Why I Love Birthdays

I turned 43 today. I know there is some societal expectation that women don’t talk about aging, but I’ve never subscribed to it. When I was 25, I assumed it was because no one complains about being young and that at some point I would hit an age when I would fall in line and start being cryptic. Well, I’m 43 and I haven’t hit it yet so maybe I won’t.

I hope I don’t.

Because I honestly love birthdays. Everyone’s birthdays, but especially mine. My birthday represents the ultimate reminder of persistence, a time for reflection and a slowed down moment to be connected with the people who matter to me. And those are all things that bring me great joy.

You see, I wasn’t supposed to make it through my first week of life, much less 43 years. I’ve shared my origin story before so I’ll simplify it now: I was born too early and too small in a time when technology was less sophisticated to care for premie babies. My grandfather looked at me and said, “I’ve shot rabbits bigger than that.” The doctor told my mother she was young and could have more children.

So, while I don’t remember my first birthday, I imagine that it was quite the celebration.

The simple act of making it to another birthday is the first gift I open each year. I am here, upright, with breath in my lungs and beats in my heart. A close friend lost his wife to cancer before she reached her 45th birthday. Another close friend is living with stage four cancer now. Somehow, I am here living in what I believe is my prime. I love being in my 40’s when I am still strong and vibrant and capable — despite a few more wrinkles and jiggles. I don’t think I would go back, even if I could.

My second gift is taking a moment for reflection, giving myself time to consider what the last year given me. This year, I watched my teenage daughter find her own way in high school and she let me join her on the journey; I can see the shimmering outline of our adult relationship in the way we acted last year, and there isn’t much cooler than that. As my husband and I watched other marriages struggle, we doubled down on each other — talking intentionally about what our relationship meant to us, traveling more and going on dates. At work, I leaned into my leadership role by taking on new challenges and building new relationships. And then there’s Too Much Mel — last birthday, I was just Mel.

And, if those two gifts aren’t enough, all day I will get messages from friends and family across the globe telling me “Happy Birthday!” Sure, cynics will say that a Facebook birthday wish isn’t real, but I disagree. At 10:26am on my birthday, 65 people had taken time out of their busy day to write something to me. Sure, Facebook makes it easy, and it only takes 15 seconds to type a “Happy Birthday” in the box, but it was time and time is precious to us all. I respond to every single message I get, smiling each time about the memories it brings to light. From cousins to kindergarten classmates to people I worked with three jobs ago, it all means something.

So, I’m 43. I may get presents or cards today or I may not. Whether I do or don’t doesn’t really matter because I already opened my three most important gifts: persistence, reflection and connection.

Let’s hope I get the same things again next year.

Home for the Holidays

When we moved away from our hometown three years ago, nothing changed more than our approach to holidays. For twelve years we took for granted our close proximity to family and our ability to be available for everything from impromtu birthday dinners to elaborate Easter egg hunts. We laughed at people who fought airports and highways, packing presents and pets in a weighted down minivan to get to family festivities.

We didn’t realize how good we had it.

When our kids were little we packed a ton into the 30-hours around Christmas. Without taking any vacation time at all we could host a Christmas Eve gathering, be in bed by 1:00am, wake-up and open presents with the kids by 9:00am, be showered and to my parents by 11:00am, pop over to my grandparents, swing home to drop off presents and let the dog out, go over to the in-laws and be home again — exhausted but happy — by 9:00pm. So much joy, so much family and so little inconvenience.

Moving changed that and in a heartbeat everything got harder. Alerting Santa to the change in delivery address. Dealing with pets. Taking vacation. Driving on crowded highways. Packing for a week. Wrapping presents. Cooking dishes. Buying an artificial Christmas tree for the first time since owning a house. I hadn’t thought Christmas had been easy before, but suddenly I knew better. It had been a cakewalk and I hadn’t appreciated it.

But even more than that, I took for granted the relaxed ease that come with geographic closeness. There’s an ability to just share space when you’re close that you lose when there are many miles between you. The everyday meals and everyday  stories that don’t feel special enough for a visit are fine when shared on any given Thursday across the dinner table. I remember with longing sharing a grilled chicken breast and microwaved potato with my grandfather on our everyday plates, talking with him about my day at work. I remember dropping the kids off at my mom’s for an overnight so my husband and I could go to see a movie, watching them toddle off for just another night at Nana’s. I remember sitting for an afternoon at my mother-in-law’s pool watching wet kids jump in and out, dripping on every towel. It wasn’t special then, it just was.

Those days are gone.

Now, when we are together every minute is on a clock, measured for value. Every moment is either greatness or wasted opportunity. I had a friend who had moved away from family once say that when you have fewer moments they are better moments because they are special. I understand that, but I’m not sure I agree. Maybe I am just being maudlin — reminded more than ever of relationships that are struggling and that I haven’t been able to cultivate — but it feels to me that the truly great relationships of my life are built on top of lots of regular moments shared. Not special events, but boring routine times when the comfort of just being allowed me to share my whole self with someone. Allowed them to say in return…

…yeah, I like who you are.

Being home for the holidays reminds me that I have fewer of those moments now with the people I love than I would like. It reminds me that I could do more to make the most of those moments. It reminds me that I am imperfect and I will, on occasion, waste those moments by playing Candy Crush or scrolling the neverending feed on Facebook. But, it also reminds me that it isn’t over. That every moment is an opportunity for a hug, a kind word, an unexpected visit or an out of nowhere message through Facebook. As long as I’m breathing I can make the most of moments.

So, what are you doing reading this? Go make a moment matter.