Surely Not Fifty!
I’ve never been one for birthdays. I have a terrible memory for dates and so hardly ever remember anyone's – my sister Jo being the exception, as she was born on
February 29 on a leap year. I agonize about choosing gifts and always feel as though my choices are stupid, so I have given up and asserted “I don’t do birthdays” and give the people I love a phone call.
My own birthdays have historically been a fiasco. My dad’s birthday was November 25, and so sometimes we would have a “party” together. When I was seven, my mom hosted the kid’s party downstairs, complete with a home-baked pink elephant cake and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. My dad’s party was upstairs, complete with whiskey and firearms. My party came to a screeching halt when a gun went off and the bullet plowed through the upstairs floor, which was the ceiling above our seven year old heads. At least at that point they had a lick of sense and sent my friends home.
My next traumatic birthday was the November after my mom died. I had been sent to live with Auntie Hilda, and since I hadn’t made any friends yet, it was decided to round up my old friends from Ponoka and have a party with them. It was well intentioned but horribly awkward. The elephant in the room that year was the unspoken knowledge that my mother had been murdered.
A couple years later, when I was going to St. Mary’s Academy in
Kansas, my birthday fell on the American Thanksgiving (as it does this year). To save time and fuss, the cooks at the school put a couple of candles on a pumpkin pie instead of baking a cake. When they came out of the kitchen with it, all the kids stopped singing “Happy Birthday” and burst out laughing. I felt humiliated.
By then I was pretty much done with celebrating my own birthday. I wanted no more parties, no more attention. But there was one last horror show. Grade 8, Ponoka Junior High, the first year I returned to public school. My birthday fell on a night that there was a school dance. I was new to public school and a total dork, and I was overwhelmed by the possibility of interacting with, talking to and maybe even touching boys. Add to the situation the loud music and flashing lights, and I was completely overstimulated. I was in this state when my first friend at that school had the D.J. announce a “Happy Birthday to Connie” and dedicate “Stairway to Heaven” to me. I froze as the spotlight searched for me and people turned to stare. I was so embarrassed that I ran out of the gym and walked all the way home
in the dark alone. This unfortunate incident interfered with my ability to listen to any Led Zeppelin for years.
Awkward, insecure, living in more and more unstable situations and relationships, my birthdays became days to be avoided.
But this year I turned 50.
Fifty doesn’t seem real to me. Like many people, the age we feel is not grounded in reality. Sometimes we identify with a time in our lives when we are truly in our element, such as being a college student or parent. Often we feel stuck in the age of a developmental trauma - for me, sometimes I think I’m fourteen, seventeen, or twenty-one. Sometimes time is bend-y, and we can’t pinpoint how old we are...but surely not 50!
However, this year I’m owning my shit. I am 50 and proud of who I am. I worked my ass off to build the life that I have: a safe home, cherished family and friends, and meaningful work. It took 50 friggin’ years
to finally hold up my head, laugh and accept the attention I get, even if it feels weird.
To mark this milestone, I wanted to get together with my three best girlfriends for a weekend getaway and finally introduce them in person to each other. COVID got in the way of that plan, but the lovelies surprised me with incredibly thoughtful gifts, including a swinging camping chair. I think I’m going to take it out to my favorite lake, have a fire, and burn my years of old journals. Burn down the past, because the next 50 years are going to be phenomenal.