Make a point of visiting us weekly!        Tell a friend about us. Silver Surfer Articles Return to “Silver Surfers”  CONTENTS PAGE Page EIGHTY NINE

First there are the cards – and in these days of social media, if you put your birthday in your own information on Facebook, a variety of friends will comment and wish you a happy birthday. But cards say a lot about the relationship you have with other people, how well they know you. If they don’t know you very well, it will be the bland card with words. If they know you well, it is likely that there will be a theme in pictures on the cards. I like boats and even more I like water (water always appears as the background on the front screen of any computer I own), and so on a recent birthday, it was pleasing to see that most cards had water and boats. My family and friends do know me! But it’s a funny thing isn’t it? We send people cards and, if they are like us, they will go up on the mantlepiece or shelves or windowsills where they will stay for a couple of weeks and then be consigned to the bin. Well, birthdays can’t go on for ever can they; that’s the point, they are the celebration of a specific day.

But more than this, they are an acknowledgement that we have managed to reach a new milestone in life. But that then becomes a problem for some people it seems. I have a friend who nearly had a meltdown when he reached one of the ‘Big-0’ birthdays. But, hey think about this for a bit. Why should forty, fifty or sixty or any other of those be more significant than say 39 or 51? It is purely psychological isn’t it! And that’s the thing, we allow this whole idea of birthdays to impose feelings upon us, and mostly they are negative.

If a child of age 1 year has a birthday celebration, it’s for the parents! The child has no concept of birthday. By 4 or 5 perhaps they have worked out that talk of birthdays is linked with receiving presents. By 15 they would probably rather receive money to choose what they want. (Let’s not get on to the subject of unwanted presents - well not yet anyway!) Then there are those ‘significant birthdays’. Twenty-on used to be The big coming-of-age one, but then eighteen has some legal implications to it (as does 16 now). We used to refer to ‘getting the key to the door’ meaning you could come and go when you wanted, but I don’t know how applicable that is today. There used to be an age when a young person could have a mobile phone, but that has crept down and down and so the mobile phone seems to have become a safety or communication accessory that many deem vital to the well-being of their young child – and if everyone else in their class has one…. so no more!  So what are ‘significant birthdays’ in a young person’s life today? I don’t know. Answers on a postcard to…..

Cards, presents and the dreaded birthday party. I have watched our children with our grandchildren and I have watched other young families. You can probably measure your place on the social scale by the amount of stress birthday parties cause you, the parent. If you don’t have any money, you have a very basic party with sandwiches and jelly or something similar (no, not jelly on sandwiches!!) and send the kids out into the garden to play. Fine. Higher up the middle class social scale you go, you find party bags, other accessories, entertainers and sleepovers, that all come crowding in on you. It is a tough, expensive life being a middle class parent today. Even higher up the scale, trips abroad (with friends) make a neat dent in the bank balance. In the crazy world of today there seem to be two deceptions that have been taken on board by large numbers. The first one is that our children will not love us unless we spend a fortune on them. The second one is that if your child’s friends’ parents are daft enough to get swept along in this tsunami of spending, you must too. Sorry folks, as a mere aging onlooker to all these antics, I feel for you!

While we are passing this point, note another general phenomenon – the ‘party’. I am all for having a bunch of friends around and eating and drinking together, talking or doing whatever else we might want to do together, no problem with that. Call it a ‘party’ and suddenly it takes on a whole new set of pressures – we have got to enjoy ourselves, how did we rate yesterday’s ‘party’? Seriously think about it and see if I’m not right. Call it just ‘a get-together’ and people stop worrying about what present they should bring, or how flashy they must dress. Or is it that so many of us feel incapable of enjoying ourselves without it being hyped up. Zoom in on the morning after and see the hosts starting to clear up the mess, muttering to themselves, “Why ever did we do this?” It is on the par with the thirty thousand pound wedding (after the horrendously expensive stag days away or the hen parties abroad that people are now opting out of because of the cost) which I am told is the average cost of a wedding today, all to boost up and make something of her (and it tends to be ‘her’, sorry) special day, to kick off a marriage that sometimes only lasts six months. An expensive experience, and one has to ask why do we need to do it?      

