3 and 3
Side by side
As I run and hide
3 + 3
That’s just fine
The above is a dumb little poem I made up in simultaneous honor and gallows humor for my recent birthday.
Numbers mess with me. They and their relative, Math were huge stumbling blocks throughout most of my schooling. I have always regarded numbers with measured scrutiny, like a dog sniffing out the other, while circling round the opponent. I’ve always put too much credence in numerals. Always allow them to be heavy, to weigh more than they really have to. This truth holds for many of life’s occasions that we tack digits on to, as well as when I move from one age to the next. I get anxious about the numbers on the scale; about how far into the month we already are; how far into the year; the day of the week; the time of day; and yes, my new age; what it means; what I’m “expected” to do with it.
I’ve never known how to deal with getting older. Some people seem to give none of this any thought at all, and walk right into their next chapter of life seemingly feeling no affronts. I want to be better, to envision myself likened to a fine bottle of wine. Aging with maturity, grace, and class. With all that life contains, why do I even worry myself about it?
Birthdays should immediately remind me of all that I’m grateful for, instead of pointing out to me, like an accusation, all that I’m not that I wish I were, all that I want to be, but can’t seem to find a way to make happen. I want to instead be a version of Julia that embraces her birthday, not dreads it, or ignores its pending arrival. I’m trying to reverse my thinking, and feel that I actually did a decent job viewing it this way this time.
I remember as a small child having parties that my mother planned and organized for me: my first birthday party was in the living room of our house. I, in my Sesame Street paper hat, sat surrounded by cousins with the cake smack in front of me, looking dazed. The memory has been so clearly reinforced due to the photo my mother still has that I’ve come across many times over the years, superimposing it across some randomly selected part of my brainwaves. When I was turning 5 (I think), I remember going to a local McDonald’s with my mother to talk with an employee about renting space there for my party, followed by the actual party a short amount of time later. I remember being enthused about the entire idea. I believe I had recently started school, as I feel that some of the guests were schoolmates.
But that’s the rub of it all — at least, for not knowing much about psychology, I think it is; the cousins and I lost touch and didn’t grow up together. The classmates were brief fellow fellows. The parties stopped, as they do for most people. I realize that other adults don’t normally have birthday celebrations of any sort (isn’t that sad for us?). Nevertheless, my birthday just makes me think of all that isn’t. All that was, but now is not. All that could be, but not quite yet. It makes me think of the circle of close, best friends that I always imagined I would have by now. That would celebrate my next year with me over dinner and drinks and some raucous, but clean-fun laughter. And every year, that is not the case.
Of course, the people in my life who care about me, whether family or friends, make it a point to drop a “Happy Birthday” text, email or quick Facebook message. A few even still send cards by post. And that’s great. I feel my heart warm for those things. I just wish that there were more of them. I just wish that I was the type of girl who made and kept great friends with supreme ease. In high school, my birthdays would have been tons of fun. College, epic and awesome. Post-college and on into the expanse of adulthood (the most lasting portion of our lives — I never thought about how out of balance the phases of life are until I hit my 30’s a few years ago) would have been, could be amazing and unforgettable.
A columnist I follow, who writes for Parade, Connie Schultz, penned an article that was run toward the end of July called, Life in the Middle Ages. In the piece, she relays an experience at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, where a young man breathlessly catches up with her, mistaking her for a younger woman with a different name. Schultz, who has over the course of her life and the experiences that have gone with it, acquired an ability to laugh about her age and about the situation. She admits that were it five years earlier, she “might have spent the entire flight slumped in” her seat, “clutching a compact mirror and weeding chin hairs.” Schultz is 55. While I admire her learned humor about life and aging, and just owning whatever number you are, I don’t want it to take me another 22 years to arrive there myself.
Schultz went on to site a passage from a novel that I haven’t read, but now want to, The Finishing School by Gail Godwin:
“There are two kinds of people…One kind, you can tell just by looking at them at what point they congealed into their final selves. It might be a very nice self, but you know you can expect no more surprises from it. Whereas, the other kind keeps moving, changing. With these people, you can never say “X stops here,” or “Now I know all there is to know about Y.” That doesn’t mean they’re unstable. Ah, no, far from it. They are fluid. They keep moving forward and making new trysts with life, and the motion of it keeps them young. In my opinion, they are the only people who are still alive.”
Congealing is NOT an option. Ew, by the way. Fluidity…I want to be so fluid I make the ocean jealous. I see nothing wrong though with combining these two ideas and being a nice fluid. Being that alive. It happens that this — always moving, always changing. Reinvention. — was already an ongoing life goal before I read this particular piece or the inclusion of Godwin’s writing.
So why then did my mental record player throw this song on? (First several lines from Unhappy Birthday by The Smiths, one of my absolute favorite bands):
I’ve come to wish you an unhappy birthday
I’ve come to wish you an unhappy birthday
‘Cause you’re evil
And you lie
And if you should die
I may feel slightly sad
(But I won’t cry)
I guess Morrissey and the other members of the band hold (or at least at one time, held) a broad-brush distaste for birthdays, too.
Like I alluded earlier though, I did adopt, or in the least pretend at, a healthier perspective this time. The fake-it-til-you-make-it approach. Part of this was made easier by focusing on how as a grown-up, one’s birthday doesn’t feel much different from any other day. (And of course, immediately following, the age you now are feels no differently from the age that you just discarded.) I’m not being cynical; simply stating what I know is true in many minds.
Because it fell on the weekend, I also had our family’s weekly domestic tasks to ground me: grocery shopping, the stuff around our home that didn’t meet completion during the week, etc. But also, in trying to be positive, I didn’t allow myself to hate on my birthday; I realized that I did this in past years. Possibly a mark of further maturation?
When the normal family tasks were behind us, I knew that I had an enjoyable meal out planned with husband and daughter at one of our favorite restaurants, Eggspectation. The last time we had been there had also been for a birthday: my daughter’s third back toward the beginning of the year. The menu always has what I consider unique dishes, prepared and presented really well. This visit I had lobster grits. I have impeccable taste. You know how when you try a dish that you haven’t before, while you’re waiting for it to arrive at your table, you imagine — based on the description in the menu and the level of quality that you’ve experienced previously — how delicious your entree will be? I was pleased that my lobster grits were about five levels higher of yum than I had played out in my head. An advisement though: Eggspectation’s lobster grits’ one downfall is that it won’t fill a fully hungry tummy. I could have had a second order of it.
Enough about food though. I know that does nothing to support my statement claiming that I dealt better with my birthday. One thing that really helped was focusing on what I love about myself and my life. For instance, while dining out with my husband and daughter, I found myself truly enjoying that moment, being completely present in it, not letting anything else matter. Throughout the day, I kept bringing it back to that: my little family. Without the two of them, my life would be much different. I don’t know in which way, but it’s not an alternative that I want.
This is when it clicked for me that I have to make myself inwardly turn away from the part of me that is inclined to say: Ok, now you’re this age. But, you still haven’t done X. You still are not Y.” I have to shut that voice off because it accomplishes nothing. Because as long as I’m alive, anything and everything is possible. Because why would I want to continue to allow myself to dislike my birthday? Because that former way of thinking is a remnant of how I used to think overall. And that does not fall in line with fluidity at all.
And honestly, how bad can any birthday possibly be when its spent with your loved ones over lobster grits at a favorite restaurant and ends with a Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino and two cannoli at Starbucks?