I turned 65 years old yesterday. Although I’ve never really had an issue with the number/age of my birthday, I struggled with this number a bit. Somewhere, it’s ingrained in my brain that being “65” is significant. At 65, retirement is a viable option. At 65, you are officially considered as a senior citizen and you can take advantage of any and all senior citizen discounts (some places have lower age requirements, but 65 is standard everywhere).
When I was young, I always had to celebrate my birthday along with my older brother’s because we only had 12 days separating our birthdays. Being July birthdays, we often had cook-outs in the yard with the neighbors and their kids invited, and the only way anyone knew it was a ‘birthday’ party was because of the cake. Otherwise, it was just a neighborhood cook-out.
For my sweet 16th birthday, I did get my own celebration, but the “friends” that were invited were still just neighborhood friends. Honestly, that’s really the only actual birthday celebration I remember growing up.
Even after leaving home, birthdays were never a cause for great celebration. Maybe the immediate family got together, maybe we didn’t. Gifts came from mom and dad (most often $$$$) and significant others. I do remember that, for many years, I got a birthday card from my life insurance agent. I always sarcastically mentioned that I knew he was the one person I could count on, because the longer I was having birthdays, the insurance company didn’t have to pay out on my policy.
I remember my 25th birthday and the ‘celebration’. My friend Sue and I always hung out at a little bar, which was about 5 miles away, and when neither of us had a car, we’d actually walk there. It was totally cool there and everybody who hung out were fun to be with (think “Cheers”). We always knew we’d get a ride home from someone after last call. For my 25th birthday, the gang got together and bought me 25 shots – all lined up in front of me. It did take me a few hours to get through them, and needless to say, I was a long way away from sober at last call. Honestly, that was probably the most fun I ever had celebrating my birthday – including some time spent alone with my friend with fringe benefits (and that’s all I’m going to say about that!) – well, except for the massive hangover I had the next morning and the fact that the milk I drank to coat my sour stomach curdled and came back up!
When I was married, my (then) husband asked me one year what I wanted for my birthday. I told him I wanted the Trivial Pursuit game and a new set of silverstone (non-stick when it first came out) pots and pans. He got me a knock-off trivia game and a new set of amber colored glass pots and pans. I should have taken that as a clue for my birthday in the future – that I wasn’t going to get what I asked for but what someone else decided they wanted to give me. Unfortunately, at the time, I just thought it was just him.
For my 40th birthday party, since it was a ‘decade’ birthday, I decided to throw myself a birthday party. Mostly, it was people I knew from the place I hung out for karaoke and dance parties and that’s what we ended up doing.
For my 50th birthday, also a ‘decade’ occasion, I was ensconced in managing a brand new hotel and stressed out all of the time. My birthday fell on a Sunday and I begged the owner to allow me to have the day off. I told my three gal friends that all I wanted for my birthday was an afternoon movie and a quiet meal afterwards, just the four of us, so I could let go and relax. One of the gals, Bonnie, picked me up at my house and told me were going to Nancy’s house for a glass of wine before we left for the movie, and the other friend, Mel, would meet us there. We arrived at Nancy’s and Bonnie had me go in first. I opened the door, and a bunch of voices yelled, “Surprise!” I looked, saw all of the faces, turned around and walked back out the door crying. Bonnie, who was still outside, put her arms around me and asked, “Why are you crying?” How could I say, “Because I wanted a quiet time with a few friends, not a party with a bunch of people?” Honestly, if my own car had been there, I might well have walked to it and climbed inside. But no, that wasn’t an option and I didn’t want the flack for doing it, so I dried my tears and went back inside. I looked around at the people there. While I might call all of them ‘friends’, they were ‘friends’ from my professional life and none of them I ever spent time with except when we saw each other at a professional event. This compelled me to put on my ‘professional life’ mask, not be able to let my hair down and just relax and be my authentic self. I got through, despite the fact that I didn’t care for the food they’d prepared and the punch was spiked with rum, which I don’t like. And, of course, I had to write thank-you notes to everyone for coming to my party and bringing me a gift.
