Sunday, August 27, 2006

Confessions of a Recovering Birthday Addict

No one has been able to crack the mystery of why I tear up when anyone sings Happy Birthday.

When I was little, I would cry every time the candles were lit, the lights dimmed and the song sung. It made no difference whether it was my birthday or someone else's. And I have no idea whether they were tears of fright or sadness.

Tomorrow I'm going to scan in one of the pictures my family has taken of me crying to the song. Judging by the candles on the cake, it was my sister's 10th birthday, which would make me 3.

My brother (the one who wants to dig up his dead dogs now) is pointing at me with a smirk on his face. My sister is smiling so hard her eyes are closed. I am holding my head in my hands, mouth awail, nestling into my brother, who I probably thought would give me comfort. (How naive!)

This penchant is completely at odds with my feelings about birthdays. I LOVE my birthday. Until our most recent union contract, we were able to take our birthdays off from work, and get paid for it! Now that's a cool perk.

It's not just my birthday -- if I find anyone at work is having a birthday, all day I'll be saying things like, "Guess who's having a birthdaaaaaaay?" in a truly annoying fashion.

Last year, when I was leaving work the day before my birthday, I said to my boss, "Now, tomorrow is my birthday, so don't forget to wish me happy birthday!" "I'll forget," he said. And he did.

This year, however, my attitude has inexplicably changed. Well, maybe not inexplicably -- I'll be turning 39, for one thing. And even though I've read that "60 is the new 40," which would have me turning 19, I'm bummed about it.

When TV talk show host Mike Douglas died recently (if you're saying to yourself right now, "I didn't know Michael Douglas died!" you're probably too young to be reading this blog), the question came up at our news meeting of how important a story it was. Everyone (and most of these folks are older than I) began shaking their heads dismissively. I couldn't help myself. "Oh, man!" I burst out. "I grew up with Mike Douglas! Him, Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore ..."

For the rest of the day, my colleagues kept calling me old (like I said, most of them are older than I, so I think they were enjoying a little bit of Schadenfreude at the thought of me hurtling toward my 40s.)

The other factor that I'm sure is at play is the estrangement of two brothers and a sister following my father's death.

The one in the picture below is not among them. This is a photo of us on my 6th birthday. (Don't you love the mumu? My Aunt Lib, the traveler in the family, had brought one back from Hawaii for each of us.) I'm sure this picture was staged after I had opened the gift, and I am displaying a typically goofy look. And D. is assuming the role she wouldn't be able to shake for the rest of her life: being my tireless, enthusiastic provider -- of gifts, of money, advice, support, love, etc. That was a good birthday -- just days before I would start first grade. It's all been downhill from there. (I'm kidding! I'm not that pathetic.)

P.S. Regardez les balons, preparing to pounce on my unsuspecting mumu-clad, bebraided, uneven-banged 6-year-old goofy self.


Naynayfazz said...

I think that picture of you is adorable! I love the mumu and the goofy face is great too. I love birthdays too. I always let everyone know it is my birthday whether they like it or not. :)

Cakesy's Mama said...

And another thing! Even I, who pride myself on my extreme youth (OK I'm 35) know about Michael Douglas. I used to watch his show faithfully. I learned my little trick for closing plastic bread bags so that they are airtight and you DON'T need a twist-tie from Michael Douglas's show. I was sad to hear he'd died, and that's when I realized for the first time that the show I remembered growing up wasn't hosted by the same Michael Douglas who is married to Catherine Zeta Jones. Maybe I am too young...

Callimachus said...

I have the same reaction, but I know why. We had a family ceramic birthday cake plate with a wind-up music box inside that played the happy birthday song. And after a couple of times through, the chimes would start to wind down, get slower. It's such a sad tune when played slow, but it was the idea of the ending, long, unhappy, beautiful music that brought me to tears. It hung on like a dying thing till the last note, some random note from the unfinished melody. It was so unlike a happy birthday, so much like the opposite.

I have that plate now, but the music doesn't work anymore. At least I don't think so.

Stella Haven said...

Calli: That post almost made me cry. Thank god I don't have that plate. And thank god for you the music doesn't work anymore. xoxox