Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dreaded Birthdays - and a very good one

Yesterday was my birthday.

I actually kind of dread my birthdays - and this isn't just a recent thing that came with age and not wanting to have to face the fact that I'm getting older. Even as a kid, birthdays were hard for me for various reasons. I generally didn't get to have a friend birthday party because we were usually up at Bear Lake for the whole summer, far from friends. I usually celebrated with my family and whatever random visiting friends or extended family might be at the lake on July 30th. There was always cake and presents (usually school supplies wrapped in tin foil) and my family always tried to do some nice things to make my birthday special even though I was one of nine children whose needs never ended and even though they were stuck with whatever random little gifts they could find amongst the meager offerings at the store in the little town near Bear Lake. But somehow my expectations were always too high and I often felt sort of disappointed on my birthday - in the lack of perfect presents and activities and in what I perceived to be a lack of real progress and achievement in myself as I turned a year older and didn't feel I'd really done enough with the past year. Plus even as a kid, I felt sad to see another year slip away. I never felt like the year had been perfectly completed and I wasn't ready to go on to the next but time marched on.

So I've generally tried to be quite sensitive to other people's birthdays (especially the birthdays of Jared and my kids), trying to make their day really special. I believe that one day out of they year, it's really great to be the king or queen of your family - choosing your favorite breakfast, lunch and dinner, choosing your favorite activities, your favorite cake, calling all the shots for the day and having everyone tell you what they love about you. I'm not that great at gifts - in fact I'm quite terrible at gifts - I can never think of what is the perfect gift for anyone and I want it to be perfect so I often end up empty handed after all my deliberating. But I'm great at treating the birthday person like the king or queen of the world. And they seem to like it. A lot. When you're one of five kids and you've got parents who aren't particularly indulging, being treated like royalty on your birthday is a really grand thing.

But in general, the kids and Jared are pretty easy to please and are thrilled with whatever I and anyone else does for them. I, on the other hand, can be quite a challenge when it comes to my birthday.

Poor Jared. Jared's never cared much about his own birthday - it's on New Year's Eve so it's always sort of been combined with other stuff and that's been fine by him. He doesn't really like being the center of attention and he's generally happy with whatever in just about any situation. So he was totally thrown for a loop on the first birthday I had after our marriage when my unexpressed expectations were not met and I was NOT happy about it.

When we woke up that morning, Jared gave me a cheery "Happy Birthday" and hopped into the shower.  I sort of waited around to see if he was going to be making me a special breakfast or something but as time ticked away, I realized that wouldn't be in the plans and made us some nice omlettes, thinking he'd surely announce some plans for the day at breakfast. Nope. He ate and headed off to work without another word about my birthday. I sat there lonely and pregnant in the depressing little temporary apartment we were living in while waiting to move into our first home. I had no friends in our new area and the one person I did have didn't seem to be remotely concerned about my birthday. After an hour or so, I called Jared at work, sobbing out my sadness and sharing the birthday angst I've felt for most of my life (something that I really should have shared at least a few days in advance of that fateful birthday!), and he jumped into high gear, had some flowers delivered to me and came home to take me out to lunch. He'd planned on taking me to dinner that night but hadn't yet realized that I was a person who needed to know that my needs were understood and were going to be met.

Every since that fateful first married birthday, he's been hyper-sensitive about my birthday - and I've tried to back way off on my hopes and expectations. But they still creep in. And Jared gets so tense. And I just want to get the whole thing over with.

So over the years, I've learned to make hopes and expectations super simple and clear. After tons of trial and error and disappointment on both sides, I've learned to buy myself a couple presents so Jared won't have to stress about picking the right thing (he - and I - have learned that there generally is a right thing - even when I couldn't identify what that would be . . .). I've stopped expecting my dear husband to plan out perfect activities for the day (he has come up with GREAT ideas in the past - perfectly wonderful stuff - but it's just too much stress on him and on me when the planning of the day is left up to him) read my mind even when he does get it right!). Now I think about what would be fun, plan it myself, or ask Jared to help out in the planning and execution. Works great.  I've learned to be totally and sincerely happy with whatever Jared and the kids come up. I've learned not to expect anything I haven't explicitly asked for while being delighted by any little surprises that come my way.

So with this new attitude, I had a great birthday yesterday.

I decided I wanted to start off the day with my favorite long, hard hike which was made perfect by unusually cool weather and great converstation with my dear friend and hiking/running partner, Mindy. For many years now, it's been my birthday tradition to bike around Bear Lake for my birthday (50 miles) but the past few years, our time at Bear Lake has ended before my birthday so my tradition has morphed into doing some sort of serious endurance activity out in nature. So the hike definitely fulfilled that. I texted Mindy, set up the hike, and it was just right.

When I got home from the hike, I found that my very creative and thoughtful children had come up with the cute idea of using a random car window marker that they found to write stuff like "Happy 29th Birthday" and "You are Awesome" and "Hope you have a great day" on most of the windows of our house. Plus they wrote sweet little notes on post-it notes and put them all over the house and used some blue painters' masking tape to put stars and patterns on various things around the house. Great to come home to! I couldn't have planned or expected this lovely display of affection. It just came right out of their loving hearts and creative minds.

