Birthday Cake


It’s true: I’ve never been much of a “birthday person.” When I was younger, I so dreaded hosting birthday parties that I often wished I often was a twin so I could at least share the party and avoid being the sole center of attention. When you’re a kid, you’re supposed to be excited about birthdays and all they have to offer – growing taller, getting (or feeling) smarter, gaining independence – and for those reasons I did enjoy my birthdays. It was the other, more self-centered aspect of birthdays that always left me feeling uncomfortable – the part that requires you to feel “special” or deserving of extra attention simply because you managed to wake up that certain morning. Needless to say, as I grew older, it felt liberating to be able to care less about my “special day.” I scoffed at the idea of a Sweet 16, and if a friend ever happened to throw me a party, I made it explicitly known that I had nothing to do with it whatsoever. 

It wasn’t until the passing of this year’s birthday, though, that I realized how much I’d taken that special attention for granted. When my mom asked me to meet her and my father at my grandparents’ house in New Jersey celebrate with a “birthday dinner,” I begrudgingly accepted. The day finally came, however, and a winter storm completely derailed the plan. While relieved at first, I grew sad and anxious that night and couldn’t understand why. An image of an old photograph kept popping into my head; it pictured me, clutching a stuffed cat and sitting next to a pink-frosted cake (my yearly request). I went to bed that night hungry not for the sweetness of the cake, but for the inexpressible excitement I always felt about knowing it would be made every year, just for me. I still can’t say I’m a “birthday person.” But I think I’ve realized that this oddly vain desire we often have to receive special attention on our birthdays might not from a place of selfishness after all. Perhaps instead it’s an expression of some nostalgic yearning for our foregone childhood, when birthdays meant you could have your cake and eat it too.