I'm going to be an aunt (soon!) and I've been getting high a lot more lately and somehow these two things converged on birthdays and family and I realized that birthdays are a celebration of a new person joining the family and
I think to fully appreciate how novel this is you have to understand how much I've always (always!) struggled with what my birthday meant, exactly. I have a weird relationship with birthdays, my own especially. It's never felt entirely healthy. The weirdness isn't necessarily related to aging (though truthfully I do try to hide my age from co-workers and professional people now because other people's ageism isn't something I want to have to deal with). I am nebulous number of years old!
I mean, you can celebrate a birthday without a number. The number has never been that important to me. I usually tell myself that I'm older than I actually am. I've done this since I was 8 or 9, at least, if not earlier. This is mostly because I was the second child and there's always your older sibling there, doing the things that you're 'not old enough' for yet. It's so easy to lie to yourself, to say that you're older. When I was 25, I told myself I was 27. At 28 I was already 30. Now I'm 30 for real, in clock time, and I don't even know what age is any more. I know I'm young, but not as young as I used to be.
No, my problem with birthdays was always with what it meant, exactly. Why it was special. Was I special? Did it make me a special person that day? But why? I knew what time I was born, and one year, in 3rd grade, waited with anticipation for the clock to hit the time (13:13). When the moment arrived, I stood up on my chair and announced it's my birthday!
My teacher told me to sit down.
Some people wear crowns on their birthdays and have whole weeks where they treat themselves to cake and self-indulgence. As I've gotten older, I hide my birthday now. Jealously guarding the actual date and time like a well-kept secret that I secretly wish someone else would also remember.
One year, in college, I opened up a bar tab for a bunch of friends and paid for everyone to get drunk at my expense at a fancy cocktail place in downtown Austin. Being small-time wealthy for a college student was fun because I could do things like that but in terms of meaning, it didn't mean anything. I haven't done it again.
What is a birthday? Why do we celebrate them? In America, the land of the individual, they seem, at least in the communities I grew up on, focused on the individual. A celebration of their existence. But now, that my sister is pregnant and I'm about to see a birthday happen, in almost real-time, I've realized that birthdays aren't about the individual. They don't make sense as an individual's celebration, because it isn't something for you, personally, to celebrate. It's a celebration of the day that you became family. That you gained a family, that a family welcomed a new member.
Honestly, I'd never really understood wedding celebrations before now either. But it makes sense. There's only a few times that a family gains a new member. Families, for better or worse, really are secret societies with very strict member requirements. Birthdays are your initiation into the clan, so are weddings. I see people talk a lot about how family is the friends that you make and the community that you build, and I do believe that's true but how do you celebrate 'births' in that family? Do you? You probably do, but just not in a way that any one explicitly recognizes. Do you change your birthdate, when you create a new family?
So why celebrate your birthday with friends, when the real celebration should be with your family? Maybe that's how we bridge the gap between birth family and made family -- we celebrate our birthdate with the people that we see as our present family. And that is special, you know.
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