My Mom used to make our birthdays incredibly special. She made pinatas, she decorated cakes, and she would put a big red rattan “throne” at the head of the table for the birthday girl to sit in, along with a silver crown to wear from a Halloween princess costume she had made. There was always a special birthday breakfast that morning, even if it was a school morning, and sometimes I would come downstairs to find a florist’s box next to my plate with a fluffy pink corsage to wear to school. Often I had a new dress or blouse to wear too, and at some point during the day she would bring hand decorated cupcakes to my classroom (this was before schools were concerned about the cleanliness of student’s home food handling, and in a time where you never heard a grade school kid say, “Is that gluten free?” or “I’m lactose intolerant” or “I only eat organic”). Dinner was the birthday girl’s choice (I frequently chose to go to McDonald’s, klassy!). The year I turned seven, she made me an ice cream cake roll in the shape of the number 7, covered in pink frosting roses and powdered sugar. The year I turned ten (my golden birthday, since I was 10 on the 10th) she went all out and made me a three tiered cake, like a wedding cake, with light green frosting and pale pink roses (interestingly enough, pink and green ended up being my wedding colors too). It was all very elaborate, and made my birthday my favorite day of the year.
And oh, the presents. I usually would get one big item (Barbie dolls, a bike, roller skates, a camera, a new outfit, a watch, etc.), and then tons of little surprise items as well. In addition to the gifts my family gave me, I would also have a party with school friends, and a ton of loot would come in from that as well.
I am not a person who gets all shy and humble and “Oh you shouldn’t have I can’t accept this” about presents. I love getting presents. I love giving them too. I never expect them, but when they are given, I accept them with love, gratitude, and joy, even if it turns out to be something I don’t want. For me, it’s about the exchange of energy and goodwill, and that always feels great.
In recent years though, I have found that once the receiving glow has worn off, getting a bunch of new stuff all at once, whether it happens on Christmas or my birthday, has come with an under layer of anxiety as well. I think a lot of that has to do with feeling like I have too many possessions already, so adding to the pile is really stressful (where will I put it all? Do I actually need any of it? Do I like it enough to keep it? If it’s a duplicate should I toss the one I already have even though it’s still good?).
This year I had complicated feelings around the idea of getting gifts. On one hand, I am very happy with the progress I’ve made on not bringing a lot of new stuff into my life. But I am also in a serious state of withdrawal around not having a new stuff high on a regular basis anymore. So I wanted stuff, but also kind of didn’t. And I wondered – would my birthday feel forgotten and blah without presents?
But there was one thing I really did need – a new computer. My old computer is from 2006, and its limping painfully towards its end. I’ve killed the battery (it’s a laptop), I constantly get a “memory disk is full” message, it’s glacially slow, and there is some kind of problem with the power cord that causes it to suddenly disconnect without my noticing, until it suddenly shuts itself off in the middle of a project. I have been living in fear that it will croak while I am in the middle of narrating an audio book, and I will lose all my recording. I do a lot of my work on my computer, so it is not something I could live without – if I could only rescue a couple items in a fire, it would be my computer and my phone. So it was clear to me that sooner than later, I needed to figure out how to get a new one.
I’d been saving money towards the cause since December. I’d managed to amass over half of what I needed, and I figured my birthday could help me get almost, if not all the way, to my goal. When anyone asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year, I asked for either money or a gift certificate to the Apple store. And four days after my birthday, I found the the perfect computer for my needs, and paid 95% cash for it.
It was definitely a different birthday for me – no towering stack of presents to unwrap, just a handful of cards with money in them. But I couldn’t have been happier. The one gift I got was exactly what I wanted and needed, and I absolutely love it and will use it extensively every single day. I don’t feel any anxiety around trying to figure out what to do with a bunch of new things I didn’t really need, and the lack of a bunch of gifts didn’t make things feel any less special. I had a lovely birthday lunch and a birthday dinner with some of my dearest girlfriends, as well as a birthday dinner “date” with Ron. I felt very special, loved, and celebrated.
It was, in every sense, “just right.” It was lagom. I hope to make a habit of it.