My brother is the former. I am the latter.
Growing up, The Boy didn’t have a birth “day,” he had a birth “week.” Typically, this week included a family party, a large gathering of friends (at a bowling alley or a pool), a school party and then a smaller slumber party comprised of only a select group of friends. And if you dared refuse to acquiesce to any of his requests you would be met with an emphatic, “But it’s MY BIRTHDAY!” And so it was.
My birthdays, on the other hand, were usually spent at home with my family and one or two friends eating Chinese food and chocolate birthday cake with vanilla icing. My Nana and Papa would come to visit, and the highlight of the day was wearing the new “birthday” dress that they brought me.
The disparate nature of these celebrations wasn’t personal. My parents certainly didn’t love The Boy more than they loved me. (At least, I don’t think they did.) My low-key birthday celebration was usually due to logistical concerns more than anything else.
You see, the 29th of May either falls during or immediately after Memorial Day weekend, so no one is ever around. They’re camping, they’re at the beach, they have family in town, etc. So planning a party for the day of my birthday is impossible, and coordinating everyone’s schedules for something in the weeks after is like planning the invasion of Normandy.
Thanks to that fluke of the calendar, I never really had big birthday celebrations growing up and I still don’t have them now. I tried a few times, but planning your own birthday party really stinks. This is especially true if your birthday falls on a holiday weekend. So I just got to a place where I rather enjoy having a small celebration or none at all.
True to form, I don’t have any plans for my 30th birthday. I might get a drink with friends or dinner with whoever is around. But when people ask questions like: Do you have something special planned? Or what are you doing for your birthday? The implication is that doing nothing, and not living up to the socially accepted birthday expectations, is not okay.
The news that I’m not planning something has been met with surprise, disgust, ambivalence, frustration, mocking and even a few whiny complaints. It’s deeply frustrating. And, in a way, it’s hurtful.
Some people are happy to mock me for not having a party, “Of course, you’re not having one. You’re not fun.” That really helps. But it was just a joke, right?
Several folks are happy to remind me how special birthdays are and how I NEED to have a party, right before they tell me that they’re busy/out of town for most of next month, but if I could find a date that worked for them, they’d be happy to attend. But don’t suggest that you might do something on a day when that person cannot attend, because then they’ll feel left out and send you an e-mail telling you so (happened this morning).
I think what it boils down to is this: We should be able to spend our birthdays however we choose, and I am not a birthday party person. That doesn’t mean I need your pity or concern. It doesn’t mean that you need to express your disappointment that I’m not planning something. And it doesn’t mean that I am some how emotionally stunted or malformed. Because it’s my party, and I’ll spend it drinking $200 champagne and eating Georgetown Cupcakes all by myself if I want to.
So ladies and gentlemen, are you on Team Belle or Team Boy when it comes to birthdays? Do you want the big party or something low key? And do you judge people who either a) don’t celebrate their birthday or b) celebrate their birthday too much?