Monday, June 21, 2004

A birthday follow-up

Well, like any journalist, I am flattered when my writing receives attention. And when a particular Weblog post (or story) receives attention, it is only wise to follow it up with a few thoughts and reflections.

My last post, which rehashed some of my classic sentiments concerning the celebration of birthdays, was apparently very popular with my family and friends. Or perhaps unpopular. Either way, it received a lot of attention and discussion.

And I suspect this was not wholly because I emailed an advanced teaser of it and asked them to read it. :-)

Over the weekend, there was much discussion about both my post and the parody of the post that my brother posted one day later (his birthday is actually the day after mine, making us 8 years and 1 day apart in age). Unfortunately, most of this dialogue occurred offline (my family does not seem willing to make use of the comment button beneath my posts and would rather call or talk in person), so there exists no electronic reference to it. Suffice to say, it was both interesting and quite amusing.

However, my girlfriend’s reaction to my birthday has challenged some of my feelings about my approach to these celebrations, so much so that I’d wager next year’s post about birthdays will look very different. As I stated before, my birthday is not a particularly special event for me. If I am to be honored, I would prefer that people do it for things I have accomplish, not for merely having emerged from my mother’s body (an accomplishment to which nearly every person who has ever lived can lay claim). In fact, if anything, I think we should start celebrating mother’s day on their children’s birthday, for they are the ones who actually underwent Herculean effort on that day.

But this is a digression.

My girlfriend had a tough experience with my birthday this year. For reasons that I will make clear below, it was mostly my fault.

I had told her about my dread of birthday celebrations, and made it clear that I was not in the mood for a gaudy celebration. And she seemed to understand that, but I think we were both unprepared for the reality of what that was going to look like to her.

The day of my birthday, I was at the Austin campus of Apple Computer, receiving training on Apple’s latest server platform, OSX 10.3 (“Panther”). I had already been there for three days in a row, and found the classes extremely useful, but exhausting.

So on that Thursday, I left the Apple campus a little after 5 p.m. and battled the unbelievable Austin traffic for about an hour. I got home long enough to check my mail and then head out to a committee meeting at church. That meeting ran until 9 p.m., and afterwards I began running errands for the mass of birthday parties that weekend.

I got home after 10 p.m. having not eaten dinner and after having a tense phone conversation with a friend. When I entered my apartment, I saw a mass of Spongebob balloons and knew that my girlfriend was in the middle of a birthday surprise.

We had a pleasant evening, but I was exhausted and we didn’t do much. Mainly eating birthday cake and talking. The next morning I packed up for the trip to Fairfield and went to my last day of training at Apple.

My girlfriend was sad that day, and I couldn’t get her to tell me why. I called her several times and she just said she was tired. Finally, she told me that she felt like she had failed to make my birthday special. After I returned from the trip, we talked about it more, and it turns out she was most hurt at my suggestion that I was going to give some of the Spongebob balloons she had given me to my nieces and nephew over the weekend.

I had asked her if this was ok, but in retrospect, I think that perhaps it was insensitive to even suggest it. And I began to rethink my birthday philosophy.

I’ve always tolerated my birthday celebrations for the sake of others. But maybe that’s just not enough for the ones I love. Maybe it would be more sensitive and understanding to enjoy my birthday.

I feel like the pain I caused my girlfriend could have been avoided if I had simply cleared time in my schedule and ensured an evening of fun. Celebrating my birthday was not my priority that day, and as a result, I hurt my girlfriend’s feelings when her expectations for my happiness didn’t seem to be met. Maybe I owed it to her to enjoy her expressions of affection.

Maybe I need to allow others more joy in my celebrations.


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