Uncomfortable Birthdays

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been uncomfortable about my birthday. I’m not really sure why. I have a memory of an early birthday party (I was five or six) and had all my friends over at the house celebrating. I remember feeling sad about growing older. It’s the only clear memory that sticks with me about that party.

Since then, I get an uncomfortable feeling when my birthday rolls around. Other people want to celebrate it and remind me of it, and I’d just as soon treat it as any other day, completely ignoring the astronomical coincidence of the earth being at the same point around the sun as it was on the day I was born.

Of course, I can’t ignore it completely. People wish me happy birthday and I try to be gracious about it. For a few years, I tried forcing myself to be downright happy about it. I hosted a birthday dinner at the Rainbow Room in New York City, inviting close friends to celebrate. But that phase passed after a few years and I was back to preferring to ignore the day completely.

With kids it is more difficult. My kids want to celebrate everyone’s birthday, mine included. They have a hard time understanding why someone wouldn’t want to celebrate a birthday. And since I don’t want to pawn off my neuroses on my kids, I try to act excited about my birthday when it rolls around.

I prefer when my birthday falls on a weekday, and a busy work day in particular. It doesn’t leave much time to ponder. This was the case last year, for instance. I think about my birthday so little that it creeps up on me and catches me unaware. I think so little of it that I often have to ponder for a moment when someone asks how old I am.

I’ve tried to understand why my birthday makes me feel uncomfortable. It is not about the passage of time. That is inevitable and I try not to waste much thought on things that are inevitable. I tell myself it is because I don’t like being the center of attention, but that is slightly disingenuous. What writer doesn’t like being the center of attention? (I tell myself that I want my writing and not me to be the center of attention, but let’s be realistic.)

I’ve never been a fan of unearned credit. I’ve never played the lottery because I don’t want to win something I didn’t earn. I try to spread credit around on projects I run at work because they are group efforts, and my name just happens to be the one at the top. I think this is what makes me uncomfortable about my birthday: being credited with something that isn’t particularly notable. I could see celebrating, say, a 100th birthday since it is something outside the norm.

Perhaps birthdays are just a reminder of mortality, something I don’t ordinarily think about. Thoughts of mortality put me in a somber mood, and I don’t like being in somber moods. As my birthday approaches, I think of Psalm 90:10 (I like the King James version best):

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength and labor sorrow; for it is soon cut off and we fly away.

This year I’m spending my birthday with my family. We’ll be in the car all day as we drive for a much-needed respite from work and school, and being cooped up in the house for much of the last year. I enjoy driving; I enjoy having my family with me in the car. I listen to books, and watch farms and fields roll by, the scenery constantly changing. If I had to pick, I’d say that is my idea of a good birthday.

About Jamie Todd Rubin

Jamie Todd Rubin writes fiction and nonfiction for a variety of publications including Analog, Clarkesworld, The Daily Beast, 99U, Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and several anthologies. He was featured in Lifehacker’s How I Work series. He has been blogging since 2005. By day, he manages software projects and occasionally writes code. He lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and three children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.

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