Birthday Battlefield

The holidays are the worst. All those happy families gathering to exchange thoughtful gifts, sharing laughs and loving hugs. I finally let go of that pipe dream last year. I waved the white flag and drank the bottle(s) of wine and finally realized my family will never be that family, no matter how well I can cook a turkey or decorate a Christmas tree.

Now layer onto that a Christmas Eve birthday. My Christmas Eve birthday. Flashback to being a teenager, when my mother completely forgot my birthday because she was so preoccupied with Christmas preparations. Flashback to my twenties, when my mother and siblings forgot my birthday because they were too busy trying to charm my partner. Flashback to my early thirties when my mother pointed to the new Martha Stewart laundry hamper in the hallway and said “happy birthday” before brushing past me to get back to competing with my sister’s in-laws for miss christmas congeniality.

My birthday has become a battlefield.

When I became single again 3 years ago, I was terrified of facing my birthday alone until a dearly cherished friend became my birthday captain. She took charge of the day, banished all talk of Christmas until December 25 and for the first time in years – maybe ever – made me feel that my birthday could be something to look forward to. I loved her for it, and felt so lucky to have someone so genuinely wonderful in my life.

This year I decided I was finally strong enough to go it alone. I could manage my birthday. I would still meet my birthday captain for a casual dinner, but I would take the power back  and not let this one stupid day throw me into an emotional tailspin. But I miscalculated. I didn’t consider the day before the birthday.

It started with the chocolate. Boxes of chocolate being consumed, one after another. Oh dear, that’s not a good sign. And hours of watching Felicity. Oh god, my life isn’t actually any better than it was when I first watched this show 10 years ago. Then came the wine. And then, of course, the tears.

Oh no. I’m not ready, I can’t do this on my own. I need my back-up. I was entering the birthday battlefield completely unarmed and alone. Alone alone alone. What was I thinking? But it was too late. I was under fire and my army was scattered, out of reach, battling their own holiday demons.

The attacks came steadily. “Still single, third year in a row.” “Look at your life, you’re no further ahead.” “You’re an idiot to think that relationship could ever work.” “You may as well get used to being alone. Nothing’s ever going to change.” I fired back as best I could: “No, next year can be different.” “I’ve changed my career, at least that’s something.” “I won’t be single forever.” But I’m getting worn down.

As I cross the midnight threshold, all I can do is hope that the worst is behind me, and count down the hours until the battle is finally over. Twenty four long hours. Happy birthday to me.

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Cleaning my way to happiness

A few times a year, the unmanageability of my life becomes so completely overwhelming and intolerable to me that I am driven to the most desperate of measures. I clean. I vacuum, polish, dust, sort, organize, throw away, and fix anything and everything I can get my hands on.

It never starts as a conscious decision. Rather, on a seemingly ordinary day, I will reach into the closet to pull out a hoodie and suddenly find that every single item that was once in my closet is now heaped onto my bed. How did that just happen?! Great. Now I have to put it all away or I’ll have nowhere to sleep tonight. Sigh.

As I sort through my 30 hoodies, old event posters, 20-year-old high school kilt, and collection of painting t-shirts, I slowly start to feel just a little bit lighter. Hey, this feels kind of good. If my life was this closet, it would be totally manageable! I’m just going to sit here forever admiring the manageability of my life as represented by this beautifully organized closet with its tidy stacks of hoodies. I think I’m in love.

Unfortunately, sooner or later, I have no choice but to venture out into the rest of the house which now, by comparison, looks even worse than before. Oh god, how have I let my life get so out of control? Dust bunnies everywhere, dead flowers in the vase, empty water glasses all over the house. And when was the last time I even washed my bedsheets?! 

That’s when something shifts inside me and my cleaning trance turns to cleaning mania. No knickknack will be left undusted, no corner unvacuumed, no dish unwashed, no cupboard unsorted! Enough is enough! 

For the next few hours (days), I fixate on bringing even the most minute things throughout the house back up to military standards. Nothing is going to get in my way – not phone calls, not texts, sadly not even showering.

And somewhere between scrubbing the fingerprints off the light switches and aligning the shoes in the hallway, I feel another shift. I am overcome by a feeling of inner peace and calm. I can suddenly sit still. I can breath again. 

Somehow, magically, there isn’t any doubt left in my mind that my life is manageable. Of course it is. Look at this house. This is the house of someone who has a good life. Somehow, completely unexpectedly, I’ve managed to clean my way to happiness. I know it won’t last forever and that’s ok. Today is a good day. I’ll take it. And happily, it’ll be a good long time until I have to clean again.

Undertow

It’s amazing how you can be splashing around and swimming quite happily, feeling the lightness of life and optimism of infinite possibility, when suddenly with no warning you find yourself caught in an undertow fighting for your life. Again.

It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve swum in those waters before, you forget that below the sparkly surface there is a powerful force lurking and just one mis step will pull you under.

I lost my breath. I lost sight of which way was up. I clawed my way toward what I thought was sunlight, but still found myself trapped and disoriented, drowning.

When I finally broke through the surface momentarily, I reached out grasping for something to hold on to, or someone, but everything was too slippery and I was quickly pulled back under.

How could I have taken the good days for granted? A few sunny days and I had started to feel that my life could be all sunny days, splashing and giggling. Life just isn’t that predictable, or that kind.

I have to remember that in my water there is always an undertow, and the days that I don’t get pulled under are days to be deeply cherished because without doubt those days are numbered. I guess I’ll just take some time first to catch my breath before I venture back into the water.