I was about 9 years old when my stepfather told me I couldn’t celebrate my birthday anymore. Like with so many other things, he’d made the decision without consulting anyone and, for the life of me, I cannot tell you why. It wasn’t the meanest thing he’d ever done—those stories are reserved for my therapist—but it was a moment that’s stuck with me ever since.
While my mother rebelled and threw even bigger parties to counteract my stepfather’s ridiculous decree, the idea that I couldn’t celebrate myself solidified in my brain. His suggestion that I wasn’t worthy enough to be celebrated sent me into a downward spiral. I thought maybe I did something wrong. I wondered why I couldn’t enjoy the one day a year that was supposed to be all about me. I didn’t care if my birthday was grandiose, but why wasn’t having kids over for pizza something I deserved like everyone else?
Fast-forward to my teenage years. My mom had divorced the anti-birthday dictator, but my depression and anxiety were at an all-time high. I wasn’t very attached to living and, with a single mom working a million-and-a-half jobs to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads, birthdays became even more special. They were the only time my mother would splurge outside her very strict budget.
We were living below the poverty line then, and I absolutely hated when she spent money on me for my birthday. I knew she did it to make us feel special, but I still felt a sense of guilt celebrating my birthdays. Why was she going above and beyond to take me and my closest friends to Dave & Buster's when it meant even more overtime shifts? Why did she spend money on me when we were living off food banks and getting most of our clothes from Goodwill? There were no massive bashes or resort trips abroad like the other kids I knew, so why were we pretending to be like them?
After celebrating my 29th birthday, I think I’ve finally realized the answer. She wanted me to feel deserving. To know that, even when things are bad, birthdays are a sign that we’re still alive. That we’re lucky enough to spend time with each other and stuff our faces with Betty Crocker cake and laugh over ridiculous Dollar Store decorations.
Now, I consider myself a full-fledged birthday monster, complete with some semi-unreasonable demands as a way of reclaiming this time of year. The first is that my fiancé wishes me a happy birthday every day leading up to the actual day once we’re in the month of March (“happy birthday month, day one; happy birthday month, day two”). It originally started as a joke but has since become an annual tradition. Sure, some people think it’s bad luck to celebrate early, but I’m not adhering to societal taboos when it comes to my own big day.
I typically have at least two birthday dinners—one for friends and one for family—and also always host a themed party. Even in the first two years of the pandemic, I had a virtual gathering where my friends joined an Among Us lobby and decorated our Crewmates with matching party hats to celebrate. Last year’s celebration was a three-in-one tea party celebrating my 26th, 27th, and 28th birthdays.
This year’s theme is a book swap where everyone will bring a wrapped book to trade with each other. I even have customized gift bags filled with handmade vintage VHS bookmarks from Etsy and goodies I think my friends would enjoy based on their personal tastes. I want my friends to feel as loved as they make me feel by attending my ridiculous yearly events.
Some years I do go smaller when it comes to my events, but now that I realize the importance of celebrating myself, I always make sure I do something. Even if that something is a movie with my partner or buying myself a small gift.
And it’s not just my birthdays that are a big deal to me. As a birthday monster, I know the importance of feeling surrounded by love for at least 24 hours—and I want everyone around me to know that others are grateful to have them in their lives. My fiancé used to hate celebrating his birthday but has since changed his tune. Now he enjoys having a few birthday beers at a neighborhood bar with his friends or planning birthday trips somewhere new. If my friend is throwing a lowkey birthday party for themselves, I’m the first one there with a gift in hand to make them feel extra special. It’s little things, like a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of wine, that can instantly amp up the birthday magic and make my friends and family feel extra loved.
As someone who didn’t think they’d make it to 18, every year feels like a gift. None of us know how long we have on this Earth, so why not be a monster on your next birthday? At the very least, cash in on those birthday freebies or spend some undisrupted time soaking in birthday texts and DMs. And, if you can, do something you’ve always wanted to do, treat yourself to a fancy dinner, or throw a massive bash. Everyone deserves to feel as loved and special as I do on March 14th.
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