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It’s my party so I’ll…do what makes it special

Marking birthdays more than milestones.
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26, 53, 88...they all matter

It's my birthday, or it was my birthday depending on what day you are reading this. As I go through the day I know I will be asked, "Have you got any special plans?" It’s often what I ask others when I find out it’s their birthday.

I happened to be at the right place to get in on a party for a woman celebrating a milestone birthday. As we were enjoying cake and ice cream, the woman of the hour was asked what her favorite birthday memory might be. It prompted a conversation of traditions and customs and it made me think about my best birthday memories.

Being born in June it often allowed for outdoor parties--even a picnic in the park turning into a mad dash when a June blizzard forced us indoors.

As an elementary school student a few of my friends had birthdays in the same month. June was already exciting—field trips, track meets—and then several birthday parties to anticipate. On the day of a party we endured the agonizingly slow movement of the hands on the clock, but once the final bell rang the celebration could begin. I remember those June parties well; running through sprinklers, scavenger hunts in the backyard, roasting marshmallows over fires, pool parties and sleepovers.

As an adult my attitude toward the day changed a bit. It's not that I don't consider it to be special and fun--I do. But there always seems to be so much else going on as well, making the day about more than a birthday.

So when I got thinking about favorite birthday memories I realized most of them are from my childhood: like when I turned 6 and got the best bike in the whole world, or turning 7 and the dining room table was full of presents including the prettiest purple bathing suit that I couldn't wait to wear, or when I was 9 and we played amazing backyard games, or my first party after moving to a new school, and on it goes.

As an adult I don’t carry as many specific memories of the day. Then again, as children we were laser focused on it being our birthday. Yes, we had to do other things—like go to school—but the day was definitely all about the celebration to come. Everything was about the birthday girl or birthday boy.

It's the reason we got just as excited for the parties celebrating our friends. Their birthdays were big days in our lives, too. We were excited to be at their house, to guess what the cake might look like, and for them to open their presents. Their birthday was a big deal—and when it was our turn they made sure our birthday was a big deal, too.

The older we get the less likely we are to make that same deal of the day—until we reach one of those benchmark numbers. We don't want people to make a fuss, or spend money on something unnecessary. Maybe some don't want to acknowledge that another year has passed. But that is rather unfortunate, and perhaps even more reason to take a moment and celebrate.

I am constantly amused by how differently I view certain ages as life has moved along. I remember thinking people in their 40's seemed old, then those that were retired. Now I look at octogenarians who are always on the move and find myself saying, "She's only in her 80's, of course she can do all that!"

Life moves at an unrelenting pace so it's important to take a moment and stop to mark where we are at. It gives us a chance to consider where we've been, but more importantly, where we want to go and who is beside us as we do. That's what made those childhood birthdays so special. It was the people around us enjoying it every bit as much as we did.

Did I have special plans for today? Special to me, yes. That's the point. The best way to celebrate a birthday is to capture an element of life most meaningful to the one who is celebrating: adventure, whimsy, thankfulness, family, friends…not just on the milestone ones, but on each one as the calendar moves along as it always will.

Whether you will be 20, 48, 64, 83 or 99 this year, each birthday is a milestone. Whatever you want the day to look like is what will make it special. So let the party begin. That's my outlook.


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