I couldn't tell you much about the guest list (kindergarten classmates, of course) or the gifts or even the cake (was that the year I had a Snow White themed cake? I don't remember), but I do remember loving the feeling of that day. I got to eat pizza and cake with my friends and a magician. What could top that?
The years following, I wish I could say birthdays were just as fun. While I enjoyed the family traditions of dinner and cake at my grandparents', and the way my mom would let me sleep in 10 more minutes in the morning before school, I don't have many fond party memories the way pizza and foam bunnies made me feel. For my 12th birthday, I had planned a party at my house, and my wonderful mother and I spent the morning putting up decorations (it was supposed to be music-themed, so we had this paper music notes on the walls and the cups and plates were purple with music notes and treble clefs on them) and getting food ready. I was excited about it because at this point in my life, my hair loss had sped up and I went from losing small chunks sporadically to losing fistfuls by the day. But this party would make me forget that I was losing my identity and losing my confidence, and it would make me feel like I still had friends even though people had stopped hanging out with me at recess and I was spending more time in the library reading than playing outside.
So the Saturday of the party comes, but the only people who showed up were my sister's friends because my mom used to let her invite one or two friends to keep her company. When I called my "best friend" to ask where she was, she said she forgot. Another friend (who had RSVPed, by the way) said she had just invited friends over to her house and couldn't come.
After that, I really hated my birthday.
In high school, the tradition became lunch and then a movie with friends, which was always fun, and I can still tell you the films we saw (Hidalgo when I turned 15, Bride & Prejudice for 16, etc.). In college, there were dorm/apartment parties my friends organized (except that senior year when Amanda and I had to re-plan the whole thing ourselves, which I didn't want to do because planning things for myself makes me anxious). The last two years, surrounded by my crazy journalism buddies, those parties were great.
And yet -- I couldn't keep shaking this feeling that everyone was there celebrating all those years because they were obligated. Like the 16th birthday party Rory's grandparents threw her in season 1, and Emily sent all those invitations to classmates who didn't want to go but their parents made them. Because that's what birthdays are, right? You show up for dinners and parties and drinks because that's what you're supposed to do (unless you were invited to my 12th birthday party).
I think I've always tried to make my birthday something to be celebrated and fun, but it ends up becoming exhausting because I just worry the whole time that nobody will show up.
Is this enough of a pity party yet?
I'm not trying to be totally narcissistic, I swear. And I'm grateful for my friends who try to rally around my insane insecurities. But I've just been trying to sum up for awhile now why I don't like my birthday, even though I want to like it. I do. But I'd rather celebrate other people's birthdays, and if you know me, you know how over-the-top I can sometimes get.
For the past few years, especially since living in New York, I make a point to spend time before my birthday by myself, treating myself to...whatever. Last year, I got brunch and went to a movie, and then went shopping. Today I got my nails done and splurged at Sephora.
It may not be the glamorous way to celebrate, but at least it doesn't involve unused music-themed paper cups.