If you had a child today and are disappointed that she or he didn’t pop out six days sooner, don’t be. Take it from the horse’s mouth: being a Sweetheart Baby isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
This year, I didn’t plan much for my birthday. I thought I would end up working a lot and wouldn’t have time to celebrate, but then the East Coast was hit with an epic snowstorm (read: normal nightly snowfall in Grand Rapids which shut this city down for two days). It effectively ruined my plans to be a workaholic to avoid feeling lonely on my birthday.
After being annoyed when everyone in my house wished me “Happy Valentine’s Day” but utterly forgot my birthday, I salvaged the weekend with a spontaneous trip to Baltimore to visit a friend; Nonetheless I was left pondering what my deal is with hating on my Valentine’s Day Birthday.
When I was young, I tried to embrace the specialness of it. I always had heart-shaped cakes, which were awesome because if you got just the right piece, you got frosting on the inside and the outside. (If you aren’t familiar with heart-shaped cakes, they are made from sticking together a square cake and two halves of a circle cake. If you are the birthday girl, you go for the junction piece, because it has extra frosting sticking it together.)
I tried to embrace my birthday by liking all heart-decorated things, making these symbolic of myself. I had a belt that was made of heart-shaped links. Things like that. As I grew older, however, I realized that I wasn’t really a heart-shaped person—in fact, I decided I was perhaps an anti heart-shaped person.
It was supposed to be cool to have a birthday on a holiday. In the days of valentines at school (when you were required to give one to every person in the class so no one felt left out), I received thirty-odd valentines on my birthday. Who else (beside Justin Bieber) receives thirty-plus birthday cards?
But, let’s be real, I’m a smart girl and I knew that everyone else also received thirty valentines, too. The fact that people scribbled “AND Happy Birthday!” under the Valentine’s Day greeting on whatever Disney-themed card they gave me didn’t really make it better–it felt like an afterthought rather than something special.
It wasn’t until I was in high school that I really started to loathe the Valentine’s Day bit. I never had a boyfriend in high school, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit resentful that other girls got presents and chocolate and flowers on my birthday. I remember specifically being quite mopey on the Valentine’s Day I turned “sweet sixteen and never been kissed.” Looking back, the fact I pouted over that seems more than a bit ridiculous, but in the moment, it seemed quite unfair: What good did a Valentine’s Day birthday do me?
When I did finally get a boyfriend, I remember down-playing the Valentine’s Day birthday. I didn’t want to seem high maintenance, after all. So I said, “It’s just my birthday, that’s all.” But I think everyone can probably see through that one…
My simultaneously worst and best birthday was the one I spent in Vietnam. As coincidence would have it, the particular year I was in Hanoi was the year that Tet, the Chinese New Year fell on—you guessed it—February 14. So not only was my birthday on Valentine’s Day, it was also on the biggest holiday in Southeast Asia.
Tet is to Vietnam as Christmas is to the States—only bigger. Everyone everywhere gets an entire week off work. People start stocking up on food months prior to the holiday because the prices of Tet-related items skyrocket as the day draws near.
On Tet eve, I participated in the traditional festivities with my host family. At midnight we did a toast and exchanged lucky money. Then we trekked around Hanoi to probably a dozen pagodas (temples) to pray for “luck” in the new year. We got home at 5 a.m. And of course, no one mentioned my birthday.
The next day (my birthday), I woke up to violent vomiting that lasted all morning. Apparently the snail soup we ate at 3 a.m. at the last pagoda didn’t settle so well with me. I ate street food like a boss the whole time I was in Vietnam and never got sick other than on my birthday. Well, I wanted to feel special, right?
The problem was that I was scheduled to leave for the airport at 4 p.m. for a weeklong vacation in Cambodia with my two friends. I was scared you-know-what-less that my family wouldn’t let me go if I was sick—especially when the you-know-what also started coming out much quicker than is ideal.
I started imagining being stuck in Hanoi visiting a lot of relatives I didn’t know, being stuffed with the absolutely terrible traditional Tet cakes and zoning out while everyone spoke Vietnamese—all while Ali and Hannah were having a blast in Cam-pu-chi-a (the Vietnamese pronunciation, which is so much more fun).
Fortunately, by the afternoon, my sickness had migrated completely to the lower region, which I did not mention to my host mom. As soon as we got on the plane (right after I used the barf-bag for the first time in my life), Ali and Hannah threw me what they called a “Petite Plane Party,” which was uninhibitedly silly—and the best thing in the world. I got to put together a puzzle of my own face—need I say more? Thus started the best vacation ever, even with the continuing remnants of food poisoning in my system.
At midnight on Tet, I had stood on one of the upper-level balconies of my house watching the fireworks and had told the stranger on the neighboring balcony that it was my birthday. She had been ecstatic for me, saying, “You will have a very lucky year!” At that moment, I had cynically thought, “yeah, right.” But, after laughing hysterically with my friends over Vietnamese gummy hot dogs (like gummy bears, only inexplicably hot-dog shaped) during my plane party, I thought, “Hey, she might be right.”
Because no matter when our birthdays fall, we all just want to feel special sometimes. Even if we like to pretend we don’t care.
Calah Schlabach (’09) is a Calvin graduate who—let’s just be honest—majored in cross country and track while minoring in English and writing. After a year or so of global wandering, she discovered the sport of triathlon. Calah is currently working as a professional triathlete.