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The big milestone that was my 30th birthday prompted me to recall the most memorable birthdays past:
I was born on Mother’s Day, 1982. It doesn’t hold much significance to me, other than the fact that I know without a doubt that I was born on a Sunday. Most others have to look on a perpetual calendar or they just have a mom with a good memory. My mother brings up the point that I was her Mother’s Day present on a fairly frequent basis. Sometimes, I secretly roll my eyes at that. A typical response is, “Oh, what a great present!”. Usually out of politeness and for lack of a better answer. I mean, how else are you supposed to respond to that comment, especially when it comes from a virtual stranger? But I don’t roll my eyes because of the response. I roll my eyes because I question how sincere my mother is when she calls me a “present”. I suppose in a way it’s true, only because she doesn’t specify whether or not I was a good present or an equivalent of a present that’s been regifted so many times that it eventually comes back to the original gift-giver.
My mother and I have butted heads for as long as I can remember. I’m 110% sure throughout most of my life, “present” wouldn’t be the word she would first use to describe me. “Difficult”, “rebellious”, “hard-headed”, “flighty”, sure. Present? Not so much. The funny thing is, many (if not all) of my friends scratched their heads when they saw how much trouble I got into with my mother. For the most part, I was extremely obedient and innocent and pretty much allergic to stereotypical teenage mischief like drugs and sex. I didn’t even so much as sneak out of the house until I was 20 years old, and of course by then, I was an adult and was free to go anywhere I pleased without parental authorization. But boy, was I stubborn and opinionated! And I was always, always unabashedly myself. I made mistakes, wasn’t perfect, and my dream was to become a writer. That resulted in a major argument that I will go into more detail about at a later time. If I disagreed with something my mom said, I wasn’t afraid to say so. I also happened to be less Emily Post-y than my mother and much more laidback, so when her proper mannerisms and old world style didn’t transfer to her progeny, it caused some friction, to put it lightly.
My early childhood birthday parties are years that just mesh together in one big blur. The only real memories I have are from old pictures. One picture in particular that stands out is my dad holding me on his hip. The outfit I’m wearing is clearly my mother’s handiwork: a very stylish pink dress with a cutesy bib collar and ridiculously large bow. Red patent leather booties graced my feet. I also remember some diamond studs sparkling from my ears, though my hair’s covering them in the picture. My ears got pierced when I was six months old, so I didn’t really have that rite of passage that other girls have. My lips are firmly suctioned to his cheek, and my father is smiling proudly. I don’t remember the actual party, but that picture is one that I constantly recall in my memories when I think about birthdays.
The first birthday party I vividly remember is my ninth one. I had invited my entire third grade class. I was so excited for it and dressed my absolute best for it, with a pink poufy dress (I guess some of my mother’s styling had rubbed off on me by then) and a necklace from the flea market–my very first thing I remember purchasing with my own money. In the middle sat a watermelon-pink crystal heart, the first border consisting of silver and clear crystal accents, the second border enveloping the whole lot in faux pearls. I thought it was the most beautiful and special thing in the world. Twenty-one years later, I still own it and wear it on ocassion.
I must have looked ridiculous wearing this fancy outfit to the McDonald’s playground (It was the first time I ever had a birthday party outside of my place of residence, and McDonald’s just seemed like a cool place to have it.), but I didn’t care. My first big crush was invited, and I wanted to look my best for him. I remember walking back and forth from the slide to the gate, waiting for my guests to arrive. Nervousness and excitement bubbled inside me, causing me to slightly bounce when I walked. This party was going to be huge!
Thirty minutes passed, and still no one was there. “That’s okay,” I thought. “Everyone’s just being fashionably late.” I kept an optimistic smile on my face. Another thirty minutes after that, I started to feel deflated. I asked to use the phone (remember the age before cell phones?) to call my best friend to see what was holding her up. Turns out she was sick and couldn’t make it. I admit, I didn’t believe her at first, but the next day when she didn’t show up to class, I believed her. I was disappointed. Out of anyone else, I was hoping at least my best friend would be there. Unfortunately, no one showed up. Not even one person. The employees took pity on me and tried to cheer me up by taking me behind the registers and showing me how to use the ice cream machine. I smiled politely and thanked them. When they gave me my huge birthday cake, I had them cut off one little chunk for me to take home. The rest I gave to a stranger, one that I had decided was the dorkiest-looking kid in the restaurant, because I wanted to squeeze out the biggest philanthropic value. The smile on that little girl’s face when she realized she’d be taking home an almost-entire cake helped to ease the hurt I was feeling.
