It’s My Birthday and I’ll Write if I Want To

3 Jan

So today, January 3rd, is my birthday. Wheee!!

I'm the wee one...circa 1973.


When I was a kid I loved that my birthday was at the beginning of the year, so that, for the entire year, I was that age. I liked the black and white certainty of it. I also loved that I was born on the third day of a new decade, so that, not only could I spend the entire year at a certain age, I could also easily know my age based on whatever year it was. So, it’s 1979: I’m nine years old. Now that I’m old and forgetful it’s helpful, too.

Picture me, filling out a form. “AGE?____” the form asks innocently.

“My age? Ummm…I barely know my children’s ages. Oh, wait. What year is it? 2012? Okay, then I must be 42. Phew!”

Now if I can only remember to write the proper year on my checks.

My dad wasn’t as impressed by my choosing January 3rd to be born. He still teases me that he missed an entire year of writing me off his taxes by waiting 3 days too long.

I share my birthday with my grandfather, my dad’s dad. I always thought that was cool, though, to my knowledge, we never spent our birthdays together. I also share it with J.R.R. Tolkien and Victor Borge, thank you very much. Does it get any better than that?

Sadly, January third also is the day that my cat refused to get up. Columbus (so named because he was an explorer from the time he was tiny) was the only kitten of our cat, Josephine (so named because she had a coat of many colors but, being a female, she couldn’t be called Joseph). Columbus liked to sleep beneath the front steps. On the morning of January third circa1980, after I’d left for school, Mom discovered that Columbus, strangely, didn’t seem to want his food.

He never wanted it again.

I realized, a few days later, that I hadn’t seen him recently. My mother, however, in her great wisdom, did not tell me until years later that he had died on my birthday, knowing that I was the kind of kid who would find that to be a dark cloud over my day, an omen of a bad year ahead. Moms are so smart.

I used to try and write a letter to myself, to be read a year later, each year on my birthday. I even wrote one once marked, “To Be Read When You Turn 24.” I was 14 at the time. Yes, believe it or not, I still had it ten years later, though when I read it I was dismally disappointed in the shallow girl revealed therein. Somehow the poignancy of the moment gets lost when you read, “So, do you still have a crush on ____?” I’ve never been good with sentiment.

The luster of birthdays, of course, gets lost as you age. What was once a shining beacon of self-centered joy, luring you on for an entire year, becomes a reminder of mortality, where having a birthday is “better than the alternative”, as well-meaning acquaintances quip.

I always swore I’d never dye my hair. But now that the gray is taking over my temples and the clerks stopped carding me years ago, I’ve had my second-thoughts.

That reminds me of a story. I’ll leave you with this.

My husband and I were out for dinner a couple years ago, somewhere around my birthday. Feeling reckless, I ordered an after-dinner drink, something I rarely do. The waitress, not realizing the absolute daring of my order, dully wrote down my drink on her little pad of paper. She then, with bored tone, said, “Can I see your – ”

And then she looked up at me.

“Oh, nevermind,” she said, and walked away.

My husband, darn his forgiving heart, still tipped her.

Happy 2012!!!

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14 Responses to “It’s My Birthday and I’ll Write if I Want To”

  1. Kimberly January 3, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    Happy Birthday dearest one! I can relate all too well to the sentiments in your blog. I have determined to turn 39 (again*again) this year. However, unless I get the ‘greys’ under control I simply won’t be able to pull it off. Here’s to another year of writing, blogging and remembering we only get better-not older!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell January 3, 2012 at 11:33 am #

      Thanks, Kim! :-) Truly, I’d NEVER want to be forced to re-live my life, so I’m good with getting older instead! And really, I like the things that come with age…well, most of the things. The gray, not so much.

  2. Marti Smith January 3, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    Happy birthday, Gretchen! I, too, am glad to be born in a round-number year though my birthday falls on the other side of it. May 2012 be a great year for you, whether you keep the grey or not : – )

    • Gretchen O'Donnell January 3, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

      Thanks, Moose! I am most like going to keep the gray as a badge of honor. That and I’m lazy.

  3. Just A Smidgen January 3, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    I started grinning when I saw your cute little face in the first picture and you left me smiling with your story at the end! Ahhh, so true, a birthday is better than the alternative.. but you are still young in my books! I hope you have a wonderful birthday celebration and a great 2012!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell January 3, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

      Thank you so much for your kind words! I spent three days in Vancouver, BC last week while on vacation and I can’t wait to blog about my Canada experience! :-) Complete with several food insights!!

  4. Rose January 3, 2012 at 11:45 am #

    Happy birthday, dear friend! I loved your words (epiphany) on the luster of birthdays.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell January 3, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

      Thanks, Rosie! I mostly just wish birthdays were as fun as they used to be. It’s noon and my kids haven’t yet remembered…bother.

  5. Minnesota Prairie Roots January 4, 2012 at 11:41 am #

    A belated happy birthday, Gretchen! How did you celebrate? I hope the kids remembered. Been there, experienced the same indifference.

    Since I have more than a decade on you, I can relate to/understand everything you’ve shared. Birthdays don’t quite hold the same magic and, yes, remembering how old one is gets harder with each passing year.

    I had to laugh at my 24-year-old daughter this weekend. We were touring an historic home in Wisconsin and the tour guide thought she was 17, the cut-off age before you were charged the adult price. The daughter was not happy about this. I later told her, “Some day you will be happy that you look so young.”

    One tip here: Covering your gray does make for a more youthful appearance and can fool you into thinking you’re younger than you are. Works for me.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell January 4, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

      Thank you! We just got back today from 3 weeks being away, so that was pretty much my celebration! I think I even figured out how to get RSS feeds so now I can read your blog! :-)

      Being gone made life crazy so we celebrated on Sunday actually so I guess the kids can be forgiven for forgetting for awhile yesterday!

      I remember the days of wanting to look older…ha! And yes, that’s a good thought about the gray…hmmm…I might have to think on that one!

  6. Ray January 8, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

    Gretchen, I finally got to read your blog and I am enjoying it very much. You are a good writer, however, with regard to your story, don’t be upset about not being asked for an ID. Several decades from now you will be upset when you have to show an ID in order to get the senior citizen discount. Life always seems to balance out somehow.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell January 9, 2012 at 7:26 am #

      LOL, thanks Ray! I’m so glad you stopped by and that you enjoyed it. I hope you’ll stop by again! Of course, being older than Colin doesn’t help any. Young whippersnapper.

  7. Valerie Adolph January 15, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    We love birthdays in our family – we celebrate them big time. My daughter once said it was like having a national holiday of your very own.

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