Many people spend December 23rd frantically wrapping gifts, baking cookies or cleaning the house in preparation for guests.
I, however, usually spend the day unwrapping gifts, dining on cake someone else prepared and lounging around while someone waits on me.
I’m one of those unenviable Christmas babies. I was born 47 years ago at the late hour of 11:26 p.m. on Dec. 23.
My mother recently apologized to me for this unfortunate timing, but as an adult, I clearly understand how a woman doesn’t have power over such things. Apparently, I was meant to be a durable and determined Capricorn, symbolized by a mountain-climbing goat.
As I reflect on the ghosts of December 23rds Past, this day is always an opportunity not to prepare for Christmas but to prepare for the next year. With a birthday falling so close to Jan. 1, I have double the incentive to contemplate the year behind and my plans for coming year. What is that saying? Man plans, God laughs?
Obviously, the cold sober matters of my accomplishments (or lack thereof) weighed heavily on my mind the year I turned 5. Concerns about the trustworthiness of societal institutions (like the American presidency) were on the horizon but not yet realized (Watergate was broken into six months later); I was apparently disappointed with a flour-based cake. Or maybe I had, in the moments before, learned that Santa isn’t real (oh, horrors! Shield the eyes of the 5-year-old reading this blog over your shoulder!). Yes, yes, the spirit of Christmas and all that, but Santa himself — a charade created by generations of parents designed to coerce nice behavior. I was not amused.
I was a senior in high school the year I turned 18, and I remember being distinctly disappointed after cutting my hair short; as usual, I was not in step with the ’80s trend of big hair. However, the birthday-wrapped gifts in front of me appear to be filled with clothes, which I coveted more than anything else. Mom even made me a cheesecake (my favorite). I was on the cusp of being an adult and at no time then (or now) did I wax nostalgic for my childhood. Turning 18 symbolized the ability to make my own decisions. However misguided they may be.
All of my birthdays have been set against the background of Christmas, as is evident in this picture of my 29th birthday. I was mostly happily married at the time to my first husband and probably plotting how I could earn more money in the coming year. To buy more clothes.
Interestingly, I was wearing the exact same robe and flannel pajamas — with red socks instead of those sexy pink ones — in a picture taken a year later in a different house on my 30th birthday.
In keeping with tradition on this blog, this picture of me on my 40th birthday properly obscures my appearance. For my 40th birthday, a trio of my girlfriends and I planned a night on the town beginning with an afternoon together at a spa, where I stuck my head into this contraption to determine my “real age” based on the condition of the skin on my face in ultraviolet light. I don’t remember the results, but since I was a lifeguard for two summers two decades previous, it probably wasn’t good. I wish my real age was not so evident on my skin, but as I’ve learned, having birthdays sure beats the alternative.
That was a crazy year. I almost titled my memoir “The Year I Turned 39” because of the drama of that year. The house of cards that was my marriage finally buckled under the weight of disillusionment and betrayal; I moved out, kicked a lover to the curb, filed for divorce and started dating a new man.
I’d like to be able to say I chose more wisely with this new man, but given my history, it was probably dumb luck that I found my Beloved, to whom I’ve been married now for 5 and half years. We had been dating three weeks when I turned 40, and he gave me this card:
Inside, it was unsigned, but he included this message (edited for proper comma usage; my Beloved is a deep thinker who is possibly too enamored with the comma):
You’re probably wondering what I’m up to with this card. Congratulations on making it to your 40th birthday. The reason for the card is that I am sure you’ve gotten all that Hallmark has to offer in their 40-year-old collection and to, once again, make you think: Think about how quickly the last 40 years has gone by, how many memories you’ve made for yourself and, lastly, how much time you have in front of you today. There will be a day when this card applies to your age. So, what are you going to do with the next four decades?
When you’re sitting in your easy chair and possibly reopening this card from your scrapbook (I know you’ll have one), remember this particular day and the decision you’re getting ready to make for the next path you will be led down by God. I hope it’s a pleasant, peaceful and loving journey, full of all that life has to offer.
Happy 40th, Sweetheart. I hope I’m around for the signature in a few years, 40 to be exact.
Eight months later, I moved to Illinois to be with this amazing man. Perhaps some regular readers are tired of hearing about how talented, thoughtful and generous my Beloved is, but I can’t deny his greatness. He’s as wonderful on my 47th birthday as he was on my 40th.
And unlike Santa Claus, he’s real.
As I ponder the year that was on my birthday today, I count my blessings of abundance — especially of people who care about me. I cannot credit my Capricorn determination but rather grace.
Thank God for grace, good friends and love.