Apparently what happened was that since I wasn’t very social (my parents kept me under glass), the parents didn’t feel comfortable letting their kids go to a party where they barely knew the kid. I was a military brat and moved a lot. The particular place I lived when I was nine years old, I only lived at for a year and a half. So I didn’t really get the chance to know anyone aside from my crush and my best friend. Many kids actually wanted to go (I asked, because I was upset), but they couldn’t.
I wish I could say there was some sort of happy surprise party waiting for me, but there wasn’t. Turning nine was definitely memorable, though.
My tenth birthday was in a new place with new friends (we had only lived at our new home for a little over a month), and it was fun. I think we had our weight in strawberry ice cream and cones. I received walkie talkies from my older brother and me and my friends spent the rest of the day running around the house, hiding in corners and talking to each other.
I guess I could say that I made thirteen into my first “milestone” birthday. The only way I could think of to properly celebrate my introduction to the teenage years was to see a PG-13 movie, since I was officially able to go without a parent. My mom ended up chaperoning anyway, because some of my friends were still underage. We saw The Craft and it was amazing. I vaguely remember a friend of mine not being able to go for the same reasons parents tell their children not to read Harry Potter. But really, the movie was harmless. That didn’t stop me and my best friend at the time from rewatching the movie and memorizing the spells.
I look back on my sixteenth birthday party with cynicism. It has been permanently labeled as my “Not-so-Sweet-16” party. It started out innocently enough–a last big hurrah to childhood with a trip to the roller skating rink, then sleepover afterwards. Alas, my friends were fifteen and sixteen, with fifteen-and-sixteen-year-old drama. A boyfriend of one of my friends decided to come along for the ride to the rink. I barely knew him, and their relationship was kind of iffy. On the way, another one of my friends started talking about how her and her father weren’t getting along…to the point where she was afraid of him possibly abusing her. Surprisingly enough, the boyfriend didn’t really pose too much a problem. The drama started during the couple’s skate portion of the evening–but probably not in the way you’d think. See, I was–and in some ways still–very much attached to the east coast where I used to live. Yes, even though I only lived there for a year and a half, and even though I had that humiliating ninth birthday party, I loved living there. Visiting the east coast in 2007, 2008, and 2009 made me realize that fact even more. At the time that I was sixteen, I had lived on the west coast for six years, but that didn’t stop me from missing the east coast. Watching everyone skating around reminded me a lot of the skate nights we used to have in elementary school, where I would shyly look across the rink at my first crush (the first crush that I mentioned earlier). So when I saw someone skating around at my sixteenth birthday party who looked a lot like that crush, a wave of “homesickness” crashed over me, drowning me in sadness. My mom noticed this and asked me why I was in such a bad mood. I said simply, “I miss Nathan.” (Nathan’s not his real name, FYI) She looked at me and laughed. “Don’t be silly. Get over it.”
I don’t know why I expected anything but that response for my mother, but I guess I was naive. Thinking I could garner any support or sympathy from her was just as silly as she was telling me I was being.
Needless to say, I was super-disappointed by her lack of mom skills. Later on during the skating session, I got caught in an awful lie that I’d told my then-best friend (long story for another time). So on the car ride home, I was doubly sad because of my mom’s reaction and my loss of a best friend. That was the mood I was in before the rest of the night happened.
When we all got home, my friend with the borderline-abusive father called the house telling my friend that she needed to go home RIGHT NOW to take care of her brother. She answered that she told him about this party awhile ago and that he’d already given her the okay and that she wasn’t just going to leave. I guess he didn’t like this answer, because about five minutes later, he banged on our door and abruptly grabbed my friend by her arm out the door. She apologized profusely to me during the whole ordeal. By that time, I’d pretty much had enough. I locked myself in the bathroom and burst into tears. After a few minutes one of my friends knocked on the door to coax me out and open presents and blow out my cake. I remember someone saying, “Happy Sweet 16!” and me laughing bitterly and thinking, “Sweet 16, my ass!” Somewhere I still have pictures of that party, with me opening presents and tears in my eyes. It was hands-down the worst birthday I ever remember having.
