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Op-Ed

The party's over

You go through many stages of the birthday cycle in life. At a certain point, the best choice for celebrating is to just run away from the whole thing.

February 13, 2011|By Amy Goldman Koss

Every year about this time I start to squirm, watching my birthday lumber forth. I'm glad not to be dead. And even though my birthdays come way more often than they used to, and their numbers are surreal, I'm content to keep aging. That's not the problem.

The dilemma is what to do with the damn thing.

That is, after I've checked Your Birthday Today for my newspaper horoscope, gleaning pertinent wisdom for the year ahead. Then, to my computer, where my name will have magically appeared on the screens of every one of my 748 Facebook friends. All they have to do is click on it and type a birthday greeting that will be automatically identified as theirs. I, in turn, will click on their greeting and, at least until someone devises an app that responds with appropriate heartfelt gratitude, will have to manually type "Thanks!"

But the chore of pressing the refresh button and reading "Happy Birthday!" over and over and over will only dispatch a fraction of the day. If I'd planned better, I might be able to make my way across town from restaurant to restaurant gorging on free birthday meals, but I've neglected to sign up for any.

It's the puzzling birthday life cycle at work. As a little girl, when birthdays seemed eons apart, I'd recover from the disappointment of one less-than-magnificent birthday in time to get giddy in anticipation of the next. But I slowly learned that happiness didn't come in a box, no matter how promising the bow.

The next phase in my birthday evolution was wanting it to be an event. A big, crowded, noisy, inebriated celebration of my fabulousness by classmates, co-workers, strangers in bars…

After that, I just wanted my boyfriend/husband to do something romantic, which led to the next phase — kids.

During the chaos of planning and cleaning up, physically and emotionally, from my children's birthdays (the jumping houses, reptile sleepovers, chicken pox), my own birthday wishes ran from wanting a chance to shower alone in peace to fruitlessly begging the kids not to fight for the entire day, and maybe clean their rooms. Years later, my wish was that I not have to bail them out or talk them down on my birthday.

My mom, in her 80s, keeps her birthdays quiet so the Evil Eye won't notice she's still alive. The only gift she requests each year is that my dad get rid of something from the basement.

My dad is pleased if the kids call, but I suspect his dearest birthday wishes are to see another birthday — and not to have to part with anything from the basement.

My mother-in-law still wants something sparkly for her birthday to make her friends jealous. My husband likes to hike up things. My brother wants to smoke a cigar indoors. My kids just want money.

I turned 50 a few years back, right in the middle of my daughter's chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkin's lymphoma. Until her diagnosis, I'd been dithering about maybe having a party for myself, since 50 seemed like such a big deal. Ha! Life and its shifting expectations.

And that brings us to now. My babies have grown, survived and flown. I no longer have to feign interest in blowing out candles or hearing the birthday dirge. I don't need or want anything you can wrap; I can shower unmolested whenever I wish; and I already eat plenty of cake.

Perhaps the best solution is the same as for so many of life's pesky problems, and that is to run away. Yes! That must be why people with money go on birthday trips — to hide out until the worst has passed.

Book sales were pathetic last year, so there's only one place I can afford to run, and that's back to bed. Fluff the pillows, burrow into the blankies. Happy birthday to me; wake me when it's over.

Amy Goldman Koss' latest novel for teens is "The Not So Great Depression."

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