When was the last time you were legitimately excited about your birthday?
I’m not talking about the euphoric buzz we all get from receiving gifts, cake and impersonal Facebook wishes from long-lost acquaintances. I mean, how old were you the last time you counted down the days for that maturity milestone, anxiously awaiting the thrill of identifying yourself with a whole new number, fraught with all sorts of social implications?
Turning 10 was a ton of fun. Crossing the threshold into double digits meant moving into a whole new category of kid-dom.
13 was undeniably huge, as evidenced by countless volumes of young adult fiction, after school specials and religiously-sanctioned blowout bashes.
16 packed a lot of punch, even for those of us vehicularly challenged enough to fail the driver’s test three times.
18 meant the freedom to serve our great nation, rock the vote and purchase as much pornography and tobacco as was necessary to impress our younger friends.
And of course, the ability to purchase that first legal adult beverage at 21 meant the end of an era punctuated by low-grade jello shots and parking lot pre-games (well, for some of us).
On Friday, I turn 28. I have no boyfriend, husband, child or even pet to speak of. I don’t own real estate and I can’t cook a casserole. Hell, I’m not even gainfully employed, thanks to a two-year grad school detour. Sometimes I’d rather read Seventeen at the gym than Newsweek (yeah, okay, that’s all the time). I in no way resemble the shiny, polished, self-assured 28-year-old prototype depicted in romantic comedies, and I’ve been sulking about it.
But I’m officially done being bitter. I’m reclaiming my birthday.
I distinctly remember the decidedly lackluster appeal of my 22nd birthday. There were no momentous moments to acknowledge, no newly-acquired privileges to celebrate. The doormen at the local bar even seemed reluctant to draw the requisite birthday “X” on my forehead—”shouldn’t you have gotten this out of your system last year, ma’am?” their halfhearted smiles said.
And then suddenly, it wasn’t just patronizing smiles articulating the m-word—I started getting “ma’am”-ed all over the place. I tried to brush the term off as an old-fashioned courteous gesture, but something about the squeaky-voiced checkout boy asking, “Would you like paper or plastic, ma’am?” didn’t sit well with me.
And then of course, came the first time I wasn’t carded at a bar. That hurt.
On my 25th birthday, I rented a party bus complete with disco lights and a stripper pole inadequately sized for anyone over five feet tall. My friends dutifully guzzled birthday beverages and publicly shamed themselves in my honor, but something about it all felt forced.
Getting older is rough. And yes, I realize I have a few more years to go before my senior citizen discounts kick in (at Ross, you only have to be 60!), but movies, magazines, and every other form of media have done their damndest to convince us of what we should have achieved by a certain age. And while those triumphs used to just be inherent parts of the growing-up process (You turned 13? You’re a woman! Mazel tov!), aging into adulthood means enduring repeated reminders of all the things you haven’t accomplished yet.
Not to mention all the stigmas women face as they age—at what point do we go from being promising, esteemed members of society to flailing, pitiful, Cathy cartoons? Ack!
Yes, I’m being dramatic (it’s what I do, go with it). But I’m pretty much sick and tired of dreading my b-day every year, and feeling burdened by all the implications, expectations, and obligations tied to a truly irrelevant number.
So on February 17, please join me in celebrating another year of my life, rife with all sorts of wonderful shortcomings and a few kickass successes.
I might even make jello shots for the occassion.