Today is my birthday. This was very significant. Was. As you get older, you find that it’s often just a day like any other. The realities of the world are going to interfere, whether you want them to or not. It’s a cold, hard realization when you discover that most of the world doesn’t care (you already knew this deep down, but rarely got slapped in the face by it until adulthood), and it’s up to each of us to come to terms with this. Our birthdays are just regular days, and sometimes they won’t be particularly special or wonderful. Sometimes they will be terrible. Most of us have too many of them to bat 1.000.
It wasn’t always this way for me, of course. I remember my birthday as a child as being magical and full of wonder. Getting my General Lee tricycle was a high point. As was the pool party that one year. And a bicycle another year (though that bicycle had a weird design to it that kind of made it look like a girl’s bike and I was always a little too sensitive about that in the ensuing months/years). The friends, the family, the food, the gifts. And best of all, my birthday was in the summer, which meant I never had to go to school on my birthday ever.
What more could any kid want?
Growing up took the luster off some, but really I’m just quibbling here. I remember getting toys I was too old for, being made to feel aware of that, and the disappointment and shame that followed. I also remember getting into the odd argument with a friend or relative, and while those things always got patched up later, they did put a damper on the festivities.
One year, my dad put a zip line up in the backyard. For someone who had just seen (and obsessed over) Batman (1989 version), I think this might have been the greatest gift imaginable. He could have bought the cheap-looking plastic one I pointed out in the catalog (yes there was a catalog that had a zip line in it — I am not sure how or why my parents would let such a catalog into my dirty little fingers), but he decided instead to build one himself. I rolled my eyes at this at first, as he often would default to the home-built option over the store-bought, and the two often didn’t resemble one another, sort of defeating the purpose. My mom did the same thing, sewing up outfits for some of my toys, rather than buy me the toy with the different outfit.
As a new parent, I do not know where they found the time (though I do look forward to spoiling my child on her birthday as best as I can).
What I do know is that these acts are much more appreciated by adult Dave rather than kid Dave. But regardless of the relative merits of making things at home versus buying them at the store, the zip line built from scratch was a tremendous success.* Sturdy, dependable, and most importantly of all, absurdly fast. We’d set up barriers on top of saw horses and chairs and trash cans, many of them of the cardboard box variety, and joyfully kick the shit out of them as we zipped by. The Batman theme was embraced enthusiastically, and I put my mediocre art skills to good use, drawing and coloring various Batman characters on the sides of the various pieces of cardboard. It was the most gratifying kind of experience to fly through the air on that zip line, kicking the Joker in the face as you barreled toward the finish line, a willow tree you often plowed right into if you didn’t bail from the device in time.
* It WAS a tremendous success until the power company eventually noticed it attached to the city light post and took offense to that, cutting the wire. This would have devastated me had I not already grown too big for it in the interim. At least we got a couple of years of delirious fun out of it.
Adult birthdays just aren’t as much fun as that. How can they be? You’re not the center of someone’s universe the same way you are as a kid.
Well, not exactly.
Adulthood IS different, and it IS less fun, but you can still be the center of someone’s universe. It just doesn’t need to center around your birthday.
Six years ago today I met in person for the first time the love of my life. The story surrounding this meeting is pretty great, as first meeting stories often are. But the details, such as they are, have taken on a more mythical quality as the years have passed. To hear my lovely wife tell it today, I hated her on sight and it was a complete miracle that a second date even happened. I do not remember things quite the same way, but I do know we had lunch (Mexican food), and that it was my birthday (which meant she felt obligated to buy me a gift — a light-up margarita glass).
I don’t talk much when nervous. She talks a lot when nervous. So the first date consisted of her talking the whole time, and me mostly nodding politely.
There are other details. Regardless, it was one of the seminal days of my life, meeting my future wife, the most important person on the Earth (to me, anyway). And so to me, this day, my birthday, has become something else entirely. As I have gotten older and the luster has faded from all of the kiddie celebrations of years’ past (though I will always remember and cherish those days and my parents’ efforts), a new kind of celebration has taken hold in my heart. This day IS important to me, though not in the way it once was. And I do not tell her enough, and I am sometimes a stubborn ass who doesn’t listen, but I’m telling her now:
I love you, Caiti. Thank you so much for the past six years. I can’t wait to see what the next 60 bring. Happy first date anniversary.