When I was little, birthdays were more about the parties and not about the years.
I had no qualms whatsoever about turning 5. It simply meant that instead of having a couple of neighborhood kids in for cake and presents, I'd have an entire classroom to celebrate my big day.
I didn't feel any particular sense of loss at reaching "double digits." Though my kid parties were pretty much over, my mom and dad considered me old enough to pick whatever I wanted to eat for my birthday dinner (and at that point I transitioned from hotdogs to steak!).
A few years later when I reached my teens, I didn't think of it as being any big rite of passage. Instead, it meant I could have six of my closest friends over for a sleepover -- and my mom and dad even agreed to sleep in the tent!
Age 18 came and went without much fanfare. I had already started classes at the University of Minnesota. My dorm mates ordered pizza -- and then we went back to our homework.
I had begun my senior year in college when I turned 21. I don't recall feeling somehow grown up all of a sudden, just because I'd reached the age where I was officially considered an adult. In fact, I felt pretty childish when, after my boyfriend and I decided to go to a bar on Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, we discovered it was actually a strip joint!
After that it seemed as though birthdays went back to being more about the years. I got married at age 23, had my first child at age 27 and my second at age 29. I was divorced at the age of 45 and went back to work the same year. I remarried at the age of 48 and we built our first house the year I turned 51.
And while I still celebrated my birthdays with family over those years, it seemed I measured the passage of time more in terms of the milestones each successive year represented than in how and where I celebrated them.
I am happy to say that life these days is now on an even keel. After all of the adventures, chaos and challenges of those young adult years, there's a certain rhythm to my days that I very much appreciate and embrace. Our kids are grown up and gone, but we see them as often as possible and communicate with them frequently. I'm still working at the same job where I started nearly 20 years ago, and our house is aging gracefully, just as I hope we are!
I feel comfortable with my years, and I don't dread growing old.
Last weekend our family gathered together to celebrate both my birthday and my mom's, since our birthdays are just one day apart. (In fact, when I came into the world at 11:30 p.m. on Sept. 17, the doctor joked he would be willing to "fudge" a little on the birth certificate if my mom wanted to be able to say I was born on her birthday the next day!).
For last weekend's birthday celebration, my son flew in from Montana, my daughter flew in from Boston, my sister and brother-in-law drove up from the Twin Cities, and my mom came over from Grand Rapids. We spent four days together, visiting, walking, kayaking, golfing, eating and playing cards and cribbage. We went through four bottles of wine, a pound of coffee and an entire carrot cake.
In the end, I couldn't think of any birthday celebration that would have made me happier. And even though it meant I was creeping one year closer toward that magic number that means I am officially past middle age, I didn't care. That's because birthdays should be more about the parties ... and not about the years.