Birthdays are a funny thing.
Isn't it interesting that last year I couldn't wait to turn 32? I lectured my sister and my friends and the lady at the drugstore about the importance of getting old and why I'm going to love it. And yet I can't seem to remember how old I'm turning this year because whatever the number, it is more than 32.
I also like to refer to my birthday as an event that hasn't happened yet, even though it took place last week.
I grew up in a family where birthdays were considered nothing more than another excuse to have cake after dinner. You got a quick song, a single gift and a little slice of Heaven on a plate. I have found through my friendships that my family's method was pretty normal. Culturally, birthdays don't seem to be a big deal, and the older we get the more we hate them.
But over the years I've realized that there is, in fact, something special about birthdays. Think about it. Whatever your belief system, it was the day you took your first breath of air and started out on this fast-paced trip through the atmosphere, rigged and loaded with trials, heartaches and the occasional whiff of something wonderful.
For one day every year, you are celebrated. You are valued. Your Wonderful Life comes into focus to the people around you and we recognize that yep, you're on your way to being a little more coordinated or taller or wiser, depending on the digits.
I was dreading my birthday this year. The week before B Day I casually refused to discuss it with my husband on any level (not that he tried). The day before my birthday I was painfully aware that my husband had made no mention of any plans or ideas or even tossed me the token, "You don't look a day over 26," comment I so depend on.
When the alarm went off at 5:45 that morning, I couldn't help it. Before my eyes even opened I wondered if he had remembered. With 12 years together, he's bound to forget eventually.
I rolled over and closed my eyes, insisting they focus on Project Birthday Sleep In. He rolled out of bed to use the bathroom and I started to drift off.
And then I heard it. The pitter patter of little elephants clomping up the stairs mixed with muted giggles and stern shushing. The door opened and there it was, a little piece of magic in four-part unintentional harmony. I was slightly concerned we were going to catch the house on fire, the candles made such an enthusiastic blaze.
And all at once I didn't feel old or muggy or like spending another minute in my boring old bed.
The inferno was extinguished, the kisses were everywhere and then my man said, "I have an announcement to make. Today you kids are not going to school. Today I am not going to work. This is an official holiday, so today we are going to...Lego Land!" I couldn't decide if I wanted to cry or kiss or tickle him so he'd have an idea of how happy the whole darn thing made me.
Of course, we hit traffic and got there late, and the day wasn't completely free of meltdowns and bite marks, but there is no doubt that the efforts of my family told me loud and clear that, at least to them, I am special.
It's not about the gifts or the price tag, and it doesn't take an amusement park to make it magic. Birthdays are about reminding the people in our lives that their existence matters. This journey of life is nothing to take lightly, but my goodness what a difference a candle can make.
Especially when you're 6 and it comes with a free ticket to Lego Land.
Annie Valentine is a wife, mother and columnist. Readers can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her blog at regardingannie.wordpress.com.