. Every day, they post fitness selfies and “I’m an empowered single lady” quote on their social media feeds.

But perhaps, it’s too early to call for me. If on July 2nd, I post a photo of myself at the gym, in a sports bra flashing a “look how tight my ass is” pose, captioned with some motivational mumbo jumbo, you have permission to put me in a straight jacket (or at least, hand me a shirt.)

I digress…

A friend enjoys the magic at my 7th birthday party. 20+ years later, we're still celebrating birthdays together.
A friend enjoys the magic at my 7th birthday party. 20+ years later, we’re still celebrating birthdays together.

As the child in the family, the celebration of my new year typically eclipsed my father’s. My birthday fetes were famous — at my 10 year high school reunion, girls I hadn’t seen since graduation day came up to me to say “I’ll never forget all your parties! You need to have another one, for old time’s sake.”

“I’m pretty sure that magician is dead,” I said.

For the first 14 years of my life, I took birthdays pretty seriously. Magicians, hot dog carts, excursions to the stables for horse-back riding, buses hired to the chauffeur us to the Jekyll & Hyde Club, virtual reality adventures, swing-dance lessons, fabulously fanciful cakes — there were distinct advantages to being an only child of older parents. Each year, I came up with a theme that felt au courant, researched the possible venue or vendor, and designed my own invitation. We always ended up at my God Mother’s pool and no one wanted to go home.

And then the parties stopped. I started fencing and National Championships always fell on the first week of July. Often I was competing on July 1 and all of a sudden, my father and I were in different cities on our birthday. This was strange.

I turned 21 in Atlanta. My Mother had been trying to get me to drink since I was a teenager — her theory was it was better to learn how to have a nice cocktail or glass of wine in a refined social setting rather than binge drink like a sorority girl. I was 16 when she sneaked me into a wine tasting in Napa. Ironically, when I ordered my first legal drink, a grey goose cosmopolitan (it was the heyday of the S&TC reruns on TBS, after all), she was painfully uneasy. I wasn’t allowed to finish it. A refill was out of the question.

When we finally got to celebrate at the Intrepid, we made the most of it.
When we finally got to celebrate at the Intrepid, we made the most of it.

My 24th birthday was the first one in about a decade when my father and I didn’t have to phone each other to say “happy day!” I had just come back from Texas where I had contracted a terrible case of Swine Flu. I was Tennessee’s first confirmed case and had to spend several hours on an IV drip.

That year was also my dad’s 70th, and my mother and I had big plans to make our celebrations about him. We intended to go to the Intrepid (he likes planes) and then have dinner at a South African wine bar in Hell’s Kitchen (Dad’s a Springbok.) Instead, we spent July 1 in the ER. Dad had gone in for what should have been a routine test a few days earlier, but  ended up with a massive, deadly infection.  Back to back trips to the hospital for us both was enough — we skipped this birthday. The Intrepid plans would wait for next year.

25, 26, and 27 each had their celebrations. One involved boats and friends. One was unremarkable. One came with terrible tan lines and an amorous bouquet.

I intended to celebrate 28 in this dress with lots of baked goods and Tanqueray... that is not how this went down
I intended to celebrate 28 in this dress with lots of baked goods and Tanqueray… that is not how this went down

And then we come to #28… I bought a strapless mini dress — a style totally outside my normal wardrobe choices — and made plans to hit the town when I got back from Columbus, Ohio… Not. So. Fast.

I took a week off work to accompany Mom to Nationals — she’s the fencer now — and visit family in Canada. At the last minute, I made the less than wise decision to compete in a sub-elite division.

The competition was on my birthday and my primary goal was to finish early enough to get to happy hour. As I made my way up the elimination bracket, I could feel my age and old war wounds. At a 13-13 tie to go into the final, my knee gave out. The medical team diagnosed 2 torn ligaments and a sprained ankle on the strip and I was forced to withdraw.

A sprained ankle and damaged ligaments, but at least I was smiling. I wouldn't be later. Happy 28!
A sprained ankle and damaged ligaments, but at least I was smiling. I wouldn’t be later. Happy 28!

For the next hour I lay at the medical tent, friends and teammates gathered — I was serenaded with a happy birthday while some referee friends tried to assemble my belongings for me. I was loaded into the car and my mother picked up two bottles of sake for me to drink (to numb the excruciating pain) as we drove 6 hours to Ann Arbor — our pit stop en route to rural Canada. My bellhop played football for Michigan and as I slurred my woeful story, we bonded over torn ACLs. He offered to carry me to my room. In retrospect, I was a fool to decline, but I was pretty sure I hadn’t showered yet.

Birthdays are a funny thing. When we’re young, we count the days till our next one. As we get older, we recoil at the thought of another and mostly want them to go unnoticed. And yet, we can’t help feeling slighted if they pass un-celebrated. We usually remember each one — where we were and who we were with — and use the day as an excuse to reaffirm or rewrite our New Year’s resolutions.

These days, my father and I have a simple rule when it comes to our birthdays — however we chose to celebrate them, no one is allowed to end up in the ER.

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