This Year, I'm Birthday Crying
Most years, I can avoid the birthday blues. Tell them that mourned time is just a failure to look mortality in the eye, and send them packing. I can’t fight time, and if I tried, I wouldn’t win. So I try to see time as a friend. My mother always says “aging is better than the alternative.” My better dispositions agree with her. Most years, I concede to time. I thank her for the knowledge, the inches added to my hair, the fresh layer of skin over old scars. I do my best to forgive her for the wrinkles.
There have been times, though, that I felt my birthday approaching too fast. I am always eager to celebrate myself; but when I looked forward to see my eighteenth birthday approaching, I wanted to pump the brakes. Just a little. I liked being seventeen. Seventeen was supposed to be a year of happenings. I aimed to have my first boyfriend, my first kiss, all at seventeen. In all the songs, the girl is seventeen. But then, year seventeen filled the rearview. Eighteen came hurdling forward. Inevitable change. My friends threw me a surprise “second seventeen” birthday party. We pretended for an evening that I could be afforded a do-over. The crying could, at the very least, be postponed.
This year, I turn 26, and step into the unfamiliar “late twenties.” Out comes the retinol. Some have told me that I should look forward to my thirties. They say that’s when I’ll start to feel balanced, when I’ll have more financial security, when I’ll feel more confident. Cosmo swears that sex gets better too after thirty. Scientists have concluded that most of our brains finish developing around age 25, when we exit the “late adolescent” life stage. Knowing this, I decided last year to use 25 as a grace period. The connection between my pre-frontal cortex (which controls decision making and rationalizing abilities) and my amygdala (responsible for emotions) solidified—so what? Rational decisions could be formed. But surely this new connection had to be broken in. And anyway, Obama made twenty-six the year of insurance expiration. Late adolescence might have technically ended, but I still had one last year to morph fully into the highly anticipated stage of “grown-up.”
A mentor I admire suggested a few years ago, to my dismay, that the twenties were harder than the teens. She advised that I show myself kindness. Upon entering my early twenties, I threw myself a party. The preceding year had been a bad one. I hoped a party would bring promise to my new age, and maybe distract from the pieces of my life that felt lacking. A good occasion for a themed booze fest if I’ve ever heard of one. I could trick the fear of impending change into staying at bay, or else at least sing along to “It’s My Party”. I made up the theme: lingerie and fur coats. (My old roommates and I still consider this party the peak of our college career.)
No one that I know would call the past year a good one. Does it really have to count as a year of our lives? Nothing went as planned. I lived at home. I didn’t get a job in my field. I always said that I considered 26 to be the year that I would have to be a grown-up, because that’s when I’d have to figure out my own health insurance. When I made this statement in the past, I thought I’d have a job to provide me with health insurance. That’s something that time didn’t bring. Not only did I forfeit a year of youth, one that should have featured travel and fun, but I had to kiss my cushy insurance goodbye. The very same insurance that pays for the medications that give me the will to do anything, and the therapy sessions that prevent me from succumbing to a downward spiral. A year gone, health insurance gone, and I couldn’t even throw a party to distract from it. My old trick party distraction trick couldn’t work this year. Even if I could devise a theme and buy a cake, they wouldn’t be able to give me a way to pay for my medications.
Birthdays so clearly mark a change. During birthdays, we’re forced to look the time that’s passed in the face. I can put a big bow on it and all my friends can sing a bad song in attempt to distract me from the fact that another year is gone, but no one of us can un-rotate the sun. This year, looking age 26 square in the face, I tried to make peace with the missing pieces. Sorry Obama, it ain’t 26 either. I can use the more mature skin care products, but that doesn’t make me grown. It just means I have to figure out how to get my own health insurance.
Maybe birthdays can offer an opportunity too. Maybe a passed year is a thing to be admired, a thing make use of. At 26, I'm confronted with the opportunity to learn how to figure out my own health care. Another year to learn, to at least check off some of the grown-up boxes. Even a year as unfortunate as the year of Covid can offer insight into limits and needs. What better time to ask, “have I been kind to myself?” or even “how can I be kinder?”