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38 Years Old
On birthdays and being ...
By the time you read this message, I will be (at least) 38 years old, marking the grace of another year around the sun as of March 25, 2023.
I wondered how (or how not) to mark this event through my newsletter. Because I’ve always been a person who wants neither to be ignored nor spotlighted; the type not to ever throw myself a birthday party, but also the type who often went to bed on my birthday wishing somehow I would have recognized it more.
(Note: don’t be this type of person. Just celebrate!)
And anyway, for women after a certain age (I’d suggest it’s as young as 17) - merely celebrating the fact that you’re getting older is verifiably counter-cultural. I love my friend, Lyz, who tells me she can’t wait to get to her 40s, because it means us women are reclaiming the narrative about what happens as we age, and about our value to a world that keeps wanting to make us Madonnas or whores/virgins or sex objects.
I am more than my appearance.
I am more than my desirability.
I am more than my brain or my job or my family (though all of these things are very important to me!)
Maybe I’m overdramatizing this a bit - but I’ll say it anyway - I’ve decided to mark my birthday proudly and (kind of ) loudly this year because what it means to me is that I’m saying I’m proud and grateful merely to be. To exist. My meaning is not ornamental but intrinsic. I’m OK with this, finally - though I kind of wish it wouldn’t have taken me 38-or-so years to know it.
I still probably won’t ever be the type of person who throws myself a big birthday bash, but if that’s you - go on with your bad self - and feel free to send me an invite. This year, I’m happy with a dinner at my mom and dad's, with my husband and two sons helping my dad prepare the menu, and a couple of gifts they’ve wrapped that I may have purchased myself on sale months earlier.
(By the way, that’s another helpful birthday lesson I’ll pass along that I wish I would have learned a little earlier. Again, I’m the type of person who likes the idea of being surprised with a gift, but in actuality I’m pretty picky and have exacting ideas of what I want and what it should cost (ideally, it should have a discount code available). So what works for my family, is often that I’ll buy myself a gift earlier in the year and save it for my birthday. I expect my boys to make sure it’s wrapped and not too wrinkled. And sometimes I’ll make a list of a few options to choose from for them to buy closer to my birthday. Plus, I always want fruit pizza (with glaze!) for dessert.)
Again, you might think: “You bought your own birthday present! That’s just weird.” But hey. That’s me. There are times when I can be flexible, and there are times (like my birthday) when it just works out to be a bit more discerning. That’s fine. You do you.
Lastly, because this article is beginning to feel way too self-indulgent for my sensibilities - I want to tell you about one of the most special parts of my birthday. And that’s the fact that I realize it isn’t just my birthday. Birthdays are meant to be shared, and I know this in a really special way.
Now, I do get to share my birthday with some pretty cool people, like Elton John, Aretha Franklin, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Volodymyr Klitschko. Click here to find out who shares your birthday. It’s kind of fun.
But I also get to share my birthday with someone who’s a celebrity in my own life: my very own mom. She gave birth to me after nearly 24 hours of labor, while my dad split time between the hospital room and March Madness on TV, at 12:05 a.m. the same day she turned 29.
29! Seems like a long time ago that I was 29, much less imagining my mom as 29.
Just in case you don’t know another mother/daughter pair who shares a birthday, I’ll let you know that it’s intense. My mom became a mother on the same day her mom first became a mother (we are both first-born children). Now that I am a mom, on each of my son’s birthdays, I also celebrate my giving-birth days to them, and I remember the day when their life outside my body began, and I began to experience what it was like to have a heart that beat outside my body; to breathe in the knowledge that a piece of me would now always exist outside myself, a powerful and undeniable attachment that would stretch and grow, sometimes painfully, as the years went on.
My mom is one of those moms who poured herself into her kids. She loved throwing us birthday parties, and yes, that is multiple parties many of the first years of my and my brother’s lives. As I got older, I was aware of the ways in which she denied many of her own needs for my own. As we know, that’s (often) what moms do. Still, as her daughter, I too wanted to celebrate her. So for years, we spent March 25 saying to one another: No, it’s your birthday - and then maybe going to bed wondering if each of us was truly enough, for ourselves, for the world, for the love we gave and desired to and from our families, friends, and God.
When I had my own boys I realized even more what it must have been like for my mom: to have her birthday day and her giving birth day on the same day. We tried to prioritize time together. We made fruit pizza. We sang and ran around the table (don’t ask) and exchanged pretty cards and flowers.
I had my first son at age 27. Ten and a half years ago from my birthday on March 25 this year. At age 29 on Oct. 15 I lost a baby to an early miscarriage. At age 30 on Oct. 15, my second son was born.
Now, I’m 38, and my mom is 67, and a grandma to three boys: my two and my brother’s one son, who ironically was born on his dad’s birthday, on March 7, the very same day my mom’s dad, my grandpa, died, in 2019.
Life and years can pass slowly and then all too quickly. As my mom and I celebrate another year, this year, of being alive - I am most grateful this year not only for being together, not only for my dad making lasagna and garlic bread with lots of butter, for my husband and boys making a big fruit pizza pie with lemon-apple glaze, not only for a morning spent with my mom over pastries and coffee in my Minneapolis neighborhood, as she heals from a foot surgery that has slowed her step but not her spirit … No, today I am most thankful that in the grace of God and the gift of a too quickly fleeting life, as I celebrate a birthday shared with the woman who birthed me, I believe both of us are finally coming to know just how wonderful it is to simply be.
Another year. Happy Birthday, Mom. Happy Birthday, Me.
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