B could stand for a lot of things in this open-ended "this is your life" list... Books... boys... beverages... banter... Bob Collins (the 50-something MPR news editor on whom I have an apparently not-so-weird crush*). Since whatever I pick for today has to be a five-item list of some sort, however, birthdays seem to be a pretty good choice.
* Not so weird because if the listener letters they've been reading on air during this week's fund drive are any indication, I am not the only one harboring this crush. I can't tell you how many times I've thought I found an underappreciated gem, only to discover a gaggle of other girls were smitten with the same nerdy or awkward soul. But that is a post for another time. Or, a post in a footnote, as it were.
Birthdays tend to get less eventful every year, and while the grown-up in me understands that's the way things go, the child in me cries "No fair!" Birthdays are the one day a year when it's OK to say it really is all about me, when I go through the day imagining that I'm surrounded by a soft glow, that there's a special neon sign above my head informing the world, "Smile and treat me nice today. It's my birthday, and it's my day."
I actually love my birthday. I love making at least a teensy bit of a big deal about it, even if I feel slightly guiltier and more self-absorbed about doing so each year. I don't particularly relish getting older, but if I have to do so anyway, I'd rather do so with all my nearest and dearest rallied around and cheering me on. Adding another year to my age isn't so fun, but if good friends, good food, and good wine are involved? All that, plus cake and presents to boot? Frankly, what's not to like about that?
So in honor of birthdays (and of the letter B), here are five of my most memorable birthdays to date. (Incidentally, I am stealing this topic from Pam, who did a similar list several weeks ago. So go check hers out as well.)
- Age 6 - My younger sister was born four days before I turned six, and my parents brought her home from the hospital on my birthday. While I was probably a bit reticent about giving up my place as the youngest child, I was intrigued by the new, tiny person in our house, and was willing to give her a chance. That night after school, my mother sat me down on the couch, propped a pillow under my arm, and put my baby sister in my lap for the first time. She screamed immediately. That encounter set the course of our relationship for the next 15 years. We like each other now, but all through childhood? Not so much. On a more positive note, four different family friends all feared that my mother wouldn't have time to bake me a cake for my birthday that year, and they each provided one to help her out. I had a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, a white cake with candy clowns and plastic balloons on it, a confetti cake, a German chocolate cake, and the cake my mother actually did make for me as well. It is the only year I've had five birthday cakes, and to my six-year-old self, it was awesome.
- Age 8 - My older sister had been hinting to my mother that she wanted a surprise party. Of course, asking for a surprise party sort of makes it harder to surprise the person, so my mother didn't arrange that right away. A month after my sister's birthday, some of my friends apparently came up to talk to her in school about the surprise party my mom had invited them to. My sister was livid. "Why is Stefanie getting a surprise party??" she wanted to know... "It's not even her birthday!" She was right. It wasn't. It was mid-way between my sister's January birthday and my March one. But one random Saturday afternoon in February, we came back from an errand with our dad to find all of our friends (from both our classes) hanging out in our basement with balloons and cake and games. The home movie footage of this moment is priceless. I'm standing on the steps, head cocked to the side, wondering, "What's all this then?" My older sister is screaming at my mother, upset that (A. she lied to her, saying there was no party in the works, and (B. she wasn't properly informed so she could put on a dress. It's still sort of hilarious to me today.
- Age 16 - I had a hard time finding good friends in high school. I floated on the perimeter of a few different groups, but never felt fully included by any. When my mom asked what I wanted to do for my sixteenth birthday, I didn't want to admit that I wasn't sure who I could even invite. So instead I invited all of them--the few girls I could legitimately call my friends and the many others who likely only tolerated me. And I invited them all to a roller rink, because that's just how very cool I was not. Come to think of it, I mentioned this during NaBloPoMo last year, too. I still scratch my head at the whole event.
- Age 20 - My birthday fell on a Friday, and when I got back to my dorm after class that day, a photocopied picture of Ethan Hawke greeted me in the hall. "Guess who's 20 today?" it said. I walked to my room, grabbing additional copies of the same picture along the way, "Do I get to kiss the birthday girl?" one said. "Time for your birthday spankings?" asked another. When I got to my room, my friends were waiting. They'd decorated with balloons and signs, and they made a ridiculous paper hat that they forced me to wear when we walked the half-mile to Chi-Chi's for dinner. Later that night, when my friend Joe finished his shift at Baker's Square, he brought me a French Silk Pie. We'd also had ice cream cake earlier (paid for with a check my mom sent my roommate to ensure I had a cake), so I guess multiple-cake birthdays haven't been a total anomaly in my life after all.
- Age 30 - For the third time, I was given a surprise party, and for the third time, I was completely surprised by it. Either it's really easy to pull one over on me or my friends are just extra crafty. Let's say it's somewhere in the middle, OK? That year, my birthday was on a Thursday, and I'd invited all my friends to join me for dinner at a German restaurant the following night. On my actual birthday, my then-boyfriend said he was taking me to dinner at a fancy-schmancy place near his house. After work and before our dinner, he suggested we go out for a few drinks with some work friends. When we went to his house allegedly just to consolidate ourselves into one car, he instead walked towards his front door. "Where are you going?" I asked. "I thought we were going to dinner." He replied, flatly, "I've gotta take a leak," and he let me follow him into the house. Just as I was about to commend him on his classiness and good manners, the lights flicked on, and all my friends popped up to shout "Surprise." It was a great party, even if it did mean that most of them had lied to me and had no intention of going to the German restaurant the next night and I therefore had to change my reservation there three times. I still had a small group for that outing, and we had a fine German meal, plenty of drinks, and a table-side stump fiddle serenade. We also polkaed in the downstairs dance hall and then went on over to the now-famous tiki bar for fun drinks in Easter Island head cups. All in all, it was a great way to ring in my 30s. I probably haven't had as fun a birthday since then.