Black 35 Birthday

Birthdays happen once every year. This is the way it works. There is a date which we are birthed and every year for the rest of our lives we celebrate this date. It starts out innocently enough as a way to celebrate this new body being here for 365 days. Once that time frame is up, you’re assigned with a new age. The first couple years can be confusing. We want it to be an age and we want to see some progression, so instead of waiting for the meter to turn over at “1” we refer to it in smaller increments. It is actually helpful, otherwise we’d be taking baby’s in for their 3/4 of 1 year check up or 1/6 of a year check up. But some people continue to talk in the month increments until past the 1. It seems acceptable to go up 2 years in months. After that, most people care less. The aging process is already losing some of its luster.

As we get older we continue to celebrate the birthdays even though many don’t like being reminded that they’re one year further away from the side of being born. I had birthdays like every kid and looked forward to them. I never had birthdays like some, where you get whatever you want on your birthday. I want hamburgers and chocolate cake. Sure, maybe a meal. Birthdays and the day of a death sentence you get whatever you want to eat. But sometimes the special birthday requests continue. I want to stay up extra long and I don’t want to do homework and I want to take a long lunch and I, me, I, me, me, me.

“Sir, did you shoot and kill your neighbor with the howitzer mounted on top of your garage?”

“Yes. It’s my birthday and that’s what I wanted to do.”

At some point , probably after high school, I stopped being so enamoured with my birthday. I usually got a card from my parents and that was nice. I never threw birthday parties for myself or expected someone else should do that. My friends in their mid twenties didn’t have kids and wanted to stay in touch with the birthday tradition, so they start giving their friends gifts. At the age of twenty-five I couldn’t be responsible for remembering friends’ birthdays. This was going to be difficult. I got a couple of birthday gifts but quickly fell off their radar when I didn’t reciprocate. I felt bad at first, but it was for the best. Like in the boy-loves-dog movies, where the boy says, “Go on, get outta here. That’s it, get outta here.” Only I added, “Getta outta here with your stupid birthday celebrations.” I walked away with a tear hidden in my eye. But I knew they would be appreciative when they were older and had a family and  kids and nieces and nephews birthdays to worry about. I’ve also seen a friend give his girlfriend of less than one year a gift of a trip to New York along with some other smaller gifts for one birthday. You want to say whoa, slow up there big fella. You’ve got nowhere to go but down.

At the end of the day, my hat is still off to these good people for caring about the day that other people were born. But I have a better idea. It’s radical, but it needs to be. What if we celebrate birthdays until you’re 18. After that, on the day you were born you send your mom a gift. After all, the big celebration seems to be about some kind of achievement and the birthed baby didn’t really do anything at all. It wasn’t even the baby’s choice to come out. Like some kind of good tumor, the mother’s body knew it was in its best interest to expel the malignancy on that day. I’m not finished here. On the day after the birthday, everyone (older than 18) needs to send the dad a gift for all his troubles. Sure, it could be a small gift. The dad’s gift doesn’t even need to be special. It could just be a 6 pack of beer.

If this system had been in place a few years ago I wouldn’t have experienced Black 35. My wife, let’s call her Cynthia, was experiencing her 35th birthday. I believe it was a Wednesday. Her birthday is in April and the weather was good for April. I wished her a happy birthday when she was only half awake and went into work. The plan was to do something later. So, to the office I took my soon to be sorry carcass.

The last week had been very busy at work. Sometimes when you own your own business time slips away. The usual suspects. On the phone, having a meeting, getting some work done and out the door for a deadline. Sometimes it’s difficult for a fella to get a gift more than a day in advance. My guess is that we all have the same time constraints and procrastination is the final motivator. I flip-flop from being the type of person that never puts things off to being a Pro at crastinating. That week I had not gotten Cynthia’s birthday present. And not only did I have to get her a present, but I have to get a present for my one year old daughter to give to her – even though we both know that she doesn’t have proper motor or social skills to pick out a birthday gift for her mother.

My plan was to go to a meeting at noon and on my way back to the office I would stop and get a present for Cynthia from me. I’d also get a present for that lazy one year old to give her mother. The meeting went  a bit long and on the way back I got an emergency call about a job, immediately going into fire putting out mode. I stayed constantly in motion until almost 5:30. Apparently, somewhere in the office there was a bulk tape eraser that must have been accidentally left on and stored at brain height. My mind had been erased of all my pre-noon thoughts. And so it was that I went home, like a shaky little cub bear new to this world. Only thinking about how hungry I was and possibly that this little bear needed a drink after today.

I was greeted by Cynthia. “Hey, what’s up?” She said as she quietly spread open a number 8 bear trap out of my sight. “I had a terrible day at work. Did you make anything for dinner or do you want me to make something?” I sniffed. I had turned from shaky cub to a full-grown bear. This bear was now knocking down flowers and rolling around all over this beautiful day with no respect or understanding of what he was doing.

“Did you have some plans? Are we going somewhere? She said.

“No. I’m wiped out.” said the bear as he rolled around in fish guts and any other kind of offensive bear kinds of activities.

“I didn’t go shopping. We don’t have anything.”

“What about those hotdogs.” The bear said as he lumbered over to make a drink.

“Ok.” Cynthia got out the hotdogs and started boiling water. The bear noticed that the water is not the only thing that looks like it’s boiling.

Then the heavy tone came. “I thought we were going out. Are you messing around?” The bear stopped and smelled the air and smelled the danger, but it was too late. SNAP. The number 8 trap went off. Pain, remorse, and embarrassment gushed through the bear’s veins. The bear tried to pretend like he was messing around. Only grunting noises were emitted from the snout. Mentally he was taking inventory of anything he owned that she had not seen and could pass as a gift. Nothing. The bear was very sorry.

As I limped out of the room with the iron teeth around my ankle, I decided that I would try to make the best of it. I grilled the hotdogs on the grill and put candles in the hotdogs and lit them in lieu of a birthday cake. This was an incorrect answer. There was no recovery from this day. This would go down in history as Black 35. I still have the scars from the bear trap analogy around my ankle to remind me that this cannot happen again.

Now that we are a few years past Black 35 (and I won’t say how many, if I know what’s good for my ankles) we can laugh about it. We have different ways of laughing. My laugh is much more nervous than her’s. Every year as my birthday approaches, I keep a low profile. I always think that this will be the year that she’s going to forget my birthday and then we can finally be even. But this won’t happen. She’s like a birthday hawk and can spot a birthday from up in the clouds. If that isn’t bad enough, she has two kids excited for birthdays (the third will be operative in another couple of years) that help to remind her of my special being born day. But, the flip side is that I will also have three helpers to help me bear the burden of avoiding being the bear.

Sadly Yours,

Jason Spafford

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