Saturday, April 9, 2016

you say it's your birthday

Who doesn't love a birthday? Some of my fondest memories surround birthdays, either my own or someone else's. I remember birthdays when I was a kid. My mom would allow me to invite three friends to go miniature golfing and then out for pizza. It was so much fun, I did that several years in a row. One year, I took the same three friends to a small, year-round amusement park not too far from my house. We spent the afternoon riding unsafe rides and later we sat at a picnic table and had the cake that my mom brought.

As I got older, birthdays, while still fun, were much different. In high school, my best friend Alan planned my one and only surprise party. I was led to his basement under false pretenses, only to discover a room full of people screaming "Happy Birthday" when Alan flicked on the lights. He even was thoughtful enough to invite the girl I was dating while my girlfriend was away at overnight camp. I actually had the whole thing figured out prior to descending the basement stairs, but it was still a great time. 

My twenty-first birthday was pretty uneventful, although I vividly remember my twenty-second. I went to a bar on Philadelphia's hip South Street and the bouncer didn't even ask for ID. I realized then that it was all downhill from here.

My son was born three days after I turned twenty-six. Birthdays took on a new and exciting quality, as my wife and I celebrated vicariously though our child. Mrs. P baked themed cakes and we decorated the house with colorful balloons and pictures of our son's favorite things — Thomas the Tank Engine, Power Rangers, Mickey Mouse. One year, he asked for an "Underdog" themed party, as he had become a fan when Nickelodeon began showing the same cartoons I watch as a child. In the middle 80s, "Underdog" party goods were kind of tough to come by. Later, my boy celebrated two different birthdays at Disneyland and had his first legal alcoholic drink at Trader Vic's in Beverly Hills. He was disappointed, however, when, as a new twenty-one year old, he wasn't carded.

Through my 30s and 40s, birthdays became less and less important. The excitement they held in my youth has dissipated with each year. I usually went to work on my birthday if it didn't fall on a weekend. I usually never told my co-workers that it was my birthday. It was just another day. My wife and I don't exchange gifts for any occasion (not for religious or moral reasons, we just don't), so birthdays were usually acknowledged by a dinner out with our son. Since our son moved out of our house and into his own, birthday dinners have been reduced to just the two of us. Don't get me wrong. I'm not sad or upset. Birthdays are just not a big thing for me.

My in-laws both turned 80 this year, their birthdays just a month apart. My wife's cousin called to ask if we had any plans to celebrate what undeniably qualifies as a "milestone." My wife said that she really didn't consider anything and thought about calling her siblings to bounce around a few ideas. Instead, she just called her parents and offered them a few suggestions. Just as I had predicted, they dismissed almost every idea — parties, trips, big dinners with lots of guests. Instead, they conceded to a small breakfast gathering following the morning service at their synagogue. This, evidently, is how 80 year-olds party hard.
Rest assured. The cops did not have to break things up and nobody passed out. 

At least not from drinking.

Happy birthday.

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