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Pre-Birthday Blues

My birthday always comes after Memorial Day, which is a time dip sort of weekend.  I don’t do well with quiet seas of time.  By which I mean that I am okay checking out myself — of going on holiday and stepping back from life — but I’m not okay when everyone else is doing it too.  When it gets too quiet.

And the fact that it gets too quiet coupled with the fact that birthdays always remind me of my own mortality means that I usually enter into a strong case of the pre-birthday blues.


Early in the weekend, we finally got around to watching The Kids are All Right.  We have been on the waiting list at the library forever for this one.  I know I should have been focusing on what everyone else in our community focused on — which was either the donor sperm storyline or the how-lesbians-are-portrayed-in-a-mainstream-film idea — but all I could do was work myself into this anxious state where it felt like someone was stabbing at my insides with a fork as I fast forwarded to imagining what the twins would be like as teenagers.

One day, I’m going to have to drop them off at college.  And I’m going to have to get into a car and leave said college.  I will not be able to comport myself like Julianne Moore and Annette Benning.  I will be screaming like an animal, mortifying my children as I am dragged across their campus, shrieking and crying with a river of snot running between my face and shirt.

Because I’m like that at home and they’re only six.  So I can only imagine the place I’ll get myself to when it’s actually happening.

I was at an event last week, sitting in front of a psychologist who wrote a book about letting go of your children.  He had no idea what sort of freak was sitting just inches away from his chair.


It feels like there is not enough time to do anything.  That note I taped above my desk, the one that’s supposed to remind me that it’s not a race?  It’s not really working.  Because it is a race.  We are constantly racing a clock.  To use our bodies before they cease to work; to use our brains before they start forgetting more than they remember.  We need to race to beat others to good ideas.  We need to race to hit deadlines — the ones imposed on us by others and the ones we impose on ourselves.

And there never feels like there is enough time in a day.  I don’t feel like I get enough done.


These are the last few days when I can tell people that I’m 36.  In my mid-30s.  On Thursday, I’ll need to say that I’m in my late-3os (which I’ve written about before — my neat jumps of three).  Late-30s!  That’s a small step to 40.  And 40 is the waiting room to 50.  And my G-d, you know that 50 is simply the doorway to 60 and beyond.

Every birthday, I wait up until midnight and I say over and over again before the clock turns, “I’m 36, I’m 36, I’m 36.”  And once the clock hits midnight, I sadly add in, “I’m 37.”

And yes, I’d obviously rather age than the alternative.  But just because a hideous option exists doesn’t mean you need to be thrilled with receiving the goody bag of growing up.


I ended the weekend by reading the entire limited series of Daytripper in one sitting.  It is incredible.  And gut-wrenching.  And emotional — exactly the sort of book one should AVOID when they are in the throes of the pre-birthday blues, but I ran to it like moth to freakin’ flame, sizzling as I hit the fire.

It takes you through all these possible days when the main character’s life could have ended.  How the obituary would read.  What meaning we’d derive from his death in that moment.  It’s tragic if it took place at 11.  It’s heartbreaking if he left behind a wife and child.  It’s terrifying if he was murdered.

It made me think of the important moments in my life and what would have been taken away by others if I had died on any of those days.  I’m not talking about obviously meaningful days such as my wedding day.  This book explores the small days — the personal days — which are meaningful only to the person experiencing it.  What had I accomplished in my life by that point?  What were the goals that were left undone?  Who was meaningful enough in my life in that time period to be mentioned within the obituary?

We keep our resume up to date, but why don’t we have a similar document held on our computer — an obituary that we update every so often to be utilized upon our demise?

Because it’s horrifying to consider a world where we no longer exist.


I think my normal state is a bluish hue.  But near my birthday, it feels like the tape loop of life speeds up, darkens, distorts.  And after the clock turns and there is no going back, when I’m jolted into my late-30s whether I’m ready or not, the sky brightens again.

You only need to endure me like this for a few more days.

Though now that I have gotten all of that out of my system, I am feeling considerably lighter.  Apologies for placing it on you.

How are you right before your birthday?

And please, for the love, take my birthday gift to you before Thursday night.


1 N { 05.31.11 at 7:45 am }

I’m… rather much like this. Cheery, eh?

I had a bunch more to say, but I keep typing and erasing it. So instead I’ll just offer to take you out for a birthday coffee some time soon. 🙂

2 Elizabeth { 05.31.11 at 7:50 am }

“I think my normal state is a bluish hue.” And yet your avatar floats in a lovely warm orange sea.

