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  • Writer's pictureVal Lonergan

How to Make Your (Grown-Up) Birthday Special

For many years now, our birthdays have come and gone like any other day — this is no fun!!  Here are some thoughts on that and ideas of how to make your grown-up birthdays feel a bit more special!

A Big One

In a way, I was really looking forward to turning thirty.  That was a milestone, a really special one.  Unlike many of my friends, I wasn’t worried that our youth was over, nor was I dreading getting older.

On the contrary, I was looking forward to moving out of a decade of youthful insecurities and body hang-ups, a long awkward phase of unrequited crushes and zig-zaggy career moves.

Newly married and full of ideas, I was convinced that my thirties would find me more mature and #confident.  That I’d be able to make the intelligent, true-to-myself decisions that would inevitably lead me to Permanent #Happiness, a mythical concept I’d only had fleeting encounters with in my teens and twenties.

And I was ready for the new me.

The trouble is, I now can’t even remember what I did or where I was for my 30th birthday, nor the three that have passed since.  It’s not that I was too drunk to remember…  it’s that I was too preoccupied with… #life.

I have another birthday coming up soon, and I’m pretty much unmoved by it.  My husband feels the same way about his birthdays.

What happened to us?

Our birthdays aren’t completely ignored, of course.  Our families host special events for us, it’s true, and I may have lunch with a friend or two around that time.  I do genuinely appreciate everything done in my honor.

But I don’t necessarily feel it.  I don't feel anything. That excitement, that anticipation, that waking-up-on-birthday-morning giddiness. Is this #adulting?

My husband and I don’t really do anything special to mark the occasion, or exchange expensive/meaningful gifts between us, rationalizing that money is tight and we’ll celebrate these things later.

Crash Course in Grown-Upery

Adult Life gets in the way, I suppose, of daydreaming of what to do for my birthday like I used to: what kind of party I wanted to have and where; who I would invite; what to wear; the infinite pleasure of drawing up a wishlist of items I’d been pining for all year.

I had even created an important rule for myself: No Work on Birthdays.

When I saw single, I would literally cram all of my favorite things into that one day.  Sleep in, get woken up by friends calling to belt out the Happy Birthday song on the phone, have toast with Nutella in my pj’s, hang out and watch a cheesy movie (or two), read magazines, have a massage or get our nails done, have dinner at my favorite restaurant and then, of course, get ready for a night of partying (and really enjoying it)!

Case in point: On my twenty-sixth birthday I was at my favorite bar with all my people when someone told the lead singer of the band that it was my birthday.  Next thing I knew, I was called up onstage to belt out a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” in front of hundreds of screaming fans.

Birthdays used to be mile markers worth celebrating, a time to reflect on everything I’d done in the past year and set a bunch of thrilling new goals for the coming one.  A fresh, clean slate!

A time when I could spoil myself strictly in the name of fun and surround myself with all my favorite people.  Each December when I got a new calendar I’d go straight to May twelfth and write MY BIRTHDAY!! in huge capital letters, not to remind myself of the date, but because it was a priority.

I know some people who make a big deal about their birthday, and even one (ahem, I’m lookin’ at you Melissa 😉 ) who declares the entire month of June her birthday month. Impromptu celebrations could break out at any time!

But to me, birthdays now feel like ordinary days that pass by unobserved like any other.  No faint feeling of enchantment, feeling ever-so-slightly older and wiser as soon as I open my eyes in the morning.  No balloons on my breakfast chair.  No love notes found throughout the day.  The magic is gone.

Or is it?

New Traditions

This is not how I want things to continue.  I want to create new #traditions for my family, especially since our baby girl just arrived.

Traditions are important: they shape our actions and help create memories.  They bring comfort and familiarity.  They give us things to look forward to.  I don’t want the inherent and simple specialness of things to just erode just because we get busy (and by that I mean lazy).

I want to feel it in every way I can.

There is no catch-up time for celebrating important moments later.  This is it.  It’s now, today, that counts, not some future time.  It’s foolish for any of us to think we have all the time in the world to enjoy life later — it can be gone in the blink of an eye — and if we have the opportunity to celebrate a special moment, it’s our responsibility to seize it.

New Birthday Rules — Grown-Up Edition

My how-to list for making the most of birthdays:

1. Throw a party in your honor.  Get all your favorite people in the same room together and show up, really show up.  Don’t forget to revel in all the details of the planning, that’s the fun stuff.  A last-minute potluck dinner counts, just get it done.

2. Do not go to work.  Make sure you do all your favorite things.  Go to your favorite places (wandering aimlessly in a bookstore all afternoon?  Don’t mind if I do!) and restaurants if you feel like leaving the house (a Table for One is perfectly acceptable), but even if you do nothing else — definitely eat your favorite foods.

3. Get some perspective.  Go to an old-school photo booth and get snapshots done, just as you are.  On the back, write the year, your age, and one word or phrase that sums up your year, such as “had a successful year career-wise” or “the year I became a mom”.  Collect the strips of photos in a special box or envelope so you can look back on how you’ve evolved over time.  You may think you’re the same as always, but you’re constantly changing.

4. Make the world a better place – for cheap!  I’ve read that if you deliberately leave money in public places, in tiny amounts like a dollar or two, you can turn someone’s luck around.   This is because when they find it, they will feel lucky and consciously do good deeds toward others that they may not otherwise have done.  Also called good Karma, and Paying It Forward.  You could also spend the day doing random acts of kindness; the kicker is not getting found out!

5. Reflect on the joy of life itself.  Take a break from your life’s daily annoyances and consciously think of all the good things in your life.  How are you lucky?  Make a list and practice some gratitude.  It’s important for us to stop and think of these things.  Figure out how you can swing the balance to spend more time on these good things in the coming year.

6. Consider your window.  Your birth was the beginning of a window of time you were given to accomplish what you were put on this earth to do.   Are you spending your time wisely or are you getting sidetracked by all kinds of crap?  Here’s an idea for your tombstone:  “spent a lifetime getting sidetracked by all kinds of crap.”  Sound nice?  Instead, cut out the non-essential and open up some time to do things that bring you joy and get you closer to your goals.

7. Make It Count.  It matters.  Write this one down.  Write it down many times.  Post it up where you work, where you brush your teeth, where you keep your keys.  Make it your screensaver if you need to.  The most important thing, above all else, is to make it count.  What you do matters.  Make everything you do really count.

Over to you

What do you do to celebrate your birthday?  Do you allow others to make a fuss over you and play along in the fun?  Do you like to toot the ol’ birthday horn a little?


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