On Birthdays: 2023 Edition

It looks like it’s that time of year again! My Facebook feed is exploding with well wishes, and I’ve got people knowing about my birthday left and right in person. (I have many complaints about Facebook, but this is not one of them. I think it’s great that it gives people something small like this to connect over, though I am a habitually terrible Happy Birthday wisher.)

When you’re a kid, a birthday is an extremely exciting event. I mean, cake and presents? How does it get any better? I think it’s also big, because people pay extra attention to you that day, and attention’s something that’s far more important than people give it credit for. (In fact, just on Tuesday I was learning in my psychology class how one of the worst things a parent can do for a child is just be indifferent to them. I mean, not that abuse is preferred, but simply ignoring or not caring about a child makes a big impact on them.)

When you’re older, some of the shine wears off birthdays. You’re able to eat cake whenever you want to, and if you really want something, you can usually just buy it. However, when you’re a parent of kids still living at home, some of that birthday glow lingers longer. I know for MC, anyone having a birthday is a Big Event. Daniela also really tries hard to make the day special whenever someone has a birthday in the house.

At the same time, each time a birthday rolls around, you can’t help but reflect on the inevitable fact that you’re getting older. How old? Captain Picard was 47 when The Next Generation started. So was Doc Brown in the first Back to the Future. When I watched those as a kid, those two people were undeniable Very Old. Not very very old, but close enough. Now I’m just two years away from them.

They don’t seem that old anymore. (It helps that Picard is still going strong in the new Picard series, and now he looks very very old. As opposed to me. Who is not.

For so long, it feels like there are so many possibilities open to you. You’ve got plenty of time to make real changes and accomplish cool things. But as those birthdays start racking up, you gradually start to see that maybe not everything is actually possible. Or at least, much of it is becoming less and less likely. Some of that realization can be pretty stressful. No doubt it’s where many a mid-life crisis comes from, as people realize the person they thought they’d want to be isn’t who they’ve become, or that at least the person they’ve become isn’t who they ultimately think they want to be. (How’s that for an easy to understand sentence?)

I’ve written before that birthdays really should be like leveling up. You’ve made it to another mile marker, and in video games, that’s a very good thing. Still, it can be hard to keep that in mind every year, year after year. (But having a birthday each year sure beats the alternative.)

As I was walking to work this morning, I thought for a bit about whether I’d rather go back and relive one of my earlier years. Pick a year, any year, from your life, and go back and run it again. Let’s assume for the theoretical that you end up making the same choices. (No fair using later experience to fix things. That causes issues with the space time continuum, you know.) Would you want senior year of high school again? How about some time during college? Or maybe just go way back to when all you had to worry about was Saturday morning cartoons?

My conclusion was basically, no thanks. First, I can’t think of a single year that didn’t have its fair share of difficulties. Experiences that I’m glad to be done with. (Or maybe the word is “relieved.”) Yes, there are highs, but there are also lows. Both in things that happened to me and decisions I made. And the fact of the matter is that no amount of looking backward will really do anything for you now. I try to remember that in a year or two or ten, I’ll be looking back at what I’m doing now.

Better to live each year like it’s one you’d end up wanting to relive, if you had a chance. Theoretically, I’m getting better at this whole “being alive” thing. I’ve got more practice at it, anyway.

In any case, thanks for all the birthday wishes. I appreciate them.

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