Congratulations to me! I didn’t die this year! Now give me presents.
Not a sentimental way to view a birthday, I know, but it sounds slightly better than celebrating the fact that my mother finally got tired of not being able to see her feet and had the doctor slice me out.
Where’s the excitement, you ask? What happened to a sense of lightheartedness and fun on a birthday?
They’re gone with the bike streamers, million-plus stuffed animal collection and ability to be charged as a minor for most crimes.
In short, I’m an adult, and birthdays suck when you’re a grown-up.
When you’re a kid there is no sweeter day than one celebrating your birth. You get a cake shaped like your favorite or most desperately longed-for possession. The dinner menu consists of whatever you want, no matter who may be skeptical or downright repulsed by it (peanut butter and chicken? Bon appetite). And best of all, you are treated as the most important person in the world. No one slights you, no one forgets you, no one expects you to clean up after yourself, finish your quarterly report or pay the electric bill.
Essentially, the whole day is designed to make you so excited you pee your pants.
No so for an adult.
Oh, you may get a fancy gourmet cake, but the only way it won’t be square, rectangular or round is if it’s put in the bottom of a heavy grocery bag. After all, how could you make a cake representing adult desires like an upturn in the stock market, lower cholesterol or thinner thighs?
That special golden child status the birthday boy or girl used to enjoy has evaporated. “It’s my birthday” are no longer the code words necessary to be the center of attention and adulation. As you get older the only special reactions that phrase garners are jokes about one’s spatial relationship to hills or litanies about what physical ailments you can expect to endure in your newly elevated age bracket.
I’m up to lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and am quickly closing in on heartburn. Yippee.
Birthday presents lose their luster as you age, as well. When you’re a kid (unless you’re ridiculously spoiled) most presents you get are like cosmic alignments of the stars on your behalf. Since you can’t go out and buy that new bike or video game system your heart is yearning for, it’s a miracle akin to Soviet disarmament when it shows up beneath the violently shirked wrapping paper.
As an adult, presents tend to be measured in usefulness rather than spectacularness (especially if the giver is a guy). Kitchen gadgets replace toys. “Fun” is no longer a valid answer to, “What’s that for?”
Useful gifts are great when you first start getting them around 18 or 20 because you’re out on your own for the first time and don’t have two cinder blocks to your name, much less a salad spinner. For one of my college birthdays my parents gave me a chair. If they’d done that a few years before I would have pressed charges of child abuse by birthday gift neglect. But after flattening my butt on dorm-issue furniture all semester, that chair catapulted to favorite gift status rivaling the Year of the Cabbage Patch Doll. (Before the Tickle Me Elmo craze, there was the Great Cabbage Patch Shortage of ‘85. I still don’t know who Mom had to off to get me one that year.)
As you get older, whatever gifts you’re given are usually things you could buy for yourself if you really wanted to. That’s where the phrase, “it’s the thought that counts” comes into play. Since the financial aspect of a gift becomes less important, the sentimental value rises the element that shows the giver considered your tastes , your interests, your dreams, or at the very least your allergies.
One gender doesn’t seem able to grasp this concept, though the same one that seems to think giving someone a card (which may or may not be signed) is all that’s required to celebrate a holiday.
I suppose some women out there may object to this generalization.
“My husband/boyfriend always gets me gifts that are heartfelt, touching and/or at least easily returnable,” they may say.
And I suppose he willingly turns off the football game to help you decide which spoon rest better compliments your new dish towels, right? And when he burps, it causes a chemical reaction in his brain that makes him want to clean the toilet?
How lovely for you.
For the rest of us, it’s square cakes and kitchen gadgets. Not much to get excited about.
But I suppose that’s a good thing. Along with losing the spectacular gifts, custom-made desserts and special golden status as you age, that peeing your pants thing is straight out.
Jenny Neyman is the city editor at the Clarion.
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