I believe in happy birthdays. I believe in celebrating the day you were born. I believe that chest-thumping regrets about lingering unmet goals should be saved for New Year’s Eve. I believe that the years don’t matter, but celebrating your gifts does.
When I was 11 I got to skip school on my birthday and go to a Muppet exhibit at a museum in New Orleans. My skin prickled when I woke up that morning, full of anticipation. My cereal tasted better, the milk colder. The ride into the city felt different, too. The drooping Spanish moss that hangs on every oak perked up as our Jeep with cookie sheets for floorboards sped by, and the Superdome puffed its chest as we crested the Industrial Canal Bridge into the city. For one day I escaped middle school and learned that Jim Henson pinched his mother’s ugly green coat from the hall closet and created Kermit. Today I share the story with my children, and can still do a respectable Swedish Chef impression.
A year later my grandparents drove for two days to usher in #12. They surprised me at school, but the surprise was on them. As soon as I saw my parents I burst into tears, fresh off my first and only fist fight with a bully. I barely acknowledged their presence as I regaled my audience with details of the confrontation, complete with having to witness my aggressor’s punishment – ten “licks” with the vice principal’s infamous paddle. My grandparents smiled through their disappointment at my failure to recognize their sacrifice, and pressed on with their plans. We were to have breakfast at Brennan’s, a cherished New Orleans tradition. Once again, I got to skip school and drive into the city, where curving bayou roads give way to steaming concrete. We arrived, were graciously seated, handed menus, and I burst into tears. The menu boasts eggs. Eggs cooked every possible way, from a gentle coddle to a bubbling soufflé. At 12, though, eggs were ovum, a creepy body part pushed from a chicken’s nether regions. My poor grandparents looked at me, mystified. The morning was saved, though, by Bananas Foster, which I haven’t eaten since and can taste to this day.
As an adult, my skin still prickles when I look forward to a birthday. A friend once told me on my 21st that it was the last birthday to celebrate before noting the decades. I disagree. I will paint a car, fill a yard with flamingos, let my kids skip school, sing off-key in public and bake a cake from scratch – whatever it takes to share the joy of one very special day. I believe in birthdays, because they are the one day to celebrate your place on the planet.