Everyone Forgets My Birthday, And Yes, I'm Bitter About It

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and miljko/Getty

Every January, I try to get pumped for my birthday. I grew up in a family that made birthdays a big, freaking deal. We got a special outfit, our mom would make whatever we wanted for dinner (no matter how ridiculous the food combination was), we had cake with candles, and of course, presents. After I became a mom, I continued that tradition with my own four children, making sure we celebrated in all of the ways. I love birthdays.

That said, I have a bone to pick. Almost everyone I know forgets my birthday. Having a birthday right after Christmas, when everyone is in post-holiday burnout mode and the credit card bills from December roll in, means forgetting those with January, mid-winter birthdays. Yes, I’m bitter about it, and no, I don’t care that I’m not five years old anymore. I still want the birthday fanfare.

It’s always been a struggle having a January birthday. As a child, there were far more party options for friends with spring, fall, or summer birthdays. Winter meant we had limited, indoor party options. However, my mom still got creative. One year, we had a luau in our house. My parents cranked up the heat, and my friends arrived wearing summer clothes. My mom made a cake that resembled an island, my dad blasted his Beach Boys records, and we played games that involved water. We drank punch from plastic, neon curly straws. It was Pinterest-worthy, long before Pinterest existed.

I make sure that my children, no matter when their birthdays are, get the same amount of fun. There’s nothing like a banner and some balloons, cupcakes, and gifts. Birthdays, in my humble opinion, should be magical and special. I want it for my kids, my partner, my friends, and yes, I want it for myself. (There, I said it.)

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Some people leave me a Happy-Birthday-Hope-It’s-A-Good-One message on my Facebook wall. My parents and in-laws call me. My husband gets me a few gifts from him and the kids. I’m grateful for all of these. I do not want a huge party. (I’m one of those people who doesn’t like big surprises.) But do I want more? Yes, I do. And no, I’m not going to apologize for it.

There’s one other detail I need to share. My son, our third child, was born on my birthday. I love that we share our special day, but that doesn’t change that I still want to be celebrated too. I want my day to feel magical, not a post-Christmas afterthought mixed with my son’s beloved all-things-Paw-Patrol.

Yes, I could DIY. I had a friend whom I once met up for dinner to celebrate her birthday. She arrived with a cheap tiara on her head. She wasn’t going to wait for someone else to deliver her some serious sparkle. She owned it herself. However, as a mom of four, I spend all day, every day providing, meeting needs and demands, breaking up arguments, problem-solving, and decision making. The idea of making my own day special for myself is disappointing and proactively exhausting.

I know, I sound whiny. I’m typically a take-charge kind of woman. I don’t usually wallow in sadness or self-pity. But my forgotten birthday is something I’m absolutely bitter about, and I don’t know how to get out of this yearly funk. What am I supposed to do? Demand that everyone give “little miss thang” (that’s a reference from The Office) some serious attention? That’s not my style. Maybe it needs to be?

I have a lot to celebrate and be thankful for. I have two autoimmune diseases, anxiety, and I’m a breast cancer survivor. Birthdays mean more than they ever did. After facing a near-death experience and then having a mastectomy several years later, I’ve taken on a new appreciation for life. It’s easy to take birthdays for granted when you just expect them rather than worry about death.

I’m seeking balance between honoring myself and lowering my expectations of others. We’re all busy; January is usually a month full of back-to-school illness and post-holiday jaded vibes. I get it. But is it too much to ask for a card, some chocolate, and a balloon?

Maybe I just need to suck it up and get over it. I can make my own birthday magical if I choose to. There have been years I take an entire afternoon, which is a long time for a mom, and hit up my favorite stores. I stop for a latte, and I play music that I enjoy. There are no interruptions, little ones asking for another snack. It’s blissful.

I can choose to let this be enough. I know that. Maybe this upcoming birthday is the year I decide to take charge and simply enjoy the day for what it is instead of drumming my fingers and waiting for others to make my birthday special. Isn’t this what we always tell a friend in crisis? That her happiness is her responsibility, and she shouldn’t rely on the crappy partner, the narcissist mother, or the critical in-laws to affirm her and approve of her.

I’m turning thirty-nine in January, my last year before I hit the big 4-0. Maybe it’s time I start acting like an adult, instead of a sulky child, over my birthday. Or, maybe it’s time I let my desires be known to everyone else? I don’t know whether to lower my expectations of others or raise them, but ultimately, how satisfied I am with my birthday fanfare is up to me to decide.

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