Happy birthday to me!

birthday cake

Happy birthday to me – you know the tune.

Oh, reflection time, oh, reflection time – three guesses on that tune.

I have a special affection for December babies, but especially for those whose birthdays have to rival the commercialism and the already constant celebratory nature of the holidays. For those of us in the lull between Christmas and New Year’s, however, I have the greatest sympathy of all.

While most well-intentioned family members know it’s a serious breech to wrap a December baby’s birthday gift in Christmas paper or to give the combination Christmas/birthday gift, the one that is most offensive to slipping by the radar is simply letting the day slip by the radar. This is much more likely after the Christmas festivities and while gearing up for the New Year’s Eve celebrations.

I have a mental snapshot of my seventh birthday. We lived in Texas where I was in first grade. I had handed out party invitations the day before Christmas break. Mind you, this was back-in-the-day, before the hiring of clowns and the renting out of venues. This was even before meeting at the local pizza place. We’d planned to play a rousing game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, open gifts and eat cake. My mom made my favorite cake, Devil’s food with Betty Crocker fluffy white frosting and sprinkles on top. I distinctly remember sitting on the sofa looking at the coffee table where my pretty cake and one small gift from my parents were laid. We waited … and waited. Not a single guest arrived – at all.

Flash forward to my sweet 16. A couple of my good friends planned a surprise birthday party for me at the local pizza place. I don’t know how many were invited, but I know four showed up, and one was my cousin – he may have been forced. Or it could have been that he knew other girls would be there. I dunno.

Point is – be kind to December babies and make them feel special. Use birthday paper. Give separate gifts. And for God’s sake, don’t freaking forget them. They may turn out as warped and broken as I (not a bad thing; I’m pretty cool).

Things I’m proud of

Here on the downhill side of the century mark, I’m reflecting. I’ve been a good girl. I learned in my youngest days that spanking hurt my legs and my feelings, so I endeavored to stay out of trouble. My cousins called that being a good-goody; I called it not being much of a risk-taker. I liked pleasing the grownups more than displeasing the grownups.

I met this cute guy with a sexy voice in ninth grade. We dated. We broke up. We dated again. Five years later we got married. Thirty years later he told me happy birthday when my alarm that I thought I turned off last night went off at 5:30 this morning. A lot’s happened in between, but even when we are being incompatible, we are compatible. I love him a lot.

He and I have successfully raised three sons. Each has worthy goals he is pursuing, and I love watching them as they consider, research, try things out, reflect, re-consider, fail sometimes, dust off, re-configure, try again. I appreciate that they are not crushed when something does not work out as planned but that it simply means there is another way. They have good relationships with people and understand the value of that. Yes, I am proud of my children.

The decisions we make in life have a way of working out one way or another. When I graduated from high school I made the decision not to go to college. That decision was made out of fear and ignorance. When I was 38, I got brave. My husband had gone back to school for a second degree, and it was my turn. In six years I got my four-year degree. I worked hard and I loved almost everything about it. I fell in love with learning – and with journalism. And with the idea of teaching.

After No. 3 son had some medical issues that claimed the better part of a year (another post some time), I snagged a teaching/advising job. I’ve done some good work there, and I’ve become close to many of my students. Several have told me that I made a difference to them. I am proud of them, and I am proud that I was able to do something so important for them.

Things I wish I’d done better

From this chronological vantage point, it’s easy to see what so many have said: take care of your body. While I am by no means in bad health, it has been interesting to observe systems begin to wear out. My vision, for instance, has slowly gotten worse since around 40. I had good vision all my life. But these days I wear my reading glasses or eat blurry food. Maybe there is nothing I could really have done about vision, but I coulda, woulda, shoulda exercised more. I have no strength in my arms, my hands (I’d starve if I had to open my own jars). I have hide-and-seek arthritis. I’ll have an elbow bother me for weeks only to have that discomfort gradually dissipate as it’s replaced by a throbbing thumb joint that lasts for a little while. I should have been more active. Maybe I’ll work on that.

I should have eaten better. In this area, I’m not too bad off, and small changes would make a big difference. I’ve never been one to drink sodas, so I don’t have that war to wage. But sugar, specifically chocolate, I’ve treated as a reward. It’s a psychological addiction. Doesn’t help that I’ve been told there is a genetic candy-cake-cookie-pie-ice-cream problem in the family. Always slender when I was young, I didn’t notice the 2-3 pounds I’ve been putting on each year until the last few years. I really need to work on that.

I wish I had managed finances better so that they didn’t manage me so much. Aren’t I supposed to be financially comfortable by now? At this age, my grandparents were bailing the rest of us out of trouble. Oh, wait. Maybe that’s part of the problem.

My biggest demon is procrastination, and instead of becoming more mature in my wisdom-filled years and dealing better with it, it’s getting worse. I make it work for me by putting less important things ahead of more important things. You know, like blog posts ahead of grading and balancing the checkbook. Yeah. Gotta get a handle on that.

The bucket list

Last year for Christmas, my yearbook secret pal, also my editor, gifted me with the Jack Nicholson/Morgan Freeman movie, The Bucket List. After that, EVERYONE was making a bucket list. Yeah, me too.

1. Read the three books Frankenstein’s monster read as he hid and watched the DeLacys. I remembered Paradise Lost (and own it), but had to look up the other two: Plutarch’s Lives and The Sorrows of Werter. They were quite an education for him.

2. Publish some writing beyond blogs and newspaper. Something for advisers? A literary analysis in an English journal?

3. Write a novel.

4. Publish a novel. (These are separate endeavors)

5. Travel somewhere in Europe. Would love to see some castles in Scotland.

6. Travel in the U.S. There are places I don’t even know of that I want to see.

7. Get a JEA certification

8. Get a master’s degree

9. Develop a sudden desire to become clutter free and throw everything away.

All right, time to get on with my day. It’s my birthday and all, a day I usually set aside to read a book or do whatever I want, but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing the last four days. See procrastination, above. Today, I must make up for lost time. I have some chores to do as penance for my bad judgment. My reward will be pride in accomplishment. Happy birthday to me!

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About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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