Birthday Confessions of an Introvert

This year, on my birthday, I was fighting off a crummy cold. I didn’t feel like doing much, so I started telling my husband, Jesse, about birthday childhood memories. Feeling sentimental, I decided to share them. Here’s what became of it:


Of course, I don’t remember the night I was born, but every year since then, my Mom tells the story. It’s a birthday tradition for me. It goes like this:

Mom and Dad stopped at the doctor for a check up. I wasn’t due yet for a few more days, and the doctor didn’t think anything was happening anytime soon. But he offered to keep Mom overnight for observation. He sent Dad home, which was a considerable drive.

Mom went into labor suddenly. The nurses didn’t believe her when she told them she needed to push. She says the entire labor only took 45 minutes. It felt like a train hitting a brick wall. It was the only thing in my life I did in a hurry. 

If the doctor hadn’t offered to let her stay overnight, I would have been born on a curvy back road in the middle of nowhere.

They called Dad and he turned around and started heading back to the city. He wasn’t there when I was born, but luckily I turned out quite a bit like him so he never wondered if there’d been a mix-up. 

I was really jaundice and the hospital kept me longer than they kept Mom. (This turned out to be the case for both of my own children, too.) She had to travel back and forth to see me, which would have been no problem, except for the weather.

Missouri had a huge snow storm to celebrate my arrival, and got something like 11 inches in one night. Mom & Dad were staying with my aunt, who lived closer to the hospital. They had to dig out and put chains on the tires to get to me.

They didn’t mind too much.


The earliest birthday I remember, I was turning 3.

I was in my room, getting ready for the party. I had to reach pretty high to flip through the clothes in my closet, but I loved being able to see them, and I always enjoyed reaching as high as I could. I picked out my favorite dress at the time. Covered in tiny flower print, it had a white apron-like section that had Cinderella’s carriage on it. I felt magical wearing it.

We had a big party at home in the family room. I walked down the hall, holding Mom’s hand, and she led me to the family room door. I opened it. The longest table I could ever imagine was set up, with plates and cups and napkins, and every single person who existed in my world was in there smiling at me. I felt like a star.


I love summertime in Missouri, and during my childhood, I lamented the fact that my birthday was in the winter, when both my sisters had summer birthdays. It really cut down on the birthday options for me. I couldn't have a party at the park or at the swimming pool, or even in the back yard.

But I managed to come up with something fun indoors every year. One year, I had a skating party. I was pretty good on roller skates back then. We used to go so often that I had my own skates. I was decent at the Hokey Pokey, the Limbo, and almost figured out skating backwards. But my favorite was just skating in the dark with the blacklights. I’d sing along to the music as loud as I could, pretending I was flying through the night, pretending I was the only one there.


One year, I had a party at Showbiz Pizza, the old school version of Chuck E. Cheese. They served pizza slices on flat pieces of glossy cardboard instead of plates. I thought that was really daring of them. The room was dark and loud. The brightly lit stage came to life, and Billy Bob the bear sang and played the banjo. It was exotic and ridiculous. I wanted never to leave.


Mom always let me pick what we ate for dinner on my birthday. Usually, I went with pizza from Pizza Hut. That was my favorite kind, and we didn’t get it very often just because other pizza places were much closer to our house. As a kid, the 6-cheese pizza from Pizza Hut was the pinnacle of decadence for me.

When I got older, I requested cabbage rolls more often. They are complicated, but Mom made them for me whenever I asked. Some day I really need to learn the recipe, but part of me never wants to have to make them for myself.


For my 13th birthday, I didn't want to have a party. I had a long-distance boyfriend I met at summer camp, and I wanted to see him. My parents, sisters, and I spent the weekend in a hotel near his hometown. It was a fancy hotel, which was fun on its own. We ordered room service and Mom & Dad had them surprise me with a cake, too. The hotel kitchen didn't customarily make birthday cakes, and they had little to decorate it with. They cut heart shapes out of sliced raw potatoes, dyed them red, and placed them on top. It looked perfect. They apologized for not having proper cake decorations, and warned us not to eat the hearts, but I felt so so special because of all the trouble they went through just for me.

That weekend, I went on my first date. We all went to the movies, but my parents and sisters went to a different theater so my boyfriend and I could see a movie on our own. Then we walked around the mall and met them later in the Food Court. We were a bit awkward and a bit overzealous. It was pretty much the perfect first date.


Dad missed one other birthday when I was growing up. He had to go out of town for work, and it just happened to fall on my 16th birthday. Much to my surprise, he had a vase of flowers delivered to the high school for me. They called me down to the office, and when I saw the flowers, I was overwhelmed with glee. It was the first time someone had sent flowers to me. The next person to do it was the man I decided to marry.


Right after I turned 16, I was ready to take my driver’s test. The night before, much to my horror, my parents realized they had mailed their only copy of my birth certificate with my passport application a few weeks earlier. (Later that year, I was scheduled to go on a very cool trip, but that's a different story.) After recovering from the shock, I said that was OK, I could wait until it was returned in the mail. I tried not to make a big deal about it, but it was quite a blow. I had really been excited about driving.

The next day, my grandma came to check me out of school unexpectedly in the middle of the afternoon. She had spent the morning driving to the state capitol to get another copy of my birth certificate, and she was taking me to test for my license. It was crazy. It was cool. It was above and beyond. Such is my grandma.

Thank goodness I passed.


