My birthday sucked this year. Big time. Most birthdays aren't days I celebrate. I had one year when the ex invited my large family for a restaurant meal. It was big, and for a few hours it was special, but it came with a price. The emotional lashing in the days before it tempered the night. There were pictures posted on Facebook and my smile was genuine, but I don't even remember if it was 29 or 30. I wanted to make it a big deal because it was a milestone to me. It was the lead up that felt like a big deal because there's supposed to be significance in it. When the next morning came, I was slightly jaded. I still had laundry and dishes and kid chasing and the part where I was special felt like exhaustion from the gratitude I was in service to. I'm used to still being Mom on my birthday because if I don't do dishes or laundry, it'll be waiting for me in double portions the next day. I didn't expect breakfast in bed. I rarely eat breakfast. I often made my family breakfast as a short order cook, and hoped for time to go back to bed. I've spent birthdays at the zoo and Chuck E. Cheese's. I used to say that all I wanted for my birthday was my Kindle, Amazon store credit and a hotel room with room service and housekeeping. No one ever believed me and one year I'll do it for myself. My birthday hasn't been about me since I was 21 or 22.
Birthdays and especially Mother's Day are not about me. These are days when I get to show my family how much I appreciate whichever ways they want to show me they love me. Kid2 once took the cookies I had baked and made them into cookie sandwiches with school glue. I almost ate it until I asked what he used. I would have swallowed it with a smile because mom duties include instilling value in the children we raise. My birthdays have become a day to really feel gratitude for my Mom because I know my birthday is about her as much as it's about me. I don't get it when people celebrate the entire month, because usually I want the day to end. I'm not afraid of aging. I like where my years have placed me. I've earned my laugh lines and the random gray hair I sometimes find. Eventually I will take ownership of my birthday again.
In the last year, I've found there is so much peace and joy in life alone and on my last birthday, my ex reminded me of how much pain and damage he could cause. I'm all for putting individual needs first until those needs start to fall as burdens on others. I took off my wedding band on Valentine's Day, but I decided I was not going to continue waiting for him to divorce me on my birthday which was the Friday before it. Up until then, I felt that if he wanted to leave me, he could be the one to divorce me. I didn't want to hold his hand, or finish what he started because for a long time I didn't want that. We didn't fight. I'm not a fighting type for the most part because I'm fully aware of the damage I can cause and I never saw him as capable of handling me at my worst. I never wanted to hurt him but my reactions would say otherwise. I don't think he could imagine the damage I could inflict intentionally. On my birthday, I saw that it wasn't about waiting for him to finalize things, but deciding his choice was the best thing for me as well. I am content in the knowledge that he will no longer be able to control my financial freedom or how I look or behave around other people.
Every year my birthday Facebook post is a reflection of where I am in that moment. I had been posting for years, but In 2015 I started expressing more than gratitude for the happy birthdays I received and I wrote:
I'm at the age where decades blur with the business of life and if you asked how old I turned today, I would say I turned old. It's easier than doing the math because I won't remember my age until the next milestone which will be 40.
I'm at a place where I feel that love means doing what you know is best for the person you love, even if it's not best for you, and not looking at it as a sacrifice, but as a gift, because in the end, their wellbeing is what's best for you.
I found passion in school but failed to temper it with goals or a dream, so now I'm living the dream and it looks nothing like I thought it might. I still don't have a live in housekeeper. Or a dishwasher. Or more disposable income than sense.
I went from finding a random $20 in the wash to a few coins and sopping wet toy cars and game chips.
I stopped going with the flow of life to picking fights for everyday injustice. My calm nature holds in check the furious beast that loves to research the alleyways to victory. (Autism Mom superpowers)
As a new Mom I refrained from buying toys by gender identity. 13 years later I hope to raise feminist men because equality feels better to me than misogyny.
