Celebrating Birthdays

I recently celebrated a birthday. This year was not a milestone number and the day fell in the middle of the week. For as long as I can remember, I’ve suffered from birthday anxiety. Even before I had a name for it. Even as a child, I think I recall feeling weird about my special day. It seems so fraught with expectation. I always wanted the day to be THE BEST, without know exactly how to make it so.

As an adult, birthdays seem even trickier. I often like to get away and travel. Sometimes that’s not a good option (like last year and this year). Sometimes I just want to be home. Despite being an extrovert, I can be a serious homebody (especially around the Christmas holiday, much to Mr. Vine’s dismay). After having a sort of downer birthday last year, due entirely to choices I made, I was determined that this year would be better. I plotted out a few birthday freebies that sounded good and planned a few of my favorite things for the day. To make all of that happen, I took the day off work. It ended up a terrifically active day–including a run, a bike ride through my city, a hike in the woods and a stroll on the beach. By the time I crawled into bed, I was stuffed and wonderfully exhausted. The one thing I didn’t do was spend some lazy time on the couch snuggling the cats. They weren’t having it, so it wasn’t exactly my choice.

Throughout the day I did a lot of introspective thinking–about the last year of my life, about all the years of my life, and what’s to come. I’m pretty loose with goal setting, preferring instead a rough outline of things I might do, rather than a rigid list of “musts”. These birthday musings were more of a checkpoint rather than a strict blueprint for where I hope to be at the end of my next trip around the sun. Being in a transitional time of life–a time between big milestones–it is difficult to feel sufficiently accomplished. I’ve written about this before. But for at least one day, I savored the journey, the place where we are in the middle of things.

I wanted to focus this year on the free and low cost things I enjoy. This was marginally successful. On the one hand, I splurged on a few meals, like a delicious lobster roll. But on the other hand, we skipped dinner on my actual birthday because I was already so stuffed. It turned out to be an exercise in spending on experiences we value. Birthday celebrations impacted our budget, but did not totally bust it. Ultimately, that’s the way we want to live long-term–with allowances for occasional treats.

My birthday comes when summer wanes into autumn. I’ve always felt defined by the season of my birth–at once a time of endings and beginnings. Having spent my life in a part of the world that sees four distinct seasons, I feel the change acutely. The shortening and lengthening of the days, the change in foliage, the smell of the air, the cast of the sun’s light, and even the shade of blue in the sky.

As my third decade on this planet marches on, what we’re working for crystallizes in my mind. It is the idea of living each day to enjoy those moments. To slow down and feel the present. What made this year’s birthday so great is that I experienced it so fully, so intently, and so intentionally. I decided in advance that I wanted to spend this birthday practicing for early retirement. Even though I think we probably packed more into it than we might on most of retirement days, I’m convinced we won’t be bored for a minute. We’ll be too busy living.

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