The Parent Trap: Birthdays past vs. birthdays present

The summer is ending, and my daughter has begun her yearly excitement at the prospect of her impending birthday. She watches each commercial and scours the magazines, looking for yet another present to suggest to her parents. Already, I’ve been told that we are allowed to buy three different types of cake. Which one, thankfully, is our decision.

I understand this giddiness. Celebrating the anniversary of my birth was always a big deal to me. But now, on the eve of my 51st birthday, I’ve let go of the ideas of revelry, in favor of reflection.

As a child, I looked upon my birthday as my own personal holiday. There were greetings just for me. The presents were just for me. Everybody gets to eat the cake, but only my name was displayed on top. Before the big day, grandparents, aunts and uncles call. “What does he want?” They would ask. It was my day. Well, mine and Lauren Bacall, B.B. King, Ed Begley, Jr., Hank Williams, Mickey Rourke, Peter Faulk and Jennifer Tilly. Oh, and one of the Jonas Brothers. There are probably others.

The natural progression of getting older takes part of that special feeling away. Not that I have become depressed that a half century has come and gone. Far from it, I realize now that what I’ve learned over every single one of those years has made me a better person. But let’s face it, an adult can feel pretty silly watching a bunch of people singing to you. And unless somebody has figured out how to give me a full time job as a gift, there really isn’t anything I really want or need.

I now look at my past birthdays as milestones more than celebrations. I turned 18 on an election year, beginning a long tradition of usually voting for the losing candidate. If you truly want somebody to crash and burn in an election, give me their campaign button. I still remember with amusement when I threw my full support to Michael Dukakis – one day before the infamous tank incident. At the age of 21 I did what most 21-year-olds did: went out with my friends and bought the first round.

I hope that everyone has a birthday that changes their life. That was certainly the case for me. On the day that I turned 30, after the cake was eaten and my presents opened, I retreated to my room inside my parent’s home in Morrell Park. The realization hit me that I had not done anything worthwhile. So I devised a plan and made a list, categorizing the goals that I wanted to reach before my 31st birthday. The primary goal was to move out of my parents’ home, for no other reason than because it was time. The next goal was to pursue my dream of writing. To my continued surprise, I achieved each of the goals listed, and met my wife in the process. It was quite a year.

The milestones changed when my children were born. I live more through their birthdays than my own, because they have that wonder of seeing the cake with only their name, the presents just for them. And I get to celebrate for them.

So let 51 come. There are those who have declared that “50 is the new 30” but 50 is just what it is – 50. Get over it, and move beyond.

The Parent Trap is a weekly column by Patrick P. McNally that will appear on NEastPhilly.com every Tuesday. See others here. Read other NEast Philly columns here.

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