Birthday Presence

This is one of my favorite weeks of the year. The weather is starting to get warmer, spring is just around the corner, and most importantly (to me, of course), my birthday is mere days away. I have always loved celebrating my birthday. When I was younger, it was all about the parties and the presents and the cake. I was fortunate enough to have a nice celebration every year, sometimes more than one. Birthdays always meant dinner with the extended family at a restaurant of my choosing followed by mom's homemade birthday cake at home, and there was often a more kid-friendly party with my friends and classmates in the days following. I enjoyed having a day when all the attention was focused on me, and to my young mind there was nothing more magical than the excitement of being handed a wrapped present and unwrapping it to discover what goodies were waiting inside, just for me. 

 
   Spot, one of my most anticipated childhood presents.

Spot, one of my most anticipated childhood presents.

 

I am acutely aware of how lucky I am to have been able to have parties and gifts and other celebrations on my birthday, however. March has also been a month of my life that has seen more than its fair share of heartbreak and tragedy, and each year I am reminded again of just how fortunate I am. It started when I was five, and what I wanted more than presents, more than anything else in the world, was a sister. I got my wish just two days after my birthday, but ten days later I got a crash course on the concept of death when my baby sister went into the hospital for a heart surgery and never came back (the story of her life and death deserves a post of its own, something I will most likely be writing more about next week). My life was forever changed, although my parents doubled down on making sure my day was extra special in an attempt to make up for the weeks of heartache each year that inevitably followed. Tragedy struck again when my great-grandmother and namesake became gravely ill just days before I turned 18. She lived just long enough to see me, her oldest great-grandchild, reach adulthood before passing away the next day. This was followed by my grandfather's death several weeks before my twenty-fifth birthday, causing me to fly home for his memorial service immediately after my celebrations had finished, and last year the week and a half preceding my birthday saw both the unexpected death of one of my childhood friends and the less unexpected (but still heartwrenching) death of my favorite author. And these were just my personal losses. My fourteenth and twenty-second birthdays, respectively, saw the beginning of the Iraq War and the bombing of Libya, and last year my hometown was rocked by the March 6th police killing of Tony Robinson. As my mom posted on Facebook at the beginning of this month, "March. It's complicated."

 
   Holding my newborn sister, Sophie, two days after my 5th birthday. 

Holding my newborn sister, Sophie, two days after my 5th birthday. 

 

I don't mention all of this to start a pity party or to wallow in sadness, nor do I intend to claim any of the pain and sorrow of events not directly related to me as my own. But all of these events affected me deeply on a variety of levels, and they remind me of why it's important to take a day (or several) to celebrate being alive, and what better day than the day on which you were born? Besides, birthdays are a threshold, a crossing over from one year to the next, and dates like that seem to hold a special kind of magic. They're a day when anything seems possible. 

Now that I'm all grown up and have passed every milestone deemed exciting by society, my celebrations are less about parties and presents and more about experiences and making my presence known. For one thing, I don't really like getting stuff for stuff's sake (my apartment is cluttered enough already, thank you very much), and for another, I believe that adulthood means getting the opportunity to decide what exactly you want your birthday to look like without anyone else's opinions getting in the way. Over the past few years, my celebrations have taken the form of trips to the zoo, hopping between my favorite NYC bars, New Moon rituals with my witchier friends, concerts and, yes, parties. What can I say? Sometimes it's fun to get a bunch of people together to drink and eat and play games, and I have incredible friends who have been kind enough to offer up their apartment as a venue. I flew to DC to visit my best friend one year (and proudly donned a pair of plush panda ears after our trip to the National Smithsonian Zoo) and, after discovering his birthday was only five days before mine, talked my boyfriend into a vacation in California to celebrate our special days the first year we were dating. But whether I have the energy (and money) to spend a whole week traveling or simply spend the day doing things around town, I always make an attempt to do something that fulfills me and makes me happy.

   Me and my boyfriend on our birthday trip to California.

Me and my boyfriend on our birthday trip to California.

This year, I just want to take it easy and get out into nature. I've picked a state park, doublechecked the driving distance with my boyfriend (it's doable), and intend to spend the day hiking and enjoying the (probably chilly) fresh air, giving my energy a much needed recharging. It's a lower-key celebration than I've had in a few years, but it's exactly what I need right now. And as far as I'm concerned, that's what a birthday should be about. Not parties or presents or fretting over getting one year older, but taking a day for yourself, a day to focus on what YOU need and want, a day for you to feel special, whatever that may mean for you. It could be a gigantic party with all your friends or a visit to your favorite museum or even a day to work on your passion projects uninterrupted. But whatever it is, I think it should be something special to you. 

So happy birthday to me! As in years past I will continue to hold all the losses this month contains in my heart and celebrate one more year of this incredible, complicated, heartbreaking, exhilarating adventure we call life. And whether you have something to celebrate this week or not, give yourself permission to put your needs and desires first once in a while. Believe me, you've earned it. 

 
   Make your presence known. Birthday Anna and Kyle the Birthday Panda command you!

Make your presence known. Birthday Anna and Kyle the Birthday Panda command you!