I have a very love-hate relationship with my birthday.
Of course I want to feel special and I do appreciate a good fussing-over. At the same time it makes me feel awkward and kind of embarrassed. I know it’s weird, I’m weird.
I blame “Sixteen Candles.”
John Hughes movies like that were HUGE when I was in high school and while they’ve definitely got some cringe-y moments that horrified us when we shared them with our kids, the teen angst transcends time and rings true, regardless of the decade.
“Sixteen Candles” came out two years before I turned 16. The basic plot involved everyone forgetting main character Samantha’s birthday. Turning 16 was/is a big deal, according to most movies and, well, life. And while I didn’t expect a surprise party or anything like that, I thought at least there would be a little more pageantry around the whole affair.
I’ve had birthday angst ever since.
Flash forward some decades and I’m on the cusp of… Well, I can’t quite bring myself to say the number even though I’ve officially been this old for a week now.
Obviously, with the country under lockdown and all, I knew it wouldn’t be splashy. Also, it fell on a Wednesday. Double suck. I feel awkward even talking about my birthday, but I feel like I must because I was so touched by those who went out of their way to make it special.
A steady stream of texts pinged on my phone. One friend surprised me with a loaf of my favorite bread. I got calls, but my family, well, they were largely silent. I mean, they did wish me HBD that morning. Otherwise, it was a typical weekday with everyone hunkered down in their rooms for school. Occasionally my husband would glance up at me as I walked past his office-away-from-the-office in the heart of the house.
It was gonna be “Sixteen Candles” all over again.
When a friend — who was in on the magic that happened later — texted to ask how my day was going, she received an answer that scrolled for several screens.
“Well, remember that “Brady Bunch” episode when all the kids trick Peter into thinking he’s going to get a surprise party but he’s really not because they want to teach him a lesson about eavesdropping and so he pops around every corner thinking something’s going to happen? Well, I feel like Peter — except I know better.”
In the afternoon, my husband broke away from the computer screen to say, “After lunch, I am going to…”
I held my breath.
“…go to Target and get a flyswatter.”
He did really come home with a flyswatter.
I can’t even tell you how I spent the afternoon, aside from slipping on a tiara and changing into a few different sequin dresses just to wear around the house because A) I am tired of grunging around in workout clothes and B) it was my stinkin’ birthday.
Then it was almost dinner and I was excited to try takeout tacos from a new place and plunge into the amazing-looking, raspberry-studded cake my mother-in-law must have spent at least two days making and my cell phone rang, so I went outside to graciously receive birthday wishes when the street exploded with horn honks.
I went out to the driveway and a steady stream of cars, horns blaring, cruised past.
My very own pandemic parade.
I laughed and cried at the same time.
My college bestie, a vet who NEVER gets out of work on time, moved up appointments all for a 20-second roll past our house. A friend who lives so far on the opposite end of town that she’s actually on the outskirts of Phoenix chugged past. Friends with jobs, lives, deadlines, plenty of other things to do, took a time-out to line up at 6 p.m. sharp for my quaranbration.
Later, I discovered that my husband and a friend spent days plotting. No. 3 blew up balloons in between Fortnite games and hid them beneath the huge pile of his clothes on his “second dresser” (aka a playroom chair) to string up later.
I got flowers and homemade sausage and my favorite lotion and gift cards and amazing carrot cake cupcakes and sangria and, gulp, even diamond earrings. But those are things, stuff. I think now, these days, when everyone feels like the rug’s been pulled out from under us, what could be more heartening than to discover, at a time when hugs and physical touch and standing less than 6 feet from someone are taboo, we can still feel love. That has to be the greatest gift of all.
Oh wait — scratch that. I did get one thing better: a roll of toilet paper attached to one of my birthday signs. We’re running low.