Birthday ambivalence

Oct 22, 2008 at 12:00 p.m. ET

It's birthday month around here. There are seven family and extended family birthdays this month for which gift-giving is a necessity, several more that require at least cards, and a few anniversaries, too. My own birthday is tucked in among the festivities.

Mom's Birthday
My kids are starting to notice something about birthdays around here. While I make a fairly big deal about everyone else's birthday, I prefer my own birthday remain very subdued. I have a difficult relationship with my own day, and as much as I try to get past that, it just is.

One day a year

The reason I make a big deal about others' birthdays is simple, really. It is the one day a year that is solely and wholly about them. I supposed it might be a little different if I were the parent of multiples, but this is what it is for us. We all share Christmas and other days on which we gift token gifts, but birthdays aren't shared. When I make a show for my kids and husband and other friends and family on their birthdays, it's my way of showing how happy I am that they are in my life. How happy I am that they were born.

For my kids, especially, I get such joy in celebrating their birthday. Can you remember anything more exciting as a kid than your birthday? Okay, maybe Christmas if you celebrate it, but birthdays rock. We don't go overboard on extravagant gifts or anything, but we do find little ways to make the whole day wonderful. I'll make a special breakfast and a special dinner. I make the cake my child wants and try to be really thoughtful with the gifts we choose. We plan a fun party with friends. As much as I tell my kids I love them on every day of the year, I say it twice or three times as much on their birthday. They feign annoyance; I know they enjoy it.

Leftover bits of childhood

For me, though, there is mostly ambivalence. It's not about my ever increasing and sometimes scary age (candles on the cake represent decades now). It's about feeling wanted, and, without getting into detail, that feeling comes straight from my own childhood.  And I am not the only sibling in my family with this ambivalence. Over the years, I've had some really crappy birthdays.

Since having kids, however, I've made a concerted effort to accept and even enjoy a birthday or two. After all, if I hadn't been born, my kids would not have been born - and they are truly, truly people to celebrate.

The kids have taken the birthday love I shower on them and turned it back on me. Slowly, slowly, I am learning to allow and accept my children drenching me with love on my birthday the way I do with them. I swear they get more excited about my birthday than I do! I may never enjoy my birthday the way they do (and the way I hope they always do), and I may always be a bit ambivalent, but it's my day. My one day a year.

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