Unlike most of the population under the age of 25, I am not entirely thrilled when my birthday rolls around. For me, the lack of enthusiasm does not stem from being a year older and all the physical changes another 365 days bring. It is more about taking stock of what has transpired throughout those 365 days. And sometimes, that can be disappointing. And in many years past, it seemed that way.
This year, the review was truly unexpected.
Birthdays are milestones. For children, it means getting a year closer to some seemingly unattainable goal. Whether it is starting school, finishing school, getting a driver's license, being of legal age or finally being able to have a drink, every passing year comes with celebration of another milestone reached. But as we get older, the milestones come in goals attained, whether personal or professional, that have little to do with the calendar and everything to do with effort, consistency and persistence. And every birthday that comes and goes without reaching a goal is one that reminds us of where we are falling short.
When I was very little, birthdays seemed like the most fabulous thing ever. A day all about you. Presents, cake, a new outfit, pictures taken to document the passage of time. As I grew older and understood the realities of the situations that surrounded me, the anniversary of my birth was something I shied away from, mostly because I did not want the attention, the hoopla. I wanted to blend into the background. And what had once been a big deal wasn't a big deal anymore.
And for as long as I remember, it has rained on my birthday. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot; but always, rain.
And then, I started dating my husband. And he is of the firm belief that EVERYBODY deserves a day that is all about them. And every year, for the last 19 birthdays, he has always made sure that it has been so. Whether it is dinner out at a special place, a quiet celebration at home or a short beach-y trip, he has made some sort of production.
And all throughout these last 19 years, I have squirmed uncomfortably at the introductory notes of Happy Birthday.
And always carried an umbrella.
That is not to say that birthdays are not a big deal at our house. The rules that I have applied to myself do not apply to the boys, or anyone else, for that matter. Their days are extraordinary. The fanfare, the lead up, the culmination. I relish in planning and celebrating the lives that are so enmeshed in my own, the ones that truly make my days brighter, happier. Celebrating the people whom I so love.
Which leads me to today.
It is impossible to ignore a birthday when your children reach a certain age. They pull you out of your comfort zone, urge you to BE the person you want them to think you are. And when you are a teacher and your students catch wind of when your big day is, they go into detective mode.
Today was my birthday.
On a Monday.
During the last week of school.
I awoke next to the love of my life and in between us, the not-quite-as-small body of my youngest. My husband murmured a loving, "Happy birthday" and began the week. My older boys came in, sheepishly after they awoke to wish me a happy birthday. My youngest, with fire in his eyes, declared I needed "a froggie birthday cake for you's birthday, Momma."
The common dread of this day began to fade as quickly as raindrops on a hot roof.
This year, I was fortunate enough to be at school with my wonderful students, uplifted by their joy that I am here, I am their teacher, and that I am loved by them all.
This morning, last year's students called the media center, asked to speak to me, and serenaded me with a fabulous rendition of Happy Birthday. Not to be outmatched or out-sung, this year's group was in cahoots with my co-teacher, who staged a surprise party, complete with cake. My students wrote me the most beautiful letters any teacher could receive; ones that I will cherish for a lifetime.
Coworkers and electronic greetings buzzed around for the duration of the day. And I did not wince once.
The evening was rounded out by an invitation-only awards ceremony, where my sons were honored for their academic achievements. And again, I was surrounded by former, current and soon-to-be students, all full of happiness.
But more than all of that, what has made the biggest difference in today is a small change within myself that began a couple of years ago.
The small realization that we are given a certain amount of time on this Earth. We can choose to make it count, or count it down.
For a long time, I was counting down. Not in horrid, dark ways.
But in ways that made me sad. That kept me from the happiness that is mine for the taking.
And then one day, I woke up. Literally and figuratively.
And since then, I try my best to make the days count.
In my home. With my family. With my friends, old and new. With my students.
Within my heart.
I have let go of fear, challenged myself in ways I never dreamed possible, and in many occasions, put on my big girl panties and spoken up for what is right.
Because that's what it takes to make the days count.
So, although thirty seven is not exactly a landmark "age" birthday, it is extremely significant.
In many ways.
But, the one that struck me the hardest was that even though torrential rain was predicted for today, not a single drop fell.
Even though I had my umbrella.
How's that for breaking with tradition?