Just finished reading Life From Scratch last night – stayed up an hour later than I should have just to find out the ending! When my normal MO in those situations is to just skip ahead to the last page so I have closure and can go to sleep, and then go back and actually read the part I skipped the next day. Two-thumbs-up. Very real. And I will go write a review on Amazon and give you a shout-out on Twitter too 🙂

I hope everybody who loves you goes all out to celebrate YOU on your birthday – may it be the antithesis of Rachel’s 35th-birthday disaster!

3 Julie { 05.31.11 at 7:56 am }

You know what I found most interesting about your post? The apparent assumption that your kids will go to the same college.

…Oops. Did I just give you a breakdown for your birthday present?

4 Jennifer { 05.31.11 at 8:41 am }

I’ve experienced many different states of mind each year around my birthday – always dependent upon what’s happened the previous year and what I’m expecting or hoping to happen in the upcoming year. (Our adoption fell through right before my birthday this year…as you can guess, it wasn’t a great birthday…)

As for 37 – hope you enjoy it. My late thirties were so awesome (and yet still challenging) in so many ways. Hope you can embrace 37.

I’m currently trying to embrace 43…it’s been tough.

5 Calliope { 05.31.11 at 9:43 am }

“I know I should have been focusing on what everyone else in our community focused on…” stop that! Watch the movie as a Mel! And that movie totally made me imagine W as a teenager and it gave me knots in my gut.

And check this out:
You are YOUNGER than Seth Green, Fairuza Balk, and Alanis Morissette

PLUS – you look hawt

6 Calliope { 05.31.11 at 9:45 am }

And if you had threaded comments I could reply to Julie with, “ha ha ha ha ha!!!!”
(it’s just a click to turn them on…*cough*)

7 A.M.S { 05.31.11 at 10:09 am }

Am I weird in that I still look forward to my birthday as much as I did when I was a kid? And this fall will be the 40th one?

I bug Shannon for weeks for hints about my present. My mom gives me a wake-up call the morning of so she can sing “Happy Birthday.” Lately, as I start getting ready for Olivia Moonpie’s first, I’ve been wondering why they don’t sell pink tutus and “Birthday Girl” t-shirts in my size. 🙂

I suppose I look at is I may be a year older, chronologically, but that just means I can still act like a kid but with a bigger allowance! Mr. Buffett (the one you’d like to party with, not the one you want investment advice from) says it best: I’m growing older but not up!

I hope the blue funk passes soon. I’d send you a better-than-sex cupcake but they wouldn’t travel well at all. Google it for first hit recipe and replace the ganache with her vanilla bean buttercream. Trust me, it’s soooo worth the effort! {{{hugs}}}

8 BigP's Heather { 05.31.11 at 11:38 am }

I think that is what the teenage attitude is for…so parents are quite happy with sending their kids to college.

My Mom (who cries over everything, all the time) got misty eyed but she seemed rather excited to not be taking her with me as she drove away…

9 a { 05.31.11 at 11:51 am }

I thought the same thing as Julie! Look! You’ll get to do it twice! Or, as your teenagers-becoming-adults will probably demand, Josh will drop them off at school while you’re at home blubbering in their abandoned rooms.

I don’t put any thought into my birthday (or really, much of anything – I’m a go-with-the-flow kind of girl). My birthday is also just after a national holiday, and it’s such a let-down when you realize that people are just happy to have that extra day off work – they don’t really give a shit about your birthday. Can you tell I find my birthday invariably disappointing? Anyway, my usual thoughts are “I hope no one tries to make a big deal of this this year.” I didn’t know I was just in the waiting room for 50, though. Thanks for that. 🙂

10 Shannon { 05.31.11 at 12:26 pm }

Birthays are the time when I wonder what happened – when did I become a grown-up? And the time when I most feel my mortality, so I’m usually a little sad at how quickly it passes, and I mourn the things I didn’t accomplish this past year. My one consolation for this birthday is that this year I’m finally a mom.

Or at least it was until I realized I’m about to enter the waiting room for 50. Now I’m sure to be a hot mess between now and my 40th this Saturday. 🙂

11 JustHeather { 05.31.11 at 2:07 pm }

I too seem to get the blues just before my birthday as I’ve gotten older. I think part of it has to do with realizing that they aren’t as exciting and fun as they were when I was a kid. As a kid you get b-day parties with all you friends, have piñatas to whack, slip-n-slide if your b-day is in the summer, etc. These years, I’m lucky to do much at all. It sometimes just seems too much effort to organize a party for myself when all of my friends are off with their kids.

