Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I Kind of Have a Thing About Birthdays

Mind-blowing right?  I'm like the first person you've ever met in the entire universe who gets pensive, neurotic, and sentimental surrounding her birthday.

But this is my first birthday during which I am keeping a blog, so I thought I would take some time to articulate my thoughts and experiences about the subject into words.

First off, I have a summer birthday, which in theory is awesome--no school, clear weather, banana ice cream (in my case at least).  But in terms of corralling people together to watch you blow out candles, the logistics are a bit more complicated.  During the school year when it's your birthday, even if you have no friends at all you can still bring in cupcakes and other kids will pretend to like you for the time they spend licking up the frosting.  And if you do have friends, they might come to school early and decorate your locker and then your emotional validation is displayed for the world to see.  In the summer, on the other hand, any social gathering must be planned and organized and RSVP'ed, which becomes complicated by the array of scheduled sports, sleepaway camps, and family vacations.

Which brings it to the second major reason that birthdays have always been somewhat angsty for me:  over roughly the first half of my life, my birthday coincided with the American Natural Hygiene Society conference.

No this was not a gathering of dentists--the American Natural Hygiene Society was the vegan organization that formed my family's diet and lifestyle.  My dad, raised a raw foodist, had been attending the conferences his entire life and my mom since she was 10 years old.  They met and fell in love there and when they divorced obsessively healthful eating was one of the few things they still agreed upon.  Along with my family, there were a gaggle of other kids who convened every year with their parents in whatever city the conferences took place; for a while, the venues shifted from city to city, but by the time I was in elementary school they were either in Fort Lauderdale or Washington, DC (I still bear a small grudge against Georgetown for the night a door ran over my big toe the night before my seventh birthday).  While they used to throw a joint celebration for all of the kids whose birthdays were in July, because my Dad was President of the ANHS for most of my childhood and sort of felt like some kind heiress, like the Paris Hilton of veganism.

So much banana ice cream...
But while there was a certain level of angst at having my birthday so disconnected from my day to day life, there was also a small relief that I never really had the responsibility of thinking what I would do on that day.  Once I got to high school, for various reasons conference attendance no longer was mandatory, and for the first time I actually had to think about where I would be spending my special day.  While for many years I was reassured with the presence of the same friends who would be there every year, I was now subject to the same scheduling issues that plagued other summer birthdays.  And because I had spent so long without much of a choice in the matter, I felt under particular pressure to make up for lost time.  While there were a handful of people that were usually around in high school, by the time I got to college I was moving around so much in college and grad school that every year would often include a completely different set of friends and settings.  I have enjoyed brunch in Williamsburg, partied with canvassers in LA, wandered farmers' markets in Jerusalem, gone swing dancing in Youngstown and chanted at the Bhakti Center.  This led to some wonderful memories, but also a nagging every year terror that people wouldn't show up or the plans wouldn't turn out perfectly.  My initial plan for my summer in LA was to take advantage of Disneyland's free admission on your birthday program, but decided to go to work instead because most of the people I would have wanted to see would be there.

Even this past Sunday night I kind of freaked out at Trader Joe's when I saw the weather forecast called for rain, putting the kibosh on plans for a casual picnic and I had to come up with a not-lame idea that wouldn't force my friends to spend a ton of money none of us have.  We're going to karaoke--it's likely going to be a ton of fun.  What most excites me is the opportunity to bring together friends from my different communities out here.  To integrate.

Integrate.  Perhaps that's what this has always been about--having people around me to share my milestones, thoughts and experiences.  Integrating the past divided between parents, interests, health conferences and finding a consistent core.  So as mark another birthday, to old friends and true, to old friends and new, I wish that good luck go with you--and happiness too.

Have a good one today, too.


  1. Integration is hard! How did Karaoke go??

  2. It was a lot of fun. The best part was so many people from different parts of my life out here arrived. I had people I met at the Kennedy Center, people I canvassed with, people from Rutgers, people from Trader Joe's. I felt very loved and blessed.