When I turned 18, I got a tattoo. It was entirely spontaneous. I hadn’t thought about it ahead of time. I was actually tagging along for moral support for my friend, Melissa, who planned to get one. As she talked with them about what she wanted, I browsed the designs on the wall. Tattoos were so foreign to me. If I were to one day get one, what would it be? I happened upon three little music notes that I somehow couldn’t leave without.

At the time, I was really involved in band. I played clarinet, I was drum major during marching season, and I had toured Europe with a concert band two summers before. Music was my main past time, and it felt like a fitting way to mark myself.

When I got home, I showed Dad and said, “Isn’t it cool?” He shook his head and said, “No, it isn’t.” That’s everything he ever said about it.

Mom was much more receptive. She wanted to hear all about it. She said the only concern she had was, what if I quit playing clarinet when I was older? Would I regret it? I said no, it will just change the meaning. Music would always be a constant in my life. Maybe it wouldn't be about band anymore, but it would still be special. She said, “I can see that. Music is the language of the heavens.”


My 20th birthday was my worst one ever.

Jesse and I had been together for six months, but it took me less than two weeks to decide I wanted to marry him. Things were moving fast after that, and we were planning a wedding like it was a game of chicken. We were young, uncompromising and unforgiving. That January, we finally agreed to postpone the wedding to preserve some sanity. But that proved to be too hard for us to live with. Just before my birthday, we broke up completely. I was devastated. It was terribly painful for both of us, but we couldn’t figure out what else to do.

He said he still loved me. “I want our lives to be together,” he said. “I can see our kids running down the hall with flowers in their hair and swords in their hands. But I’m just not ready for that.” He had good reason not to feel ready. Over the years, we would uncover more and more about why. But that’s his story, so I’ll leave it at that.

On my 20th birthday, I was miles away from home, at a new school with no new friends. I called an old friend from high school, who walked me to the dining hall and ate dinner with me, then walked me to my dorm room and hugged me while I cried.

Alone in my room, I laid in the dark and listened to music. Perhaps love only lasted in fairy tales. Perhaps I had reached too high. I stared up at the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling, wishing my Love was beside me, wishing the stars were real.

It took us less than two weeks to decide we could at least be friends.


When I turned 21, I wanted to get drunk, but I wanted to be safe about it. I didn’t have much social life in college. I was always taking too many classes and working too many hours. I invited Jesse and his girlfriend to come over to my tiny apartment and, longing for something exotic and ridiculous, decided to drink tequila. We all talked and danced and cried and laughed, and I knew I was safe because Jesse was there. He took on the role of Sober Adult. I don’t remember how many shots I had, but I know he helped me stumble to the bathroom. I know he helped me navigate to my bed. Before I passed out, he kissed me on the forehead and left.


For my 25th birthday, I wanted to have a party. I was out of college, I had a job I loved, and a nicer, bigger apartment. I had a solid group of friends I played D&D with every week. Everyone came over to my place. I made a delicious turtle cheesecake recipe that somehow wasn’t too complicated. We had a good time until I put in the Josh Groban CD someone had given me. It was not the best party music. We all got sleepy and sad.

Everyone who knew me worried about me back then. I had been single for years. I was taking yoga classes and dog-training classes, and I just didn’t want to be out in the dating scene again. I had flown and crashed and burned, and no matter how much time passed, I was numb from it. Jesse was my very best friend, and I still wanted to marry him, but I was afraid it would all fall apart. I didn’t know if our friendship could survive another breakup. Being friends was better than being nothing. I was content to wait it out.


The day I turned 26 was my best birthday ever.

Loneliness was finally taking its toll on me. I had made a new friend at a yoga retreat. He lived states away, but we talked a lot on the phone. He was fun and sweet, enough for me to wonder what dating would be like. Something long-dormant within me rolled over. My subconscious was messing with me, but I was tired of being single.

A month before my birthday, I told Jesse I was ready to date people again. I told him all about my new friend. He listened with a quiet smile, and said he was happy for me.

The night before my birthday, Jesse called. I hadn’t seen him in two weeks. He came over to my house and told me he loved me. He said if I was dating people again, he wanted to be first in line. I said he could stay. We laid in the dark and talked all night. We talked about our past, about our future. We talked about our hopes and our fears, and I fell asleep beside my Love, thanking the heavens for stars.

On my birthday, I woke up to my soulmate sleeping peacefully. It was the first day of our new life together. Somehow, we had been given a fresh start. It is by far the greatest present I’ve ever been given. I am thankful for it every day.


We took our time getting married, but we started our family pretty quickly after that. A fun side effect of busy family life is that we celebrate for a whole week instead of one day, a favorite meal here, a date night there. Birthdays in my 30s involved squeezing in a special dinner between diaper changes and bedtime songs. Sometimes we’d manage to get a babysitter and go to a movie. I still feel special getting to choose what we eat for dinner.

Having kids around rekindled the importance of lighting candles on a cake and making wishes. They need to know the stars are listening. They need to know wishes can come true.


I turned 39 this year. I spent most of the day on the couch or in bed with cough drops, hot tea, and my laptop. It wasn’t the best way to spend a birthday, but it certainly wasn’t the worst.

We had Chinese food delivered for lunch and took the kids to Pizza Hut for dinner. I celebrated on Facebook by sharing each of these memories. They turned out to be a lot more intense than I expected. I guess the story of my birthdays is the story of my life. I feel really, really blessed. I most definitely had a happy day.


No comments:

Post a Comment