Sunday, April 28, 2013
This is me, on the eve of another birthday. Good Lord, they just keep coming. It's high time, don't you think, that I make peace with the face I wear, the body I'm in? Putting that photo of me taken yesterday, my face, chins and all, right there in the public square is a start, or that's what I'm calling it anyway.
I sat with my husband and my friend in a pizza and Chicago grill place yesterday afternoon, planning my birthday party, making a long list of people I love on a paper napkin. I was mixing all my social groups with abandon, and mixing food themes with abandon, too, requesting pina coladas and my husband's seafood gumbo to go with the birthday cake.
The list made and lunch paid for, the three of us meandered through a craft fair, where my husband bought me one of those typewriter key bracelets I have always wanted, it seemed the perfect talisman for a writer, which is how I describe myself in my secret heart, but in all the years of stopping by that stall at city craft fairs, I had never actually purchased one because the price always seemed too high for whimsy. But yesterday, above my protestations about the cost, my husband reached into his wallet and bought me the one I held in my hands longest, and he fastened it on my wrist with great fanfare and kissed me happy birthday. And even though we bickered back and forth quite a bit yesterday, these are the sorts of things he does, even in the midst of the two of us jockeying for petty control, and it's no wonder I will always love him.
I was drawn to that particular bracelet because the words "Shift Freedom" pierced me when I saw them. To me they meant, shift your mindset to freedom, that's what came into my mind as soon as I saw that key, larger than the rest, centered for emphasis, and at the ends of the string the numbers of my two birthdays: 3, the one my mother knows is the true date, and 4, the date my birth certificate immortalized, the identity that institutions and bureaucracies believe to be truth. Later, we sat for a long while on benches outside the American Museum of Natural History, and watched people come and go, the children playing around the fountain, the tourists of all descriptions, the trees at their most glorious, the breeze a caressing kind, the sky intensely blue overhead.
This morning, though, I awoke and realized I don't want a big birthday bash after all. Too much stress. I am not an easy entertainer. My husband says it's because in my family, entertainments were lavish affairs, with crystal and china and silverware and lace, and cooking for days, and crowds and crowds of people from all our circles, and more food than could ever be consumed. My mother was a natural hostess, she did it magnificently, her teas, her dinner parties, her outdoor cocktail soirees, and I was always pressed into service until at some point in the proceedings I would quietly escape to my room, taking sister-cousins with me, and there the real party would happen, impromptu.
I remember the sense of wonder I felt at Christmas in my husband's parents' home, when the whole extended family was invited to dinner and yet there was no frantic flurry of activity beforehand. His mom would get up in the morning and go to church, and after she would start cooking, all the while chatting with everyone, and different family members would chop this or stir that, no stress in them at all, and suddenly I would look up and the table would be covered with dishes she had prepared while seeming to be doing nothing at all, and the clan would arrive and the whole affair would just flow.
I don't know how to do that. When faced with planning a party, I freeze. Though I did manage birthday parties for my children, it is so stressful for me, triply so if I am planning an occasion for myself. Come to think of it, other than my wedding, I have never really done such a thing. I imagine no one will come, there won't be enough food, the right music, people won't get along, they won't enjoy themselves, on and on. And so I woke up this morning and announced to my husband that I had changed my mind, I don't want a big gathering. Let's keep it simple, I said. Maybe just dinner somewhere with a couple of friends, or maybe just you and me. I don't think this is quite what Shift Freedom is supposed to mean, but I suppose I have to start somewhere. I'll start here—with consciousness about why I am making this choice, knowing that it might not seem to be the brave choice, but it frees me, too.