On birthdays after thirty
by Sivan Butler-Rotholz
Today is my 32nd birthday, and my best friend wrote me a birthday note that says, “Nothing but the best for you in the year to come.”
I woke to the dog barking incessantly — insisting on being let into my room — until she head-butted my bedroom door open and made herself at home on my bed. Since waking I have picked up dog poop, popped pills for a burgeoning headache, unloaded the dishwasher, and contemplated the dog pee on the floor. I decided to leave that last bit for my boyfriend when he wakes up. It is my birthday, after all.
This is the start of my birthday this year, and I have only been awake for 10 minutes.
It is 11:40 a.m. and my 26-year-old boyfriend is still sleeping as I write this. Up until a few months ago I could sleep right alongside him into the early hours of the afternoon, but no longer. Now some force inside me wakes me while it is still morning. And I know myself lucky to be able to sleep in until 11:30, because my mother often rises at 6 a.m. and I know the ability to sleep in late won’t last forever.
At 32, I have a few mysterious medical conditions that I did not have in my younger days. They’re nothing serious — especially compared to my father’s Parkinson’s and Diabetes or my mother’s MS, but then again, my parents didn’t have those conditions at 32 either…
Birthday celebrations used to be the highlight of my year. I used to be renowned for the parties I threw. Halloween-in-July, karaoke, a buffet of nosh like only a Jew can lay down, and the guarantee of a visit from the cops each year.
But no longer. Now I prefer the quiet company of a few close friends, good wine, good conversation.
When I even contemplate trying to coordinate a large group to celebrate moi I suffer from a small bout of anxiety. Where will we go that can hold a large group? (We’re not in Kansas anymore — and by Kansas, I mean the suburbs where my father owned a large house and yard for my friends and I to play in — we’re in New York City, where space is a luxury.) Where we will have seats? (Because I cannot suffer hours on my feet.) What venue won’t be too loud, too crowded? (Because I can neither stomach noise nor crowds these days.) Where can we go that my financially-challenged friends (like myself) can afford? And the real question that has shifted my preference from the large gathering to the small: who will even show up?
When I was younger, a birthday party could easily draw a crowd of 100 people. If it was costume-themed — and it often was — nearly every one of my guests came dressed accordingly. But we have left Neverland, my friends, and I am not the only one who grew up. I stopped throwing costumed birthdays when I realized that people could not be bothered to put forth the effort to don a costume outside of Halloween. Worse yet, they wouldn’t come at all because they neither wanted to put forth the effort nor be the only one to show up without a costume. But when I realized that — costume or no — the only people who could really be counted on to show up for my birthday were my closest friends, I stopped trying to gather the masses and started planning small get-togethers for my nearest and dearest.
My 30th birthday party was the last real humdinger. Friends donned afros and roller skates for the ‘70s theme, people showed up in strong numbers, and I marked the milestone in style. But after 30, the milestones are fewer and the reasons to party like it’s 1999 dwindle.
One of my best friends is turning forty this year, and big things are planned. And believe me, if I look as fabulous as she does at 40, I’ll be celebrating in some serious style myself. But the reality is, 40 is the next big thing in birthdays from where I stand, and I’ve got seven more of them before I can rally people to celebrate at a serious level.
Not that I’m hoping the years will fly by just so that I can get to the next big birthday. No, thank you, life is flying by fast enough as it is. It’s just that, things aren’t like they were when I was 19 and living in my father’s house or 25 and celebrating in the style I was then known for. Things have changed. My friends have changed. I’ve changed. And now it’s my birthday and I find myself in a very adult world where real life starts off your day, even on your birthday.
Of course there is much in my silver lining department at this age. I have accomplished things I never dreamed of. I’ve overcome law school and a legal practice, I’ve moved to New York City, and I’m an MFA candidate living a dream that was 10 years in the making. I live with my best friend (Romy and Michelle style), I am in the best romantic relationship I’ve ever been in, and I have come to this place in life not on my own, but with the helping hands of a lifetime’s worth of friends and loved ones.
I am doing things I never dreamed I would do, like working as a publicist for one of America’s most prestigious magazines, writing a book of poems I’ve been conjuring up in my head for years, and applying for a Fulbright grant to Israel. I teach at the college level. I read poetry on New York City stages. My work is published in a variety of forums. When people read my poems, I feel the appreciation and inspiration in their reactions; I am onto something, I am creating something beautiful.
And, I pick up dog poop. I unload the dishwasher. I take pills for my headaches. I sleep with a pillow between my legs to combat the tendonitis in my hips. Even on my birthday. And, since my boyfriend is still sleeping — it’s now 12:30 — I’m going to leave you, grab some bleach and paper towels, and clean up the dog pee in the hallway. The dog is 49 years old in dog years herself. She aimed for her wee-wee pad, but she only half made it. And I can’t fault her for the things that come with age.