I’m happy to say (knock on wood) that all my birthdays since then have been great. My 18th birthday party was a wonderful introduction to adulthood. I had a double-birthday party with a friend whose birthday was two days after mine. We had it outdoors by the lake, and we made a playlist that included New Kids on the Block’s rendition of “Happy Birthday.” There was dancing and running and good food. Overall, a very pleasant party.
My 20th birthday was the first birthday I spent with my now-husband (then-boyfriend). We had only been going out for a little while (ten days, to be exact) so everything was still new and a bit unsure. For a present, he had special-ordered The Last Unicorn, which was one of my favorite movies (and ironically, I didn’t own it yet). I remember him telling me he was so scared that I wouldn’t like it or I would think it was cheesy, but really, I thought it was absolutely perfect. He pulled some strings with the RAs in the hall to borrow a table to put in his dorm room. I stepped into a homecooked dinner of chicken alfredo with broccoli and pine nuts and garlic bread with butter on a wooden butter plate. I kid you not, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was playing in the background (I think he asked me previously what I liked as romantic dinner background music). It sounds cheesy, but it was so perfect and impressive, especially since I knew he sweated to make it perfect for me. 🙂
Turning 21 was a pretty epic experience, and it all happened without a 21-run! At this point, Gruffy (again, not his real name…though that one should be pretty obvious) and I had gotten pretty competitive in who could be more creatively romantic. For my 21st birthday, he set up a scavenger hunt for me around campus, leaving 21 clues at 21 of our favorite spots. Attached to each clue was a flower. Let me tell you, he got some major points from peoples besides me that day when he told them what he was up to! The last clue led right to him waiting for me with a hug. (Yep, he’s pretty awesome sometimes!) I have a couple of boxes chronicling our relationship, and I have a book of all the clues and the flowers dried. There are many times where the hubby dangles that above my head when I’m a little annoyed at him. I gotta admit, it’s a pretty good one.
Afterwards, we went out to a swanky-yet-laidback (sounds like an oxymoron, but in this case, they got it just right!) restaurant. For some reason, I don’t remember what I ate, but I remember one of my friends ordered goulash. I have a strange memory, I guess. But for those who want to know, my first legal drink was a Long Island Iced Tea. And here I bring in yet another Gilmore Girls reference (Remember when I said it’ll probably become more common? Yeah. It’s starting.):
Lorelai telling Rory about the dangers of Long Island Iced Tea.
Though I didn’t lift my skirt in public or call someone I didn’t mean to call, I did do things I normally wouldn’t do. After about two big gulps in, I was already feeling the effects. I remember getting sleepier and sleepier. Unbeknownst to me, my head started sinking down onto the shoulder of the guy sitting next to me. This guy, by the way, was NOT my boyfriend, though my boyfriend was pretty amused at my actions. Now that I think about it, I believe it was the guy who ordered the goulash. Hmmm…intrigue! Maybe Long Island Iced Teas make me crave goulash? Anyways.
The rest of the night was a blur, even though that was the only drink I had. But I do know I didn’t pass out or vomit, so I definitely see that as a success. 🙂
For my 22nd birthday, I spent it with Gruffy and my two best friends from high school in my hometown. Since my hometown was a 5-hour drive from the college town I lived in, we decided to make a weekend road trip out of it, especially because the times I saw those friends were getting quite few and far between. We convened at a nearby Applebee’s and had some good conversation, drinks, and appetizers. After about an hour, my best girl friend went home to catch the season finale of Survivor. Gruffy was tired from the drive and so wanted to go back to my parents’ house to sleep, but he didn’t want to be the party pooper so suggested I continue the party by hanging out with my best guy friend while he went back and slept. I should bring up now that Gruffy and my guy friend get along splendidly, and they had met several times before that moment, so there was no awkwardness in this situation whatsoever.
So we temporarily went our separate ways, and I went to my friend’s house for more conversation and an introduction to Happy Tree Friends (I am still half-traumatized, half-greatly-amused by recalling that moment). When he dropped me off, we both still thought the night wasn’t over yet, so we took a walk around my neighborhood and chatted some more. After I finally hugged him goodbye, I smiled and filed the day away as yet another great birthday party. But then I turned around and saw my dad’s silhouette watching me from the second-story window.
