Seventeen

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Birthdays are rather strange phenomena. On March 23 every year, tradition dictates that I invite friends and family to serenade me while I blow out candles on a cake. In return, I get a card that is usually humorous and normally refers to the inevitable passage of time. I am then expected to spend the rest of the day casually hinting to co-workers about a certain celebratory day and contemplating how much I hate getting older. All of this occurs on a seemingly random day (usually a Thursday, since Thursdays are the most nonchalant of days).

But I seem to never have lost that child-like fervour that surrounds a birthday. I insist on making my own cake, calling all my family one-by-one (time-zone dependent) and summoning friends for pizza and board games and laughter. Try as I might, I end up telling everyone I meet and I walk around marvelling about how wonderful the past year has been and how I can’t wait for the next one. I seem to spend it in a spell that is sickeningly sweet and rose-tinted.

And I rather like my birthday. Am I allowed to say that? I like the fact that it reminds me to say thank you, to give cupcakes to my neighbours and to smile maniacally at everyone I encounter. I like the fact that it is on a very ordinary day, in the middle of a very ordinary week, and yet people remember.

Me (at 6.55am, having woken up an hour early by accident and thinking that it is 7.55am, phoning my mother): Hello! How are you?

My mother: Oh my goodness! Are you okay? Has anything happened?

Me: I’m fine?! (now realising the time) God – I’m sorry, I thought it was 8… But are you going to wish me a happy birthday?

My mother: Happy birthday dear. Now let me go back to sleep.

Oh, the callousness of a daughter phoning her mother before she is even awake to insist on a ‘happy birthday’. But it reminded me of how when I was little I used to do the exact same thing – run into my mother’s bedroom and (gently) shake her awake, because the thing that mattered to me most (and that still does) was hearing ‘happy birthday’ from my family.

Birthdays remind me of how I am surrounded by people who make me smile and whose acts of kindness, great and small, are gifts not just on one day but on every day. In a world which sometimes seems empty of self-love, I am loved. Which is why I cry every time I read a birthday card.

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