But back to birthdays. There lots of funny and not-so-funny quotes about birthdays on the internet, mostly focusing on age. I’m sure in our twenties that the age is not such an important issue unless the person in question feels, “I’ve reached 25 and still not got a partner”, but I get the feeling that is not so common today as it might have been thirty years ago.  According to TV it is more likely to be, “I’m approaching forty and still haven’t had a baby. If I don’t get a move on it will be too late.” Changing social norms. In the forties there is the famous mid-life crisis suffered by many when every birthday presents the challenge, “Another year has gone! Where is my life going? What have I achieved?” The different ways insecurity can show itself!

In the fifties it can start to be (once we got over the mid-life crisis worry) that time is passing and if we’re not careful we ought to start thinking about what we will do when we retire. A critical consideration some of the experts say. Arriving at retirement with no plans, comes as a complete surprise, nothing to do, death hits. Active mind + active body + purpose in life = meaningful retirement. From the little I have seen of it, there are those who spend their lives doing cruises which is a good way to see the world but after the sixth one (“Oh, this is our tenth cruise,” one couple told us) I would think the thought of not doing cruises takes on a dimension of scariness of sitting around at home vegetating. Cruises are good while your health holds out. We watched with great interest preparations being made to allow a helicopter to arrive and take off someone who had just had a heart attack. Good spectator sport but not so much fun if it is you.

Which brings us to the dodgy question of the things that sneak up on you as you age, so that each additional birthday leaves you wondering, what will this next year hold? Things like failing eye-sight, failing hearing, knees giving way, hips getting painful and so it can go on and on. Oh it will never happen to me! Well, one of the lessons I think I’ve learned is never to say that. That is not to say adopt a pessimistic outlook on life, but just realistically accept the fact that although there are the people who sail though to their nineties with nary an ache, they do tend to be in the minority. I used to laugh – with others – about the jokes about old people sharing their operations but when I was at a reunion not too long back, I found myself listening to just such conversations.  The wonder of this country is that we can have these things – mostly for free, not eyes or teeth unless you are prepared for long waits, but most other stuff. It’s a good country to be in when you age.

I’ve also recently sat in on a conversation about buying presents for birthdays. Now there is a nightmare-potential scenario – presents not wanted – money preferred – worry about what to buy – worry about remembering dates – there must be an easier and more meaningful way of celebrating someone’s birthday.  Now the moment I wrote that I started a worrying train of thought – WHY ‘celebrate’ a birthday? Is it to remember an event of diddly-number of years back when we were born which created the opportunity of the life you have lived, or it is celebrating the fact that you have managed to survive this long?

I’m not sure I’m excited about either of those thoughts and as you may gather I have never been very excited about birthdays but, hey, I’m not that much of a Scrooge. If you like, I think in my experience, birthdays are great when they create that “Ahhhhh…..” soft feeling of just being loved by family, times when family show appreciation of you. Oh my goodness, birthdays are all about enjoying family! Wow! Didn’t see that one coming!  Birthdays are great – we have family and can work on family. But then reality sets in for some for, in the day in which we live, so often there are fragmented families, and so perhaps the opportunities for those of us in the older generations are there to try to rebuild something beautiful instead, and just maybe we might be able to do that by celebrating birthdays.  I usually finish with some quotes from the Internet but everything looked trite so here are some of my own:

“Birthdays come once a year – thank goodness.” The Pessimist

“Birthdays come once a year – I can’t wait!”  The Optimist.

“Daddy, can I have three birthdays a year?” Your five-year old

“Your desire for a birthday harps back to your womb experiences.” The Psychologist

“Whatever you do don’t eat sweets, cakes, fizzy drinks, jellies, and  ….. what do you mean there’s nothing left?   The Nutritionist  

“Birthdays?  Third ward on the left, dear.” The Receptionist

“Sorry we don’t do birthdays. They went out with the dinosaurs.”  The Paleontologist

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