I distinctly remember that when I was fourteen, I couldn't wait to be fifteen. Because fifteen was gonna be my year. I was going to be cute. And popular. And smart. And whatever else it is that fourteen-year-old girls wish they were. That's what I was going to be! I just had to get to fifteen.
On my fifteenth birthday, then, imagine my dismay when I looked in the mirror and I was still the same nerdy, skinny, awkward thing that I'd been the day before. It was an epiphany of sorts for me. I was going to be me, always, and no birthday was going to change who I was. I was just going to have to learn to deal with it.
Ever since then, I don't know, I just don't like my birthday. It's a reminder, not only of the fact that I'm still me, only one year older, but also of the way I felt all of those skazillion years ago, when I just didn't like myself all that much. (I know, I know: you're not supposed to like your teenaged self. But do I have to remember her with such disdain? She wasn't that bad, as teenagers go. She did have an annoying habit of drinking straight half-and-half in a desperate attempt to break the 100-pound barrier, but you know, there are grosser things she could've been doing, right?)
This year, my birthday fell on a work day, so I arranged several strategic out-of-office meetings, because I know my office likes to do birthday cake celebrations in the mornings, and I just didn't want to do it. Also, I was pleased because the night of my birthday, there was a family holiday event planned at the Embassy, so I wasn't going to have to cook dinner or anything like that. I could just sort of forget the whole thing. I deliberately booked myself a weekend-after facial, so I could celebrate by myself on another less momentous day.
I had it all figured out. And I knew it would work, because it worked last year: I got through almost the whole day last year with no birthday wishes coming my way.
My office was on to me, and they waited until almost the end of the afternoon to spring their cake on me. Just when I was about to sneak out, I was summoned to the conference room, and there they all were, waiting for me. It was okay, though. We cracked a few "who's the oldest?" jokes (I'm perilously close to winning that title) and joked around for a bit before we all went back to our offices to lock up for the day.
Back in my office, I got an instant message from a friend who is currently posted in Panama. We call her, in the fondest of ways, the Minister of Sarcasm. I'm not going to tell you her real name because her mother reads this blog, and as far as her mother knows, the Minister has never once gotten a shout out on this blog. We're going to keep it that way, just to annoy the Minister. Anyway, last year, the Minister was angry with me for keeping my birthday a secret until it was too late for her to buy me a cookie, and this year, I noted somewhat gleefully, she was out-of-cookie range. Minister of Sarcasm - 0. Donna - 1.
We were typing back and forth, me teasing her for her lack of cookie-sendability, when who should walk in but the Ambassador's special assistant. He tossed a Snickers Bar on my desk, and on the Snickers was a note: "Happy Birthday From Her Excellency, the Minister of Sarcasm."
"It was supposed to be a cookie," he shrugged, "but I forgot to buy one at lunch time." And I swear I could hear the Minister laughing, all the way from Panama.
Revised Score: Minister of Sarcasm - 1. Donna - 0.
Snickers in hand (thanks, Minister! and hello, Minister's mother!), I headed home to pick up the kids and bring them in to the holiday party. My friend J had already reserved a table, so all that was required of me was to sit there and drink.
(Side note: Why doesn't J have a nickname? "J" seems so non-descript somehow; local readers who know J need to send their nickname suggestions to my in-box, please. I'm thinking it might be time to go all Afghan Plan on you and adopt a nickname-only policy, because if sitemeter is to be believed, there are waaay too many people at post reading this blog some days.)
So J and I sat with a few other equally un-nicknamed folks, drinking and chatting and watching our kids do arts n crafts, and I tried really, really hard to forget that it was my birthday and I'm still gawky and nerdy and skinny even though I am clearly nowhere near fifteen anymore. But I must have been failing miserably, because everyone kept asking me why I was so sad. Subterfuge is apparently not my thing.
Before long, I was just so ready to go home and curl up and wait it out, just me and my Snickers bar. Everyone else seemed to be leaving early, too, no doubt because I wasn't exactly the best company that evening. But whatever. Who needs them when I have a perfectly good Snickers bar? Anyway, I assumed that somehow Bart would have made a cake or something, because he is the opposite-of-me, and he is always ready to celebrate my birthday in style, whether I want to or not.
(Side note, again: Last year, my birthday fell on the same day as my school board meeting, and I told him emphatically that I did not want to celebrate on the day of. I would rather wait until another day, when we had time to go out to dinner or something. But waiting until another day to celebrate is totally illegal in his birthday playbook, so I knew he wouldn't be able to resist marking the day, even if it killed us both. Sure enough, the board meeting ran late, and I was terribly late getting home, but there he was with a cake, and none too happy that it was way past everyone's bedtime and we hadn't done the birthday thing right, not at all, but dammit we were going to eat that cake and hurry up about it because hello? bedtime, people!)
Where was I? Oh, yes, so we went home, and I was vaguely suspicious that something was up, because Shay had gone home with Chicken Little, and since when do Bart and Chicken Little arrange sleepovers for their kids without consulting their wives? Since never, that's when. And on my birthday, no less.
So I was only a little surprised when I opened the door and a bajillion people jumped out from behind a Syrian wooden bench that was apparently my husband's gift to me (and is completely awesome and beautiful; thanks, z, I love you) and yelled "surprise!"
Surprise, indeed. I snapped myself out of my bad mood because look at all of these people who had showed up to celebrate with me! Chicken Little and J, and the GlobeHoppers, and Andy and Katie, and Stephanie and Chief, and Amy, and Major Winerack and her husband. We all ate cake and drank champagne and told consular war stories until Major Winerack brought out a birthday gift for me that pretty much shut the party down. I can't even tell you what she gave me, except to say that it was the perfect gift for a skinny, gawky girl, and given her nickname, it made perfect sense that she chose it for me. Some people are easy to nickname; what can I say?
Anyway, there was much merriment and laughter, mostly at my expense, and no: there will be no photos. Major Winerack took some photos of course, but I haven't seen any yet, and I simply can't imagine that any of them will work on this here family-style blog.
And that, my friends, was my birthday. Though I'll admit that perhaps calling my birthday a "March Toward Death" was a tad melodramatic, I still maintain that I don't have to like getting older. But you know? All in all, I had a nice day. I have a great group of friends here, and they make me laugh every day, and they remind me that I really ought not take myself so damned seriously all of the time. Really. It's just a birthday, after all, just one day out of the year. So why not use it to laugh at yourself instead of criticizing, right? And that's just what we did.
So thanks to my husband, and to all of my friends, both the nicknamed and the un-nicknamed, for not letting me slouch around feeling sorry for myself. I am getting older, it's true. But with each passing year, I acquire more and more friends, all across the globe, the way some people add to their shiny coin collections. These wrinkles of mine? Well, they're mostly laugh lines, because I have some seriously fun and funny friends, and every single day they give me a new reason to smile.
Thanks, my friends, for making me feel special. Same time next year?