More than a day

Barron with birthday presents
Celebration Part One: Barron’s 12th birthday celebration began with cake, ice cream and presents with his grandparents in Sandersville.

It wasn’t that long ago that a birthday was just that – a day.

In the New South, however, we celebrate a person’s birthday for many, many days. I have a theory about why this is: It takes us longer to celebrate birthdays now because of geographic dispersion of family, over-stuffed schedules and the vicious cycle of birthday one-upmanship.

My oldest son, Barron, recently turned 12. Our commemoration of this blessed event began with a Saturday trip to Sandersville to celebrate with Carla’s parents. There was cake, ice cream and presents. My folks live 8-10 hours away. Although they have sacrificially made the drive to be with us on some of the milestone birthdays, we don’t see them on most birthdays.

Grandparents are an important part of birthdays for us, and we have to make the time to go to them. When we lived in Macon, it was no big deal. We might even be able to scoot over to Sandersville for an afternoon. But now that we are in the Atlanta area, it’s a bit more of a commitment and takes some scheduling. When families lived closer together, it wasn’t as much of a challenge getting everyone together for a birthday, but covering the miles takes planning. With our schedule, making a trip to see family causes the birthday season to become elongated.

Barron with birthday card mustache.
Celebration Part Two: Barron’s other grandparents from Florida sent a cool card with a mustache disguise in case all of the birthday mushyness caused him to need a disguise.

This leads me to my second point: birthday celebrations take more than a day now because of our overflowing schedules. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to find time to celebrate a birthday, particularly if it happens to fall in the middle of a work/school week.

Barron’s big day occurred on a Wednesday. We acknowledged his actual birthday by opening gifts on that day, but our mid-week church activities took precedence over any celebration. The sad truth is, most of our weeks are a sprint that may have only one or two small openings at night or on a weekend afternoon. And our kids aren’t even involved in sports. That ups the ante even higher.

We ended up celebrating with Barron by going out for pizza and bowling on a Friday. It was fun, and we all enjoyed it, but it was several days removed from Barron’s actual 12th birthday. This brings me to my final point: birthday celebrations have become a season because we feel the need to make each year better than the previous year.

If we started at the first birthday with a candle, a song and a cupcake, this wouldn’t be so bad. But we make the first birthday such a production that by the time kids are old enough to actually remember their birthdays we have to rent bounce houses or invite 30 friends to the gymnastics center or go bowling or play mini-golf or ride ponies or rent a limo or go to Disney World or on and on and on.

Barron at the bowling alley.
Celebration Part Three: Barron celebrates a strike as he dominates the family, including dear old dad, in a game of bowling.

Growing up in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, the birthday destination of choice was Crystal’s Pizza Palace in Irving. As a kid the place seemed massive, and it was the only place to play such arcade game classics as Sea Hunt, Galaxian, Joust and Pacman. I didn’t feel that my parents were under pressure to deliver a bigger and better birthday experience each year. I just wanted to go to Crystal’s.

But these days, it’s a hard pressure to resist. We want desperately to give our kids memorable birthdays. To do this, we sometimes have to schedule the event in increments, like Barron’s this year. It makes for a season of birthday celebration rather than a single day.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m talking about a societal phenomenon that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not like we take enough time to appreciate our loved ones anyway, and I don’t hear anyone complaining about getting too much attention for their birthday.

I just hope we can finish celebrating Barron’s 12th birthday before his 13th rolls around.

Do your birthday celebrations extend past the actual day? How do you handle it? What was your most memorable birthday celebration? Leave a comment and extend this blog beyond a single day.

Here’s to you, January birthday person

For people who don't have a national holiday in the honor, January can be a tough month in which to have a birthday.
For people who don’t have a national holiday in their honor, January can be a tough month in which to have a birthday.

Conventional wisdom is that folks with December birthdays have it the worst. Their special day gets lost in the run up to Christmas, and those with Dec. 25-31 birthdays are completely overshadowed.

I think we have a contender for most under-appreciated birthday month people: that would be the January folks.

After looking at our calendar for the month and realizing we have seven friends or immediate family members with birthdays, I’m seeing first hand how the January birthday person suffers.

To avoid being indelicate, we will not attempt to examine the cause of January birthdays. We can all subtract nine. Instead, I offer five reasons why January birthday people face previously undocumented hardship:

1. Christmas hangover. People get depressed when they put away the Christmas decorations. It just happens. The vacations are over, the gifts have been received and need to be returned, the parties have ended and “cheer” is replaced with “drear.” In comes somebody with a birthday. People can’t even remember their name the first few days after the Christmas holidays much less your birthday. And when people finally realize they forgot, it’s spring.

2. Almost a tax write-off baby. When I worked in newspapers, I worked several new year’s day holidays, which meant I went to the hospital to interview the parents of the first baby of the new year. Their joy was always mitigated by the knowledge that they missed a significant tax deduction by mere minutes. When you are resented as being “late” at birth and costing your parents money, that can carry over for your entire life. “Yay. You were born at 12:01. Now we will be reminded every year that we missed out on an extra $3,600. Happy birthday, you.”

3. Friends and family are broke. I’m sure all of you follow Clark Howard and Dave Ramsey and budget for Christmas gifts so that you actually are cash flush come January, but some people aren’t. And they are related to you. So even if they remember your birthday, the best you will get is a card. Gee, thanks. A card. How thoughtful.

4. People are narcissistic because of new year’s resolutions. In January people are exuding so much energy to stick to their new exercise regimen and diets that you don’t even register as a life form in their universe. They will not realize other people live around them until the resolutions wear off or their birthday, whichever comes first. They will acknowledge other people when they want them to give them a party and some nice gifts. You? You’re dead to them.

5. Bad weather. After about the second or third week of winter, the absence of sunlight and cabin fever form a deadly depressive mood that dominates people’s outlooks. They might remember your birthday, but it will just depress them. They will dwell on their own mortality, and if they throw you a party, it won’t be a good party. It will be one of those obligatory, dud parties where everyone talks about their medical conditions and all the people they know who have recently died. Try making a wish in that environment.

This will help you January birthday people feel better, I'm sure.
This will help you January birthday people feel better, I’m sure.

I am not one of those misfortunate ones with a January birthday. Mine comes at the end of July when people are sun tanned, relaxed, vacationated and generally mellow. They are so mellow that they give extravagant gifts, and it’s been so long since they’ve had a holiday excuse to throw a party that they welcome the opportunity to celebrate your birth. So, I’ve got it good, and I know it.

But for anyone not named “Elvis” — people like my mother-in-law, brother, dad and other close friends — fate has dealt them a bad hand. I’m sure they are glad they were born, and January was a fine time for that. I just don’t think they’ve ever gotten the attention they deserve for the grief they valiantly carry.

So, here’s to you, January birthday person, you are loved and appreciated, and no matter how late your day is acknowledged or how few gifts you receive, you are important and you are worth celebrating.

Now excuse me while I get these cards in the mail.

Do you have a January birthday? What has been your experience? Does your birthday get overlooked or am I off base? Leave a comment below and speak out. Maybe we won’t be too depressed or cold or self-absorbed to notice