I saw my fiftieth birthday coming from a long way away. In general my family keeps birthday’s low key, especially now that the kids are all grown up. A small giving of gifts, birthday person gets to pick some favorite foods for dinner. But fifty feels milestone-ish and I’ve observed in the past that if I hit a supposed-to-be-celebrated moment (like a birthday or mothers day) in an emotionally depleted state I sometimes have bigger-than-expected feelings about what does or does not happen on that day. This year I am over stretched and carrying a lot of fatigue, so the probability of me feeling a lot of things on my birthday seemed high. From a month or more out I started thinking about what structure to give to the day so that it fell into a happy place rather than a sad one.
Howard was thinking about it too. In early January during a late night conversation he asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday. I started spilling all of my thoughts, talking for at least five to ten minutes. At the end of it, Howard said, “I’ve just listened to you talk yourself into and out of six different plans there.” It was exactly what I’d done. So I went back to the pile of plans and pulled out the one where I went to Seattle to visit a glass museum. He said it sounded like a lovely plan. We went to bed.
Over breakfast the next morning I said to Howard, “I’ve rethought the go to Seattle birthday plan. It would make much more sense to save the money and send me to a writer’s conference that takes place in October.” I’m pretty sure I added a bunch of detail about why this was the logical choice.
Howard listened until I wound down. He let the silence sit for a moment then he looked at me over his glasses and said, “Did you just cancel your birthday plans for business reasons?”
Yes. That was exactly what I had done.
I wriggled a lot more over the next several days. Confronting why I feel so anxious and awkward making a plan that is purely selfish. One where I inconvenience everyone, spend money, and abandon my regular post. I kept thinking about how I should take one or more kids with me. Or how I should stay home. Or, or, or. All of which showed me clearly how difficult I find it to claim space in my own life. How I am so much more comfortable planning things that are primarily for the benefit of someone else, but which also let me enjoy things I want. But this year I’m trying to claim space in the middle, not just around the edges. I’m trying to show up whole rather than with only the portion of me that feels like it will be comfortably unchallenging for other people to deal with.
Eventually I took a deep breath and pinged my friends who live in Seattle to see if they were willing to play tour guide for a few days. I booked flights. I booked a hotel room that I don’t have to share with anyone else. Then when the day came I packed my bag and got on the plane even though I wasn’t just leaving my routines, but also leaving Howard and the kids to deal with kitchen construction mess while I was gone.
Today is my Birthday and I’m in Seattle. Yesterday I went and saw the Chihuily Glass Museum, spent time working in the Amazon Spheres, went out to eat at an indoor space that mimics an Asian street food market. I’ve filled my head with new sights and sounds. Today I’m taking slow, giving myself the gift of time to process and write. A birthday without demands or expectations.
More than all of that, the biggest gift actually happened weeks ago when Howard saw me and helped me see myself. When he not only made space for me, but nudged me to claim it. That gift is both invaluable and priceless.