I ordered a birthday cake for myself this year; I have never ordered a cake for myself. Ever. The cake was in the house less than five minutes before I cut into it. One of the perks of being an adult is that no one dares to say “wait until after presents are open, or your guests are done eating, or Nanny is done in the bathroom, before we cut your cake.” I’ve finally learned it’s okay to celebrate myself.
My long-standing birthday issues begin with the fact that I have no memory or photographic proof of either of my parents’ presence during any childhood birthday celebrations. Their absences cast an early pall over how I viewed my birthday. They had left me to live with my grandparents as a toddler, and I felt the absence of my mother very deeply. I felt unworthy of her love and attention especially sitting in front of candles wishing she would take me to live with her again. A few awful incidents, such as the birthday when a fist fight between a neighbor and my grandfather broke out on our front lawn, the result of said neighbor’s kid hitting me (likely by accident), added to the stack of perceived stigmas created by my birth or celebrations thereof. I often develop situational depression in the days leading up to my special day. I love birthday parties but feel guilty about planning them and slighted if everyone doesn’t attend.
One year my mother chose my birthday as a wedding day (I think it was marriage six of eight). It made perfect sense that my grandparents would choose to attend their daughter’s wedding over my party (I was in my 20s by this time), but I’m still kind of bitter about that choice. Maybe because I wasn’t invited.
There are a few good birthday memories, including the pink champagne cake that my grandmother bought for me many times. I still have the June Angel cake top. Several teen birthdays were celebrated in style with my best girlfriend and our semi-annual double-birthday parties. One year we designed and printed invitations and made our own checkerboard cake.
Things started turning around, and I started to heal the year I celebrated my 50th birthday. It was the same year I had finally landed a full-time tenure-track college teaching job. I was going to be an honest-to-goodness English Professor. Facebook also boosted my birthday moral. Really. When dozens and dozens of my virtual friends wish me a happy birthday, it’s kind of hard to remain grumpy about it.
I am now claiming an entire week to celebrate myself. I am enjoying my locally baked champagne cake and feeling pretty darned good. Happy even.
Happy Birthday to me.