Birthdays were miserable affairs in my youth, and that carried over into my adulthood. For that reason, this year I want to try something different. I want to proclaim my birthday as something special. Something to celebrate.
Insight dawned as I realized that, aside from my children, I generally forget everyone’s birthdays. In an e-mail I told a friend, at first joking, that I forgot birthdays because of something psychologically traumatic from childhood. The second I wrote it, I realized it was true.
We didn’t often receive presents in my youth, and the occasional inexpensive gift only lasted for one or two bouts of play. We had a homemade cake, rarely decorated, never from a bakery or the flavor I wanted. My siblings sang because they were forced to, and their collective voices sounded like a lament of time sacrificed rather than of celebration.
When I was in kindergarten I longed for my own Barbie and finally got one when I was 13, handed to me unwrapped. My mother was terribly upset that I didn’t react with the joy she expected. Later, I took the unwanted doll out back, cut her hair, and may have ripped her limbs off.
But the trauma lies in snippets of one particularly bad time. No one was home, and I don’t even recall if anyone remembered that it was my birthday. I think I was about 6 or 7 and my brother raped me, but the violent images are darkly veiled and I can barely see them. As an adult, I dreaded my birthday because I’d find out every year how very unloved I felt, and I’m certain I associate these feelings with my traumatic childhood birthday memory.
I didn’t intend to be such a sad, serious adult, let alone on my “special” day, but oftentimes I don’t have the energy to push past traumatic memories and feelings. From my children, I may receive a phone call, text, or a rare card, and rarer still, a gift. But I don’t blame them. I take responsibility for putting out an invisible “leave me alone” vibe. My birthday mojo dwindles a bit more every year.
The thing is, how can my children celebrate me, when I don’t celebrate myself?
The next time a birthday rolls around for someone you care about, see how much of a difference it makes when you mail them a card, give a surprise phone call, or send them a warm tech message. (Flowers are always a welcome surprise!)