Last week was my birthday. A big one. THE big one. The one many women—and men—anticipate with dread. Let’s be honest, though, turning 50 isn’t nearly as traumatic as it used to be (thanks, J. Lo!) I like my birthdays, even this one. For months, I’ve been cooking up plans for a blow-out party, dinners with my besties, maybe a trip to Europe this summer. Then coronavirus happened.
Social distancing certainly wasn’t how I imagined marking my special occasion. Instead of the big bash I’d planned in my head, I spent the day alone throwing myself a little pity party. No champagne toasts. No hugs and kisses. No candles to blow out atop a decadent chocolate cake. I know in the end, it’s just another day. But the thing is, I don’t want to live my life in a string of “just another days.” This was supposed to be a big day. MY big day.
I’m not saying in an attempt to generate sympathy. My birthdaying-in-place doesn’t even begin to compare to the pain, disappointment, and suffering so many others are going through right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Seeing the latest U.S. statistics and reading updates out of Italy and New York quickly puts things in stark perspective. But… it is a loss. The loss of a personal milestone I was really looking forward to celebrating with people I love—and I’m a little bit pissed off about it. I think it’s okay to admit that, and I suspect I’m not only one feeling this way.
Sure, I can always declare a do-over and postpone the party, but the truth is, I’m never going to get my 50th birthday back. Sports teams are forfeiting their seasons. High school seniors are giving up their proms and graduations. Here in Indy, the Month of May has shifted to the Month of August. Wedding plans, even funerals are on hold. These life events can be rescheduled, but they just won’t be the same. Our world and our lives are going to be forever changed by coronavirus. It’s taking things that matter away from all of us. I’m acknowledging that, and I’m giving myself permission to grieve. We’re only human, after all.
The upside is that stripping my birthday down to its barest essence has given me plenty of time to reflect on where I am and what matters most. It’s not a big party, a trip, or a million Facebook messages. It’s the simple, truest things. My son is an absolute rock star and the light of my life. I have wonderful, thoughtful, loving friends and family. A healthy body that carries me where I want to go. Ample food in my kitchen. A cozy safe haven to call home. Enough work and money. I may not have everything I want, but I have everything I need. For that, I am grateful.
As women, and especially as mothers, we know how the best-laid plans can change in an instant. Or in this case, a matter of a few weeks. We must be resilient enough to go with the flow. It’s funny how delighted you can be when you’re forced to adjust, or even abandon, your expectations. Surprises arrived throughout last week that brought me a great amount of joy. A beautiful flower arrangement from my book club friends. My son and his dad brought over a home-cooked birthday dinner. A friend dropped off a case of Shiraz that, with any luck, should get me through at least another week of self-isolation. The magnolia tree in my neighbors’ yard across the street has suddenly burst into bloom. Okay, so I didn’t exactly appreciate the AARP membership mailer that showed up in my mailbox just four days after my birthday. Everyone keeps telling me to look on the bright side and enjoy the discounts.
So my 50th didn’t look anything like I thought it would, and it’s alright. Older? Yes. Wiser? Debatable. Although there’s no concrete end in sight to the coronavirus restrictions just yet, I’m allowing myself to start daydreaming about revisiting my birthday plans in a few months. It won’t hurt the bottle of Dom I’ve been saving to keep chilling in my fridge awhile longer. For right now, the fresh spring air blowing through my open window smells like hope. That’s the best birthday present I could ask for.
Amy Lynch is an Indianapolis-based freelance writer whose 50th birthday has been postponed to a later date out of an overabundance of caution.