12 JJ { 05.31.11 at 2:21 pm }

Our birthday’s arent too far apart, so I found myself asking lots of questions and getting very reflective a few weeks ago. I always enjoy the actual day and being thankful for the day–but seem to not enjoy the day after very much. Birthday high letdown.

13 Shana { 05.31.11 at 2:32 pm }

I also get the blues just before my birthday, pretty much every year. I think this is partially because birthdays were such a big deal as a kid, and now that I’m an adult living in a far-away town with no nearby friends or relatives to celebrate with, it feels like such a let down each year – a big nothing day like every other day, which usually just makes me feel sad and lonely.

Regarding going rom 36 to 37, my 36th year sucked in so many big huge ways. 37 has been so very much better. Hope 37 is good for you too.

14 Denver Laura { 05.31.11 at 2:38 pm }

My birthday is Saturday. I guess I’m still in my mid-thirties by your standard (just turning 36). I’ve never had the post-holiday blues on my birthday. I hated it in school that school would be let out and I didn’t have a cupcake party or friends to invite because they were all on vacation. I started a tradition 25 years ago (on my 11th birthday) of going camping every year on my birthday. The actual day could vary depending on when it landed, as long as it was within a 7 day window.

Right now we have a 23 month old foster son and are doing respite for a 8 month old for the week so my guess is that we’re probably not going camping this year. Doesn’t mean I can’t set the tent up in the back yard! It’s MY birthday tradition darnit and I can celebrate it any way I want.

I guess that’s the reason for a birthday party. It gives you something to look forward to instead of being depressed about being a year older. My hubby bought a video game for me (my choice) and all I’ve asked for is the day in the basement in front of the tv, undisturbed for 24 hours while I try to figure out how to play it.

15 Esperanza { 05.31.11 at 3:08 pm }

I think the way I approach my birthday changes from year to year. The year (10 days) after my miscarriage, when I was turning 29, that year SUCKED ASS. The next year, when my daughter was one month old and I was turning 30, that year was awesome (even though I was turning 30). I used to be pretty excited about my birthdays, now I’m kind of blah. I feel like each one gets me closer to the advanced maternal age mark and I wonder how many children I might be able to have (and that is not just dependent on if I can have them, but if we can even afford them). I’ve also started thinking how much more I should have in retirement by this age, and how I should probably own my own house by now (which will NEVER happen) and how I have been teaching for so-and-so number of years now and all of that stuff. It’s just a time to measure up my life and, many times, find it lacking (mostly in the financial and employment areas). This year my daughter will have just turned one and I will be wondering when we will start trying for #2 (or if we even should as we’ve been having so many relationship and financial issues of late). I will be wondering if I can keep teaching like this, indefinitely. I will be wondering how I’m going to save anything when I have to start paying off my student loans. I will be thinking that it’s a good thing I’m not going to BlogHer because I really couldn’t afford it anyway and I will be thinking that I hope my mom gets me a massage for my birthday because my back is KILLING me lately.

Lordy, what a depressing read. Sorry about that. I guess I’m not really looking forward to my birthday either… At least I have 1.5 months until I have to deal with it.

16 HereWeGoAJen { 05.31.11 at 3:31 pm }

Birthday blues are okay, but remember, everyone born on June 2nd is awesome. And you’ll need to eat my slice of cake for me since I am too far away.

17 Chickenpig { 05.31.11 at 3:56 pm }

No, you will not be breaking down into a complete snotty mess, and neither will I. The reason being is that you are preparing for it, little by little, movie by movie, book by book. You will write the twins beautiful, long letters about how wonderful you think they are, how proud of them you are, and major pitfalls to avoid. You will stow these letters into their luggage, you will give them hugs (at whatever college they may be at) and you will drive away before breaking down. You know you will, because you won’t want to hurt them and/or embarrass them in any way, and because that is what is important. 🙂

You totally rock at 37. I will be turning 41 this year and I have done nothing of note rather than be able to overcome some obstacles and achieve procreation. I normally don’t have any problems on or around my birthday, but I’m feeling a bit blue now….thanks 😉

18 tash { 05.31.11 at 4:02 pm }

Ok maybe I’m strange, but I always enter a funk immediately AFTER my birthday. Like for two weeks, I’m just depressed that I don’t take my birthday seriously, and that no one else does either, and that I’m ancient, and what have a I done with my life, and where have the last 10 years gone, and I’m going to need a walker when my kids go to college . . . . and on.

