The People Who Care Most About Celebrating Their Birthdays Are The People You Should Care Least About
I hate birthday people.
The Insta-story reposters and 3-day-birthday-weekenders who go out of their way to make sure that everyone knows that they’re still alive. God-forbid they realize that most of us don’t care.
I know I sound like a curmudgeon, the Scrooge of birthdays, running around and ruining everyone’s joy even though it costs me nothing to allow them to have it. But, to be clear, it’s not that I don’t want people to do what makes them happy. I just don’t like being expected to change my behavior to make up for whatever it is that they lack.
I’m at a fancy bar, standing next to Cheryl, a wavy-haired woman in her 60s. She wears a flowy dress and a couple of expensive-looking necklaces as if to say “I am very relaxed but, if you must know, I also have a lot of money.”
Cheryl lifts up her wine glass in the direction of the birthday boy, who is standing across the room. “Are you and Michael close?” she asks.
“Not really,” I say. “Only hung out with him a couple of times, but he seems great. How old is he turning?”
“Thirty-five,” she says. “Which you should know since you’re at his party...,” and then she smiles a bit, but not in the way I’d like. It’s as if she’s saying “don’t worry, I won’t tell him that you’re a shitty friend.”
“I guess I should know his age,” I say to her, conceding, because sometimes it’s not worth it.
My mother gets like Cheryl at times. Attached to the irrelevant.
“Where was my Hanukkah card?” she said to me over the phone four years ago.
“Honestly,” I said, “I totally forgot. Didn’t put it in the mail till today. Sorry,” I said. And then I hung up and rushed to the store to buy a card.
Cheryl, at the bar, pulls the glass away from her lips and unprompted says, “completely natural childbirth.”
“Sorry?” I ask, thinking that I must not have heard her correctly.
“When I gave birth to Michael, it was a completely natural childbirth.”
“Ohhhh. You’re his mother,” I say, now feeling a bit embarrassed for not having known Michael’s age. Not that I should feel this way. But I do.
“Mhm,” she responds, “completely natural,” which, now at its third mention, implies that there’s something she’d like me to ask.
“And how was…the childbirth?” I ask.
“It was great,” she says. “Michael is a charmer. And that’s not a coincidence.”
“Um. But does that have to do with his birth?” I ask, taking the bait.
“Of course,” she says, laughing at me. “The energy around the child and mother during a birthing session is very important. Epidurals, c-sections…all these are…inhuman. We’re not meant for any of that. Did you know that c-section children are more likely to be obese?”
“I did not,” I say, looking across the bar at Michael, who I can most honestly describe as obese-cusp. Cheryl looks at him, too, but there’s no way we’re thinking the same thing unless maybe she’s thinking ‘can you imagine how much larger Michael would be, had I chosen cesarian?’.
I, myself, wasn’t a c-section baby, though my mother did have an epidural. Maybe that’s why I love downers: Xanax, Vicodin, weed – anything that diminishes or, even better, mutes. I’d love to blame my mother for this. How nice that would be not to have to take responsibility for my own vices. But that’s not sustainable. At least, not for long. Eventually, I’d wind up as the victim I believe myself to be: rotting away at a pity party for one. Which is probably worse, but maybe not much worse, than ending up like Cheryl, who pities everyone that isn’t her, all the while finding herself constantly proud of accomplishments that are not her own.
“And you know all that excess baby weight that comes with being pregnant?” she says. I don’t know, but she isn’t really asking me. “I didn’t really have to deal with any of it.”
“Yeah, I had a great chiropractor put my hips back in alignment and all that weight fell right off. Had him do my friends’ too.”
I imagine her throwing a newly-mothered-hip-adjustment Avon party. Seemed fun tbh.
“Can any chiropractor-”
“-absolutely not,” she says. “You have to find the right one, and it took me a few calls, but I eventually found him. I know people, you see,” and then her right brow lifts and I’m not sure if she’s implying that I should call upon her for introductions, in general, or if she is specifically implying that she has a chiropractor to help me with the hip fat she thinks I should lose.
This goes on for a bit. The back and forths of us chatting about something I didn’t point us towards as she takes credit for anything nearby.
We all do this, at times. Incorrectly self-attributing life’s positive outcomes to make up for our lack of self-worth.
Like how I pay my therapist to tell me that my boyfriend wanted to date me because he was attracted to my mature vulnerability when it’s more likely that he wanted to date me because I was regimented about not texting him back.
Or how my mother revels in the idea that she raised my sister and me all by herself because a few years ago when I was in a fight with my father, I sent my mother a Happy Father’s Day card because I knew it’d hit home for everyone in all the right ways.
“Oh hiiii,” says a voice from behind me at the bar. It’s Jane, Michael’s wife, who’s maybe here to save me from her mother-in-law. “So glad the two of you got to meet!” she says.
“Mhm,” I reply. “Cheryl was just telling me about what it was like giving birth to Michael.”
Cheryl nods, proud.
“Oh, isn’t that great,” Jane begins. “Well, don’t let me interrupt that.”
“No no you’re not-”
“-so good to see you, Alex,” Jane says, walking away.
“God, She’s so pretty,” Cheryl said to me.
“Yes, yes she is,” I reply.
“Nothing but the best for my son.”