article by Meredith McKinnie
March marked a milestone. I turned 40. I remember my 30th birthday. I had a large, overly populated party at two locations. I felt high on life and anxious for a new decade. My twenties consisted of hard changes. My thirties brought positive life developments. I feel like my 40s are for me. And the unknown feels alluringly exciting. Birthdays are tricky in that we don’t know how or even if people want them recognized. As I’ve gotten older, I appreciate smaller gatherings, with one group conducive to conversation rather than random chatter bubbles that require my constant migration. Long gone are the days for social interactions that wear me out, especially when I am the honoree.
The actual day is big for me. I want all the texts and salutations. I want those closest to me to remember. Oddly, my husband has often missed my birthday. Being a coach, he is typically in season, and spring birthdays conflict with spring seasons. I was excited this year because for this sport, he is the head coach. He makes the schedule. His availability is not contingent on the whims of a superior. We don’t discuss his schedule well in advance. We arrange childcare and compare notes usually a week out. So, when a friend mentioned my birthday falling on the following Thursday, I saw panic in my husband’s eyes. He had forgotten. I knew it. My husband doesn’t let me down often, but when he does, I tend to milk it – shameless, but I am who I am.
I casually shook it off, changed the subject when he tried to address the issue. And get this, not only did he schedule a game on my birthday, but it was an away game, an hour from the school. Even if he rushed, I could expect his presence no earlier than 9 pm – after the girls have gone to bed and the day is essentially over. The morning of, my husband woke up early, tried to give me the attention normally reserved for a weekend, but I was irritated. I knew my birthday wouldn’t feel like one. I just wanted it to be over.
At ten am, I get an enthusiastic call from my husband. He had confirmed an earlier start time for the game. He was grasping at straws, but I could tell he was bothered by my disappointment. I carried on with my day, colleagues acknowledging the occasion, no doubt informed by Facebook (as we all are now). I started a typical afternoon at home alone with the girls, luring them to the backyard and curling up with my book of the moment. Suddenly, around 4 pm, my husband comes barreling in the door, motioning me to the front yard. I froze, as I could see something unexpected was happening and I hate surprises. I walked through the carport and immediately noticed the police lights bouncing off the neighbor’s windows. A long yellow bus was parked in front of my house, and my husband’s entire softball team was leaning out of the windows. He raised his arm and they launched into a Happy Birthday serenade. I stood awkwardly with my hands on my hips, not sure how to respond to these girls I barely knew. About the third line, I settled a smile on my face and just let the moment play out. My husband dug deep in the chest for a romantic gesture. He’d detoured the game route, police escort and all, to wish me Happy Birthday. As the head coach, he’d erred, but as the head coach, he still had power.
My husband made it home by 8 pm due to the earlier start time. I’d kept the girls awake, and we had cake and presents, and it felt like the birthday I’d imagined in my head. Though the celebration was small, it involved all my favorite people, relishing in the same conversation, in which I was the honoree. I know birthdays seem trivial as we age, but as I get older, I want to celebrate being alive. I want to smile around a table of loved ones who appreciate my presence. I want to make a big deal, on a small scale, about an occasion that always happens if we’re still around to appreciate it. It sounds complicated, and the dynamics will change every year, but I’m worth it. We all are. Make it a big deal; when in doubt, make it bigger than she ever imagined.