My sister, Oakley, was born on February 14th. I was always secretly envious of her special-celebrated-by-the-world day. Growing up, she typically received gifts with a “heart” theme—heart-shaped candy, sweaters or dresses with embroidered hearts, heart-shaped stationery, heart-shaped picture frames, Lovey-Dove Barbie. If it was pink or red and had hearts on it, someone bought it for her.
While I was sitting there feeling sorry for myself and my stupid September birthday, Oakley was lamenting the fact that her gifts were predictable and cliché. “Oh, socks with a heart design, and heart-shaped barrettes? How original,” she’d mutter without a smidgen of faux gratitude. I never understood why she wasn’t delirious with pink delight that she’d won the Birthday Lottery.
I mentioned my sister’s inexplicable grouchiness to my friend, Sammi. “You’re joking, right?” she said. “You do know when my birthday is—December 25th?” Instead of sympathizing with my jealousy issues, Sammi commiserated with Oakley. “MOV, as a child, every Christmas I received a Christmas-slash-birthday gift from my friends and even some family members. It’s like my birthday was always an afterthought. Even now, as an adult, my girlfriends get to go out and drink margaritas on their birthdays; but on my day, I’m helping my sons open presents from Santa—not that I’m not grateful for my sons and family—it’s just … it’s like my birthday is a wash. Like it doesn’t even exist.”
Eek, I hadn’t meant to open this Pandora’s box. (Do you think Pandora’s birthday fell on Halloween? Or perhaps St. Patrick’s Day?) Why are we so protective of our birthdays? Why do we want the world to recognize and appreciate us once a year, and get grumpy if the specific day is overlooked? Isn’t it better to be noticed the other 364 days with little gestures, tiny moments that remind you that you matter to someone?
I called Oakley to sing “Happy Birthday.” She answered on the second ring. “Oh, I forgot. Today’s my birthday.” How could she forget? (And more to the point: Wouldn’t I have been in big trouble if I’d forgotten?)
"Are you going to do anything special for your birthday?" I asked cautiously, attempting to navigate the bumpy terrain of birthday candles and glittery hearts.
“Nah. Robert and I went skiing last weekend to celebrate my birthday, and next week we’re going wine-tasting in Napa to celebrate Valentine’s Day. You know I avoid doing anything on the 14th because of the crowds.”
Clever Oakley. Choosing to Not Celebrate with a ski weekend and a trip to Napa. I’m still jealous.
(“Miss Oakley Valentine”)