Since that ‘party’, I have not wanted to have a big fuss made over my birthday. I don’t post my birthday date on social media sites because I don’t want all of the people I’m connected with on them to send me a birthday message simply because they are reminded to do so. That feels, if nothing else, superficial and therefore, not genuine. I’m of the old school who still keeps important birthdays on my calendar so I don’t need those reminders. And if I do get reminders on social media of a connection’s birthday I’ve never celebrated, I seldom message them.
When I turned 60, my brother drove 2 hours to see me at work, and luckily caught me before I left town to go see my bestie. That was pretty special, since he doesn’t really make a big deal about birthdays, his or anyone elses. When I got to my bestie’s, she and I and the rest of the Wentling clan all went out to dinner at a restaurant/bar, and while it wasn’t some elegant kind of place, the food was really amazing. No servers to sing “Happy birthday” to me (I don’t like that unless it’s being done to someone else) – just a good dinner with people I can truly call friends, some small gifts from my bestie.
As I mentioned in a previous post, this year – 2021 – is the year I join the rank of being an “official senior citizen”. I’m still adjusting to the sound of that number because it’s sounds old. In a way, it feels like 65 is the top of the mountain and it’s all downhill from there. Since I’m struggling with the age, it is obvious that I don’t want any kind of celebration or notice about my birthday. Then again, I’ve had birthdays that have gone by unnoticed by anyone, and ones which have received such a little bit of fuss that I don’t know if that counted.
I don’t want a party of some kind for my birthday, even if I live to see my 100th birthday. But a little bit of fuss – some time with loved ones in a quiet celebration – would make me at least feel noticed. And yea, it makes me sad that so many people whose birthdays I choose to write on my calendar and do something, even if it’s just sending a card, don’t know/remember when my birthday is, which makes me feel like the relationship is very one-sided. And that hurts!
Maybe it sounds to you like I want to have my cake and eat it too – that is, that I don’t want a celebration but I want a celebration – but that’s not true. I don’t want a party, I just don’t want to be forgotten by the people I make such a priority to never forget. I’ve never been someone who likes surprises, so a surprise party is definitely a no-no. And I certainly don’t want to have gifts I don’t necessarily like so that I have to pretend to like them, then take them home and immediately put them in my donation box.
Since my insurance agent retired many years ago, there are no annual cards coming my way from him. My bestie will make sure I know she’s remembered my birthday, and my brother might or might not remember it (I don’t expect him to, so that’s okay). The Prin remembers my birthday and makes it a point to make sure I know she does. And for all of the other people in my life about whom I care and who say they care about me, the day will go by unnoticed as just another day.
This is the part that bothers me, the part that makes my already fragile ego feel unworthy even more. I know it goes back to the fact that I’m such a giver and I wish others would be as well, even though intellectually I know that won’t happen. Sometimes I wonder why I repeatedly give to people who only take. Maybe that’s something I have to work on???
I cannot bring this post to a close without saying a heartfelt and genuine thank you to my bestie, Joanne, for making my birthday exactly what I wanted it to be. A day trip together to our beloved Lancaster County to visit our favorite food and thrift stores, a new place to try for lunch, and no other big hoopla. I had told her that, for my birthday, I wanted experience and memories instead of any kind of tangible gifts, and she gave me exactly what I asked for. Considering my past experiences with asking for what I want for my birthday, from ill-wanted gifts to unwanted parties, it only took me 65 years to get exactly what I asked for! Seriously, this is the second happiest birthday ‘celebration’ I remember (second because, after all, I got “fringe benefits” on my 25th! HA HA HA) Joanne, if I forget to tell you later, I had a marvelous time with you and I am truly grateful!
Now I just have to get used to saying a new number if I am asked my age and try not to let a cringe in someone’s face or some comment about being old get to me!