Saturday, February 1, 2014

Happy Birthday, Not.

Birthdays come and go, as they naturally would and perhaps, even should. Before the turmoils of junior high, birthdays still remained a sacred day that promised bliss and a permanent smile on my face. Somehow, it did not matter if any of my friends or teachers knew, as long as I had cake before bedtime. However, with time, unfortunately, birthdays became contingent on the response and presence of others. In high school, several groups of friends had a falling out just because the majority of the group forgot one member's birthday. Birthdays became so oriented on friendship and social dynamic that it came down in ruins. After high school, my birthdays became sadder and sadder. Of course, I had some friends and family friends to share it with, but I did not have any of my family members around to nostalgically look back on past years. Finally, after two years of spending birthdays without my family, (yes, yes, I am a brat, I know) I had the opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, the night ended up a disaster as we walked the cold streets of Berlin in search of a police station. More often than not, I'd like to think that birthdays have an expiration date, especially when it comes to expectations.

Birthday Cupcakes Baked by The New York Sisterhood
A few months before I turned twenty, my grandfather turned eighty. You see, the dramatic, witty, and flamboyant side of me came from both of my grandfathers. My late maternal grandfather, bought a seven foot marble dragon statue, as well as took pleasure in hosting his friends. My paternal grandfather, who will turn 81 in a couple of days, is a show off when it comes to his friends and loves celebrating his birthdays. As a twenty year old girl, looking at an eighty year old man, I realized how foolish I had been to deem my own birthdays ruined. Yes, I had several terrible streaks. Yes, I made some mistakes. But, I also had superb memories about the past, be it a camping themed birthday party, a visit to a toy factory, or a haunted mansion themed bash.

Birthdays, like many things in life, is what you make of it. Sometimes, you have no choice but to make necessary changes to suit your vision. Sometimes, your vision is simply unattainable. And sometimes, you realize, that all you need are those who will show up at your birthday. Even worse, sometimes you have to face that this world is too big for you to have the perfect birthday in that specific year.

Studying abroad, for instance, has certainly dampened my birthdays. Although, I would have liked to have my parents around, in the same room to celebrate it, I had friends who tried to make it as special as possible, which, in its own way, is a testament to how surprising life can be. Be it a disaster or a lack of one, birthdays are also a time to grow. For some reason, the day after a nightmarish birthday, I learn a thing or two about myself or realize other ways to appreciate this new year. Every few years, I realize that I have to shed the expectations that revolve and so often ruin the special day, in order to have a fulfilling year. Sometimes, the road gets tough and I need a slap in the face to wake me up. But other times, I am able to jumpstart my life and outlook immediately.

This socially constructed day will be full of ups and downs, because let's face it, it's just another day in the calendar. Whether it's your birthday or any other ordinary day, try to make the best of it. Of course, it's easier said than done, especially when you're writing in bed, hoping to be back home in flood ridden Jakarta. But, hey, it takes time and energy and determination.

Another epiphany that I've had with birthdays is that it took about nine months or ten to deliver a baby to his/her birthday. The best that we can do sometimes is to appreciate the effort that it took to get there, to attain that special day.

I guess, at this point, I'm babbling. There's so much to be said about birthdays that sometimes it can take an entire cycle to figure out the exact words. This piece is dedicated to my grandfather, as well as to me during past birthdays.

*Author owns the right to use the photo above