My most memorable childhood birthday could be a case study for why some people need therapy. My mother’s baby died during childbirth a few weeks before my 8th birthday, so my gift was a big doll with all the clothes that had been intended for my dead baby sister. There weren’t any inflated jumping castles or face-painting clowns at this party. Just my mother, weeping in the corner.
I don’t have any fond recollection of any other birthdays. In my family, early September was the time for going back to school and working on the farm’s potato harvest, not for invading the house with rambunctious kids and messy cake. Birthdays were just another day. Suck it up, kid, and eat your spuds.
After I became an adult, I beat the birthday blues by planning my own parties. My 20th involved a huge celebration with sorority sisters at the University of Idaho, complete with midnight serenading at fraternities until someone called the cops. I was in my poverty stage on my 30th birthday, so I gathered my infant son and two-year-old daughter into the kitchen and we made gooey cupcakes from a cheap mix. I worked several jobs to get into the middle-class bracket so for my 40th I hired a choir to sing my favorite Broadway musical songs. For my 50th, dedicated work and good luck allowed me to schedule a cooking tour of Tuscany, Italy. And, for my 60th, I got married wearing a linen toga for an ancient wedding ceremony on the Greek Island of Paros. No dead babies were associated with any of these celebrations.
I loved planning birthday parties for my children. My daughter was born during the last week of March, so we always organized vacation trips during Spring Break and she assumed everyone was celebrating just for her. One of the best parties for my son was when his sister hid in a large cardboard refrigerator box and clipped various toys to the end of a fishing pole for the other children as they fished for mysterious prizes. Years later, my son finally asked why his sister’s birthdays included Disneyland and his parties only offered old boxes.
It’s time again for my birthday and the coming party will be tame compared to previous festivities. I’ll still have live music, an eclectic group of gregarious guests, and plenty of food and drinks, but we’ll probably turn out the lights before midnight. After this many trips around the sun, the best parties are at home. My eyesight is fading, the legs are weary, and the raucous dancing has slowed to a boring two-step sway with Studley. But, it’s my birthday and I’ll sigh if I want to. (I cringe about ending a sentence with a preposition, but that one worked.) So, uncork a new bottle, raise the glasses, and toast another birthday. I’m so immensely blessed to live this long and celebrate the splendid occasion with my sweetheart, family, and assorted friends. And I do it for that sad little girl who always wanted a fun birthday.
Tips for Planning and Surviving Your Own Midlife Birthday Party:
1. Keep it simple. I’m preparing a meatball bar with various sauces, some homemade dips with chips, fruit bowls, and cheese plates. I bartered some of my books in exchange for homemade cupcakes.
2. No one cares if the napkins don’t match the plates, and it’s okay to use paper plates if you have invited more than 12 friends. If anyone complains, remove them from the list for the next party.
3. After the first two rounds of drinks, hide the good stuff. They’ll never know.
4. Live music is nice. Invite some high school kids who need cash but won’t play trash that makes your ears bleed. For my party, I invited a wonderful singer who brings her own keyboard and plays show tunes from music displayed on her IPad. I requested my favorite songs in advance because it’s my party.
5. Make sure to visit with every guest, and for added fun, sit the executive banker next to the old hippie. Monitor the situation to prevent any arguments and then enjoy the curious fellowship. If you want to ruin the party, mention politics or religion.
6. After the last guest goes home, turn out the lights to hide the mess and crawl into bed with your living birthday present. Another year brings another reason to celebrate being alive. Enjoy and be grateful.
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