Here are a few examples of what they did:

Found this on our map table - the arrow pointing right to Ogden.

At noon, I left the kids with a short list of little cleaning projects I'd love to have done while I went to lunch with a friend and praised them up and down when I came back to find most everything done.

Then Liza and I went shopping to see if we could find me a new birthday outfit. I sure love that girl of mine - she was so helpful and patient and we found a couple good things at great sale prices. It's hard to work around my tummy when shopping for clothes. But with Liza in the dressing room with me, watching me scrutinize my midsection in each thing I tried on, I smiled and said, "you know, I need to get back into some better core workouts and cut down on desserts a bit more because I'd like this tummy to go down a bit - but it'll always sort of be there because of you kids - especially the twins. But you guys are sure worth it!" She gave me a huge smile and said, "You look great, mom." I accepted the compliment and we laughed together at some outfits that really accentuated the tummy before finding some that kept it from taking center stage. I told Eliza that I have a mom body and that's a good thing because it means I get to be a mom. I want her to know that bodies change thanks to time and life events and that "perfect" bodies only exist in the fiction of airbrushed magazine photos and the lives of women who have personal trainers and chefs and who make their living in large part based on how they look. We can all work to improve the health and fitness of our bodies and eat in a way that gives us energy and happiness - but we can be happy with the scars and bulges that life brings our way. Who's to say they aren't beautiful in their own way?

My parents and some of my siblings sent me the most thoughtful and beautiful emails that helped me get a better glimpse of what I mean to them. Plus I got tons of kind birthday wishes from far flung friends on Facebook.

Jared took me out to dinner and we had a chance to just talk and relax together, just the two of us, something we haven't had a chance to do in AGES. It was so nice. Then we came home to enjoy cake and ice cream and games with the kids. The kids all told me such nice things that they love about me and Jared thoroughly beat us all in the game he's so darn good at (why did I pick that game???) and we laughed and talked and it was just such a nice evening. Jared gave me some of my very favorite cookies (Ruby Snap is just too good) and told me he was setting me up with a cleaning lady to help out with some deep cleaning of this house once in a while which will be SO nice.

So it was a perfect birthday. Everyone was so kind to me. The things I planned turned out great (not perfectly - but I wasn't going for perfect). There were some nice little surprises. I'm so loved. I'm so blessed. I'm so glad I've gotten over a lot of my silly birthday dread and have learned to expect less and enjoy more.

And as far as getting older, I'm OK with it these days. I feel like every year I've let go of more and more stuff that I really don't need to care about while understanding and internalizing more of what I really do need to care about. I feel more at home with myself every year and less concerned about what other people think and what I "should" be doing and saying than ever before. I understand myself better and better all the time. I've learned to expect less of everyone, including myself. I've learned to be more loving and less judgemental. Life just keeps getting better. So I actually quite like this getting older stuff.

Hope there's something helpful to someone in this rambling!


Jenny (also) said...

What great love notes all over the house.

You are beautiful and your daughter knows it! I would encourage you to think carefully about scrutinizing your body in front of her. The way you think about you is the way she is learning to think about herself. A

Saren Loosli said...

Thanks for your comment. I went back and explained a bit more about what I'm trying to teach Eliza about body image - I realized I didn't explain it very well before. I think it's good for our daughters to recognize that we can and should love our bodies, even if we aren't totally in love with every aspect of how they look. I think it's important to make health a priority and to shop for clothes that are flattering, while recognizing that happy healthy beautiful bodies come in many varieties.

JT said...

This is an amazing post!!!!

It truly spoke to my sentiments over the past 32 years. My birthday has fallen short on several occasions. I think I left the responsibility to others and thought that the day was going to magical happen to me. A former colleague once told me that no one is going to make your birthday for you. You have to make it for yourself. I love your idea of letting go of annual and physical expectations. I needed to read this post today. Thank you Saren for sharing your thoughts and happy belated birthday!

Thank You

LP said...

I think my "great" birthday would be almost the same as yours! Saren I am so glad we met! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! - did you hear that from way down here in Australia? :D Thank you for sharing your life experience. I often learn from your wisdom. Just thought you should to know what a gift you are to the world! You are awesome. You and the work you have done continues to bless my life. (Hope that made sense...I have an 8 week old baby and so I'm in the foggy brain bit!)

Rima Family said...

What an excellent & enjoyable post to read! Love how you keep things so "real" in your writing and can express things so well! Happy Belated Birthday! You are an inspiration to more people than you probably even know :)

yin-keng said...

I really enjoyed reading this "rambling" post.Ha2 Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts Saren and Happy belated Birthday!

cheryl cardall said...

I too have had high expectations for birthdays as well and have been disappointed often. Communication has helped that immensely. My husband and kids want to please me and want to make it a great day, but I have to spell out what I want. I love surprises, so that is hard for me to accept, but it's better when the surprise isn't disappointment. Happy Birthday, thanks for all you do for so many!

Laura said...

I'm not one to leave comments much, but I always appreciate how real you are! It sounds like we are very similar with our birthday expectations/disappointments. I just celebrated my 30th so this topic was on my mind, and you gave words to my feelings about it all. Thanks for blogging and thanks for all you do for the power of moms site!


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