And then two weeks later I sorta snap out of it and realize it’s pretty much just the same as before and I need to make dinner.

Like I said, strange. Hopefully you’ll have a lift in a few weeks. Any way you can make your week slightly less blue? Birthday gift to yourself?

19 magpie { 05.31.11 at 4:16 pm }

I lack self-reflection or something.

20 ExpiredEggs? { 05.31.11 at 5:03 pm }

I used to look forward to my birthday as it’s in August, which means I never had to go to school and it was fun. In my working years it’s not such a big deal and I usually end up working simply because everyone else is. I try to find really fun things to do though, and largely could care less about presents. I value fun more! That said, I’m entirely nonplussed about turning 42 and am resisting the self-reflection temptation so far. Ask me again in two months though. Ha!

I’m pretty sure my special day will involve a special (alcoholic) beverage at a special place downtown where I can watch the sunset and chill out with some other 40-somethings.

And to that end, I say CHEERS!

Besides, you’ll never be this young again. Take advantage of it.

21 Anat { 05.31.11 at 5:44 pm }

I am miserable before the sevens. Like you said, it’s that “late” decade problem. I will join you in your pre-birthday misery, as I am still overcoming my own post-37th-birthday depression. I will give you a call and we will sing the birthday dirge together.


22 Justine { 05.31.11 at 10:11 pm }

Two things. First, you are NOT a freak. I’ve worked the parent orientation programs at my now-former employer. Trust me … there will be a supply of Kleenex on hand.

Second, if you haven’t ever done so, you need to reach Thich Nhat Han’s _Peace Is Every Step_. He has some wonderful insights on our impulse to get things done and ways to hold ourselves back from that senseless hurtling forward, enjoying where it is we are. 🙂

And *I* will turn 38 this year, thank you very much. So you can take some small comfort in the fact that there are others marching ahead of you. 😉

23 Heather { 05.31.11 at 10:32 pm }

I cried at the registration for Kindergarten of my oldest child. I love watching her grow up, but it is so hard to do. And I’m not that bad near my birthday. I actually still get excited to have a birthday, and I just turned 40 this year. I feel so blessed to be where I’m at at this part of my life. It would have been so nice to have been here when I was younger, but I think I’m so much wiser than I was 10 years ago.

24 Kristin { 06.01.11 at 12:34 am }

Honestly, I am completely ok with my birthday. And, I have to say my heart leapt when I read “I don’t feel like I get enough done.” OMG women, you do more than any 10 other people I could name. I am so glad to know even you feel this way because gawd knows I do.

25 serenity { 06.01.11 at 11:44 am }

Birthdays are hard for me lately too. I think for me it’s because time seems to be speeding up. I barely am able to take a breath these days, to slow it down and just STOP and look and listen and feel.

And yes, I hear you – my own mortality is becoming apparent. I keep trying to run away from it, literally and figuratively, but I have a lot of fears about people I love dying and not being able to do a damn thing about it.


26 jjiraffe { 06.02.11 at 2:06 am }

This was really fascinating: the race to do what you want and need to do before the clock runs out. But life is also made of moments that can’t be planned: watching a lazy river, board games on a powerless night. I hope maybe these unplanned items are on your list of goals too. Says the San Francisco mellow girl 🙂

27 loribeth { 06.03.11 at 8:44 am }

I have blogged about my own birthdays before ( a few links below). I hit the big 50 this year, & strangely enough, I felt kind of excited about it. I guess I realized there’s no avoiding your age, so bring it on! ; ) I do have some angst about getting older but, as a few people have already commented, I find most of my pre-birthday angst these days has to do with the fact that birthdays just don’t seem as special as when you’re a kid, people don’t make as much of a fuss. I’m far away from my family, & dh’s family is kind of hit & miss when it comes to these things (although they did step up this year with a cake & a very nice Pandora bracelet & charms), so it’s usually just me & dh going out for dinner. Also, my birthday comes shortly after Christmas (as does my mom’s). Most people are sort of celebration fatigued by then.



28 Dana { 06.03.11 at 3:22 pm }

I get weepy about my children’s birthdays but my own? Nothing but genuine happiness and thankfulness. Seriously. And I’m about to turn 40!

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