By Laura Moore
I'm going to throw that out on the table right now.
For a good many years, I celebrated my birthday for no less than a week, going to dinner with my family on one night and then meeting up with friends during all of the other nights. I scheduled trips to Boston, New York and Miami for the big birthday years and on the smaller birthday years, I filled my evenings with dinners and dancing and shows.
The first year my husband and I started dating, I looked forward to my big day for an entire month. As the plans trickled in, I updated him each time we spoke.
"We're going to dinner with my parents and my brother this night," I said, "and then Megan is getting people together on this night and then Anna might come down for the weekend, but she won't be here Friday, so we don't have anything on Friday," I remember saying, baiting him, hoping he'd jump in and ask me to do something with him. But instead, he said it all sounded good and that he was looking forward to it. Then he moved on to the next thing.
That Thursday, I finally decided to flat out ask him if he wanted to go to dinner on Friday. He was happy to go, of course, but I pouted the entire evening: throughout dinner and all the way back to my patio. In an effort to fill an awkward silence that enveloped us as we sat outside and watched people hobble through the Short North, J started talking about throwing a birthday party for his best friend. The minute he uttered those words, I burst into tears, the only tears I have ever shed on account of him.
"What's wrong?" he asked, baffled, as if he zoned out during the tragic scene in a movie and tuned back in to see an aftermath that made no sense.
Through my tears, I proceeded to explain how much I love my birthday, and how hurt I was that he was so focused on his best friend's birthday that he didn't even mention mine.
"I was hoping we could hang out one of these nights," I said indignantly. "People kept calling to schedule things and I kept put them off as long as I could to save time for you, but you never asked. I had to ask you out for my birthday."
"You kept telling me how busy you were. You mentioned something almost every night so I figured you just wanted to go out with a group. I didn't think you wanted dinner with just me," he said, and he genuinely felt terrible.
So did I.
Before he explained himself, I didn't think for one minute about how my flurry of plans would sound to him. I figured that the more I told him, the more he'd feel pressure to ask, to schedule, to get something into the books before all the dates were full. But he just figured I wanted a lot of loud nights filled with festivities and cake.
For the next thirty minutes, we got it all out on the table, which--if I'm being honest--means I babbled and bubbled and managed to pour out a bucket of emotion regarding my adoration of birthdays. "It's the one day a year that belongs to me, just me," I remember saying, "and with each passing year, I think about all of the changes and moments that happened, and each time I meet up with the people I care about, each time I blow out those candles, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be alive with people I love so much."
From that day forward, J bent over backwards to remember my birthday. And knowing how much tiny moments meant to me, he also bent over backwards for anniversaries and our engagement and for other moments, other bends of the road, that proved to me time and time again that he cared, that he would be there for the milestones, that he was and would always be present for each reminder we got that life was beautiful.
And now, five years after my birthday meltdown, he and I will be sitting in front of a cake lit with candles that belong to neither of us and both of us all at once. In a few days, we will be sitting with our family, celebrating a milestone filled with more emotion than I know how to untangle right now. In a few days, our son will turn one, and for the first time in his entire life, he will have earned an age in years rather than days or weeks or months.
"So how are you feeling about his first birthday?" people keep asking me. "Are you sad or excited?"
"I don't know," I keep saying back, and I don't.
"Some of the girls in my mom group have talked about crying for days and I feel a little guilty because I haven't wanted to cry. I probably feel more excited that we all made it, but part of me is also in shock. I can't believe we're here, that he's actually growing and learning and becoming this awesome human being. It's kind of overwhelming when I think about it."
The person invariably smiles and asks about the decorations.
"He loves flying and his favorite color is blue," I say, explaining the details of the birthday banner my mother is stitching together, the airplane pigs in a blanket I'll be making the morning of the party, the "in flight" goodie bags my mother-in-law is putting together, and the airplane cake my mom and I will bake and ice and decorate on Thursday evening.
The conversation twirls away after that, down other roads laced with comments about the weather and the news and The Ohio State Buckeyes winning the national championship, but my mind stays fixed on airplanes, on my little guy, on my tiny bundle of energy, joy and wonder who grew inside my belly for ten months and then came roaring onto the scene by surprise. The boy who picked a date no one expected, and then owned it like a champion pressing through the finish line in record time, yelling and glowing like an angel, giving us the best surprise a year of waiting could ever produce.
My mind stays fixed on a flurry of indecipherable emotion and anticipation. I look at pictures and I can hardly recognize him in those first few days when his eyes were swollen slits tucked between two plump cheeks, and his sweet mouth pinched together into perfect little arcs across his face. As I flip through screens of pictures, and days give way to new days, his smile blossoms through the lens and I can see him there, his personality emerging, his sense of self growing like his arms and his legs and his head. With each passing picture, I see more of him: lifting up, rolling, sitting, standing, walking, shaking his hands and squealing with unbounded joy.
He will be one year old.
He will have an entire twelve months behind him, 365 days of working on milestones, 525,600 minutes of becoming him.
In a few short days, he will have arrived at HIS day--the day that belongs to him and only him--although for some reason, it feels like it also belongs to us. And as I stop to think of it, as I reflect back and relish his growth and take pure pleasure in all of the possibilities that await him, I realize I've been wrong about birthdays all along.
"It's the one day a year that belongs to me, just me," I said to my husband in the midst of my meltdown.
But those words weren't really true.
Now that I have little Z, I realize that my birthday was never just my day. My birthday belonged to my parents who dreamt of me, who gave birth to me, who nourished me, who nurtured me, who guided me along. My birthday belonged to each of the people I wanted to see, each person around the table who held me up and filled me up. It belonged to the people who mattered, the people who were there, year after year, the people who loved me even when I wasn't old enough to love them back.
And maybe that was why I loved my birthday so much. Maybe all along, it had nothing to do with the day being mine.
The moment I realized that, I felt some of the fog lift. And it didn't make me sad--it didn't make me feel like my day was any less special--it made me feel full, complete, like I was an essential cog inside a really special wheel.
It made me feel...loved.
And so while I still don't know how to untangle my emotions about my son's first birthday, I do know one thing. When he sits in front of his cake, even if he doesn't have a clue why we're all cheering for him and kissing him and showering him with balloons and treats, I want him to feel as full as I feel right now. I want him to feel loved, to feel like he makes us complete...because he does.