Since I graduated high school I have not attended classes or worked on my birthday. I went on a job interview once; almost got into a car accident and after getting the job it was the first one I was fired from. No more.
I’ve learned my lesson.
I even prefer when my birthday falls on a weekday. My husband works; my kids are in school. I do my thing and we meet at home after school and work let out.
I wander, usually. I go to the mall or if it’s a nice day out, a rare treat even in early December, I go to an outdoor mall. We have a fancy one nearby with boutiques (I can afford to window shop anyway) and a café with benches and statues throughout the open space. It makes me feel as though I’m traveling some place new. I get to pretend I’m a tourist or researching my non-existent novel or a wayward traveler and I take pictures of the most mundane things and enjoy my quiet time with myself.
In the years before she died, my mother began to send me money for my gift. There’d be enough to buy myself something I needed, something I didn’t need and have lunch. I started taking myself out to lunch and beginning to be comfortable in my own skin and on my own, something I dread, but am more and more coming to appreciate and treasure.
The year after she died, my husband gave me his work incentive gift card, which happened to come the same week as my birthday– $50 from American Express and I have the same birthday ritual that I had with my mother’s gift. He knew how much it would mean to me, and it really did. It was one of the nicest things.
I almost always go to Starbucks, breakfast or lunch, have a drink, or two, relax. Write. By my birthday, the cranberry bliss bars are available.
One year we had a major snowstorm on my birthday – schools were closed and everything; no going out for me. I planned ahead to cook Shepherd’s pie and Yorkshire pudding from scratch. I’m not sure why I wanted it so badly. I might have been reading a Welsh history book or historical novel at that time, and that was all I wanted for my birthday dinner. It tasted amazing! It was also one of the only snowstorms where I wasn’t anxious or panicky.
When I was a kid we always got a birthday cake. It was always a surprise, even when it wasn’t. Whoever’s birthday it was would get called away or asked to do a chore and when we came back, the lights were out and there was cake, lit candles and everyone singing happy birthday.
Every year as we got older, we continued this, every year, and every year we would all be surprised when it was our turn. It was sweet. And we all played along even if we did roll our eyes when we were asked to do the “chore.”
We were always taken aback, surprised, thrilled everyone remembered, and if we weren’t, we played along. This was one of those family traditions that my parents loved.
In our family now, we usually pick a restaurant to go out to dinner and come home to cake. I love birthday cake – anytime of the year. It is never the wrong time to have birthday cake. My favorite kind is vanilla with buttercream frosting and some kind of flower or something made out of frosting. This year we had a vanilla raspberry that I want more of. It was the perfect blend of cake and fruit, whipped cream and fondant. Yummm.
I began my most recent birthday by attending Mass. This really is one of the most enjoyable things I do in a week. The way the light bounces off the pews and the altar; the way the words wash over me; the way the host tastes when it’s mixed with the wine in my mouth. So many senses filled in such short moments.
This year, I actually went home and shared breakfast with my husband and drank Doctor Who tea (the ninth doctor to be precise) before going out again.
Believe it or not, I spent the next hour in Payless Shoes trying on boots. I might have mentioned in earlier writings, but I was so excited to find these boots and that they fit pretty perfectly that I even walked out of the store wearing them. I can’t remember the last time I wore shoes out of a shoe store and still kept my “old” shoes which hadn’t worn out to the point of falling off my feet. I now own three pairs of shoes. Woo-hoo! The last time I bought shoes on my birthday were winter boots several years ago from my mom.
Lunch at Starbucks and cake at home. Since my son was working we had my birthday dinner two days later.
It’s funny how every birthday is the same and yet different. I pack up my Kindle, my notebook or journal and my camera. I wear my favorite clothes – this year my favorite long sweater, my new black boots and my cute black knit hat. I become me for a day and try to figure out how to stay the me I am on my birthday all the rest of the year.
The ritual stays the same year after year; it almost takes no thought or planning at all, but the happenings change just enough and each year I’m in a new place mentally, emotionally so that year’s wandering brings on new thoughts, new reflections, new grace to find.
The sun is in a different place, the clouds have different formations, the blue in the sky is a different shade. The people I run into in the shops or the café are all different and each brings a special presence to my day that I welcome and can add to my growing inventory of people and places and things and they all form the index for my reflecting and writing, always striving to find my way through the shadows.