As soon as I stepped in the front door, my father pulled me aside. Gruffy was relaxing on the couch and could hear everything going on.
“I saw you walk around the neighborhood. Who was that guy?”
“Um, that’s my friend, Dad. You’ve seen him plenty of times before.”
“But that’s not your boyfriend.”
“I know. Is that a problem?”
Oh, bad question.
“You’re disrespecting your boyfriend by spending time with him.”
“Actually, it was his idea to hang out with him. And besides, I’m an adult now. I’m allowed decide who I do or don’t hang out with.”
“He just said that because he wanted to be polite. But I’m a man, I know how much that hurts.”
I was completely appalled. Really, I think it was a generational disconnect between us. In his world, there was no such thing as having a guy friend.
At this point, Gruffy decided to intervene. “I’m not jealous at all. It’s not my job to regulate Violet’s friendships. I trust her to not do anything to disrespect me, because I know her better than for her to ever do something like that.”
Now it was my dad’s turn to be shocked. He dropped the issue, but you could tell it still bugged him. In fact, he brought it up again a few days later, but I stood my ground.
It was an interesting birthday party, to say the least, but I can truly say I did a lot of growing up that day. That, and Gruffy earned major awesomeness points. 🙂
The rest of my 20s went off without a hitch, and without anything exceptionally memorable, but I see that as a good thing. It means that it was a pretty relaxing group of birthday parties. Some quick highlights include my 25th birthday, where I got a trio of purple from a friend of mine (lavender spray, purple bag, and a delicious purple birthday cake with purple icing) and got 25 quarters from the bank (get it? 25 25-cent pieces?) to spend on memorable events during my 25th year, which included paying for part of my wedding dress (the seamstress was really awesome about it after hearing my story…I basically gave her a check for the total of the dress minus 25 cents plus the quarter), my wedding venue (same situation), part of the toll on the Pennsylvania turnpike, and 22 other things (that I can’t remember at the moment, but I wrote them all down); and the year I turned 27 and received my precious Kindle. Gruffy had basically taken up a collection, and this was when Kindle was new on the market. It was also my first-ever surprise party (which, if I were to be honest, I kinda knew about) I was so incredibly touched and I refuse to upgrade to a more recent version because this first-generation Kindle has so many good memories surrounding it.
A few birthday parties later, and here I am, 30 years old.
My Dirty 30 party was pretty epic, if I do say so myself. The theme was carried through when I issued the invitation, telling people to dress in their version of dirty clothing, if they wished. I donned a leopard-print dress, knee-high black leather high-heeled boots, super-smoky eyes, big dangly earrings, and bright red lipstick. (Those pictures will go unposted. What happens–and what’s worn–at my Dirty 30 party stays at my Dirty 30 party!) A couple of my friends completely made my day by showing up as a pimp and his madame. The pimp was clad in a purple suit with a zebra-striped collar, and the madame was wearing an “L.A. has a pink taco” tank, lacy black bra exposed, hot pants, ripped fishnet stockings, teased hair, and makeup she learned from a “how to look like a drunken ho” makeup tutorial. It was an amazing present!
The Dirty 30 theme was also in the menu. I made dirty rice, sloppy Joes, dirty martini dip, “muddy water” (homemade root beer), “dirty lemonade” (lemonade with bits of lemon pulp and strawberries), Muddy Buddies (for those who haven’t heard of them, it’s Chex cereal coated with peanut butter, chocolate, and powdered sugar), and, my crowning glory, “worms in dirt”:
I followed this recipe , then added Oreo crumbs (just put ’em through a blender) to look like dirt. It basically tasted like a raspberry-chocolate parfait. Delicious! And all my guests were impressed by them, so I count that as a success. 🙂
We played a dirty secrets game, which was fun, and I got absolutely spoiled with presents. I was pretty taken aback by that, because I am neither used to nor expect to ever get treated that way. My only hope is that I act in a way that deserves it, and can offer my friendship in return. After all, isn’t that what life’s about–to be the best version of you that you can possibly be? I’m hoping that I’ll take that lesson and apply it to the rest of the years of my life and for many birthdays to come. 🙂
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Wishes for Your Own Wonder Years,