on birthdays

And no, not mine. Today I was involved in a birthday celebration for a coworker who is reaching one of those years that end with a 0. It involved black balloons, a faux walker, a funny hat, and black candles.

That seems to be the thing these days, for “significant” adult birthdays. At Pierce, there was a weird staff tradition involving a very old and ugly bra.

It’s been bothering me, and it wasn’t until a conversation today that I could articulate why.

  1. I’m sick and tired of people freaking out about birthdays for ages that end with a 0. I’ve been tired of it since I was in my early 20s. I had a friend in college who was several years old than I was who worried often about his 30th birthday, about being “old” and ugly and unloved, and got melodramatic enough about it to talk suicide. His reaction is the most memorable, but I’ve certainly heard lots of other people express similar sentiments. (I’ve had periodic angst about being in my 30s, but it’s rarely connected with a birthday.) This whole “over the hill” birthday theme just reinforces a really crappy mindset.
  2. Which leads to: the American cult of youth. Plenty of ink, actual and digital, has been spilled on that topic, so I won’t say anymore now.
  3. And finally, when you were a kid, your birthday (or mine anyway) was your celebratory day. Everything was for you, the food, the gifts, etc. Understandably, the world doesn’t stop in quite that way for an adult’s birthday. But is it really necessary to turn what was joyful into something cruel? Lots of people participate in these sorts of things out of affection, but the result is unfortunate: teasing and belittling. And then your birthday is about them, the people clowning around and goofing at your expense.
  4. I had a long sequence of pretty damn lousy birthdays, in the period when birthdays are still cool, my late teens and early 20s. I’ve probably written about that here before. (The day after my 26th birthday, on which I got into a fight with C? 9/11.) So goddamn it, if it’s my birthday, and I’m not in the hospital, getting stood up, or eating alone, then I want it to be bright and happy and fun for ME.

I’ve seen a few instances in which birthday pranking was pretty cool. My 30th, which I think was the turnaround point in birthdays, my coworkers filled my office with balloons and streamers, but all pink and red. (I was lucky. Someone else had a 50th birthday 2 days before my 30th.)

The other two were both at United Way, oddly enough; one in which Tom’s cubicle was redecorated to look like an old lady’s parlor, and the other was Wendy’s cubicle being turned into a pirate ship. So neither of them was about age, just about celebrating that person and their unique quirks.

Not that I’m going to do anything about it, and I don’t want to rain on anybody else’s parade. (At today’s thing, I volunteered to be the photographer, because someone had to, and I like hiding behind a camera lens.) I just needed to put my long-time discomfort into words.