As I think back over my birthdays for the last couple of decades, it seems that most of them were letdowns in some way. It may have been pouring rain (in spite of a midsummer birthday...what's with that?!) It may have been that something I'd hoped to receive was not among my gifts, or that special plans didn't go as anticipated. At my first ever with-friends birthday part (when I was 5) I vividly recall being sent to time out in the middle of my own party. I have no recollection of why I was sent, but I do know it ruined the day. The year I turned 16 I desperately hoped for a date on my birthday (since it was a Friday after all)...I didn't get my first date for another year and a half. During my last pregnancy I threw my back out twice, each time causing me to spend most of a day in bed feeling miserable--and one of them was on my birthday. My husband tells me that one year (between his divorce and our engagement) nobody remembered his birthday--including himself--until he was getting ready for bed. His day had been fine by other standards, but it had not been special in any way.
I've realized that we have enormous--and probably ridiculous--expectations about birthdays. It's probably started in childhood--cakes, parties, special dinners. We build up ideas about birthdays being different from other days. But the truth is that a birthday is a day, like any other day. We cannot control the weather, the road conditions, the local bacteria or viruses, our employment status, or even whether anyone else notices what day it is. Bad stuff happens sometimes, we just seem to notice it extra on our birthdays because somehow we have developed the idea that birthdays are supposed to be perfect. (Actually, we do it with a lot of days--I can think of a number of Christmases that let me down too.)
After last year's extraordinarily awful birthday, I concluded that I was going to treat birthdays like any other day. Sure, we'll make a cake, and have some presents...but I'm not going to try to build it up into some super special day. This year has had lots of potential for being another letdown birthday: we're unemployed, it's raining, and the baby kept me up half the night... but you know what? I feel fine. A little sleep-deprived, but generally fine. I didn't build it up, so it can't let me down.
I hope that I can help my children understand this while they are still young, so that they don't have to go through years of letdowns before they figure it out. I'm not swearing off birthdays or celebrations by any means, but I'm swearing off trying to make them too much different from other days. A birthday is a day wherein we celebrate, but it's not a 'special day' per se. There is no grand cosmic scheme in place to ensure that everything goes perfectly just because it's someone's birthday. Every day is someone's birthday, after all, and bad stuff has to happen sometime, right? So I'm learning to be zen about it. ☺