Another trip around the sun and my creaky joints keep trying to tell me to slow down, but that girl in the mirror keeps telling me I'm gorgeous and slim (clothes sizes lie - arbitrary numbers and nonsense) I used to try to show off my cleavage or legs. Now I just don't want to embarrass my kids when their friends see me.
This was when I was still content in my marriage and I thought both of us were happy. This was posted in February with a few redacted bits:
Life is about balance and there might be beauty in my ashes or hope through my despair and the gift of humanity is emotional interaction and deeper meaning in the mundane.
I reached out in love to two really amazing people before the sun came up. I saw them posting online and I knew I wasn't waking them-although I could probably call them at any time of the night and get the same love. Love can't tell time. That's why infants survive until they sleep through the night. This morning there was anger and rage streaming through my tears, and I called them instead of passively aggressively posting that it's my party and I'll cry if I want to. I see that as growth. I was greeted with love and encouragement and a reminder to pray through.
I got to work (stepping out of my car) and a complete stranger found me as a person well put together. She couldn't taste the salt stained cheeks or see the red eyes begging for rest as I fought my bedding through fitful sleep last night. I'm still running on fumes of 4 hours of sleep and way too much of that burnt coffee that Starbucks calls medium roast. I looked at her. I looked into her eyes, ignoring years of meaningless meander through a faceless city and I thanked her. She was safe to confess my latest heartache to, because after this morning I'll never see her again. She hugged me. She saw me for my strength and embraced me for my vulnerability.
As my day progressed, new co-workers peeked over at me to wish me well for my birthday, one spending moments of his day to ask about my plans. I was encouraged. They complimented my white Home Depot dress and found out what a Home Depot dress is. It's sexy and classy and you wear it at Home Depot when you're feeling low and it'll boost your day by the time you leave. It pairs well with my Ruby Woo Mac lipstick because nothing says you're kissable like red matte lipstick that is a cross between berries and blood. It reminds people of love, sex and death and is somehow sensual.
My new license plates came for my new car and I was grateful for the unwrapping of my present to myself. I finally have a car I'm excited to stick my CSULA Alumni license frame on. My neighbor offered a hand (that Home Depot dress kept delivering all over town) but I enjoyed putting them on myself.
There is no cake because I don't eat wheat and didn't plan a flour less cake. I've also always thought blowing spit and lung juice over a cake that others are expected to eat is a bit gross. Sometimes frosting will seduce me with the siren call of a sugar rush and pre diabetes because I am a sugar addict. Self-control isn't always one of my gifts.
Tomorrow is a new day and a new year. It's leap year so I have 366 days to set new goals and kick the custard out of life with a blowtorch in hand. Custard is creme brûlée with extra sugar and a torch. And the food joy is exponential when custard becomes brûlée. And fire. (I just pictured Beavis and Butt Head, did you?)
Parts of that post were cut out. I stepped out of my car that morning knowing that by this time next year, I would be a divorcee. As much as I was crumbling at the edges, I was determined to face my day with pride and grace. That was the face this stranger saw. After nearly a year of believing that I could forgive anything if I kept my eyes on my faith, it was a moment of deciding I didn't want that anymore and a test of what my faith means to me. My prayer life has suffered since then. That's my truth. The day was full of good and bad, and there are times when the bad still batters me.
I had planned to take my kids to Catalina Island that weekend. My car died in January and my trip became a down payment. The ex did his best to control my birthday weekend and my powerlessness reduced me to angry tears on my commute home that day. Plans were shifted because I do what the kids allow. I tried to salvage a good memory that weekend and bought a Playstation 4 for my kids which was met with a meltdown by kid2 and collects dust because kid1 and kid3 believe in the gaming potential it holds. Just Tuesday kid1 and kid2 were talking gaming, and I heard kid2 say, "you should just get a Playstation 4." I reminded them they have one and I was met with laughter.
What I didn't include in my Facebook post that day was a moment. It was a brief moment and for a while it was my private happy place. It was a moment that made me feel attractive and desired. There was a look and that look was everything.