Tomorrow is my daughter’s birthday and it’s the first time in several years that we won’t be able to celebrate in person. So I just did the most ridiculous thing… spent $75 to ship two loaves of sourdough bread from her favorite local bakery overnight so that she can have it tomorrow to toast in the early birthday present toaster oven I gave to her several weeks ago for her new apartment.
Why would I do this? I could have given her six months of Panera for the price of shipping two loaves of bread. Besides the fact that I wanted her to have a taste of home on her day, I did it because I believe that it is important for everyone to have a moment once a year when life’s mundane obligations stop and you get to feel like a prince or princess, where magic happens and you are surrounded by your people-in-waiting to attend to your every whim. With the nonstop stressors and burdens of life, it’s amazing how refreshing a one-day respite can be when everyone takes care of you.
Sure, birthday gifts are fun, but for me, birthdays are really an opportunity to pause on both sides. The birthday person gets a guilt-free day off from at least some of his/her obligations (yes, workdays do tend to get in the way of the day-off thing). But equally important is the opportunity for everyone else to reflect on the specialness of the birthday person…to appreciate what it’s like when parents or spouses aren’t handling the zillion things they do every other day and to reflect on how grateful they are to have that person in their lives.
My family has been amazing at understanding my view of birthdays. When our girls were young, my husband told them that when it is Mom’s birthday, their response is, “Of course, Mom. Right away, Mom. I love you,” to whatever I ask. And no surprise, on my husband’s special day, we really turn on the jets to make him know how loved and honored he is—we even made him a crown and cape so that he could truly be king for the day on his 40th birthday.
But it is not all one-sided—the girls get their “sure, Sweetheart” days, when whatever they ask for [within reason] is granted. By “whatever,” I mean, “Can you scratch my back? Can we have homemade ice cream and fresh whipped cream for dessert?” Not requests like, “Can I stay out until three in the morning?” or “Can I get a pair of crazy stupid expensive shoes?”
For people-pleasers of all genders, this is super-important because people-pleasers generally are not good at speaking up for themselves. Instead, they always focus on the needs of others.
Surprisingly, one of my best memories ever was when my husband had to be away for my birthday. My daughters compensated by planning a mini surprise party for me. To throw me off the track, they asked my oldest friend in the world to visit from Boston, while 20 other friends arrived at my house. I bake cakes and throw parties—that’s my job. How wonderful it was to have one thrown for me!
I have also come to value another aspect of birthday celebrations over the years—the concept of celebratory markers. This was taught to me when I won my hard-earned title of vice president. A psychologist and business consultant friend asked what I was going to do to celebrate. Celebrate? I truly didn’t understand. Her view, which I have come to deeply value, is that significant moments should be marked and celebrated.
Primitive cultures have ceremonies clearly marking the transition from childhood to adulthood after which the individual’s role in the community changes. In Western society, beyond graduations and weddings, we just kind of ooze from one stage to the next. But there are so many minor accomplishments and moments to mark and honor. It doesn’t have to be a major bash, but a toast…a special dinner…a card or heartfelt note…something that lets the individual take a moment and truly feel the specialness of the moment.
We had a sailboat for more than 15 years, and we raised the girls on it. We sold the boat five years ago. My husband and I don’t miss the sailing as much as we miss the magical moments we had on the boat—challenges overcome…confidence built…new places explored. And most of things celebrated with a trip to the ice-cream stand wherever we happened to be.
So I suggest to all my friends out there…let yourself be celebrated when your special day comes. You deserve it.