The very first blow out birthday party is the one that sets the tone for many more to come. For me, it was months after we had relocated from Kansas City, Missouri, to Lagos Nigeria, and my mother decided that a splashy combined birthday party for her 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son would be the best way to initiate potential friendships as the newbies in town.
It’s hard to forget the anxiety in the air right before the doorbell started ringing nonstop, as we anticipated the arrivals of attendees; young and old, and wondered whether or not our theatrical attempt at winning over the interests of assigned revelers would prove to be as as successful as we hoped.
The party itself was a smash hit, but less than a handful of those kids that I was introduced to actually made the cut to my adulthood. It’s not that we’re enemies per se, but one of the benefits of getting older is being able to decipher between what’s real and what’s not.
There was always the pressure to have an army of friends, and that was enhanced by the culture of Nigerians, who tend to judge your reputation based on popularity, and that’s mostly tied to the amount of people who openly claim you as someone they cherish.
This explains why the party scene is a vibrant display of riches, not just in the form of venue, food and entertainment, but also the impressive gathering of friends and relatives, who begin planning the intricacies of uniformed attire once invitations have been received. Birthday parties and wedding festivities starring Nigerians in primary roles, will almost always feature a colorful and majestic cluster of longtime friends, who are sporting the same tailored outfits or traditional fabric, as a show of solidarity for the celebrant.
It’s a beautiful thing to feel the love from so many people who are proud to call you a friend. And in my younger days, due to the gypsy lifestyle that saw me move from city to city in search of what I never found, establishing lasting friendships proved to be a challenge.
And so when my birthday would swing around, there was the feeling of inadequacy at the realization that I was spending my special day without the extra reinforcements of a surprise birthday celebration, implemented by one of many admirers, dutifully committed to going the extra mile to emphasize why I deserve the recognition.
Moving to New York City after college graduation, helped to provide the solid footing I had been craving, which paved the way for the organic bonds that were created through various interactions.
And then when Facebook became a thing, the excitement over being able to seamlessly reconnect with boarding school mates presented another epic opportunity to expand the contact list far beyond the United States.
I loved the idea of being just a click away from old classmates and acquaintances, stationed all over the world. The numbers game also became the worthwhile competition of adding more connections and reconnections, as the web allowed for the “suggestions” and “requests” to do all the work, as you promptly “accepted” pending invitations.
But it didn’t take very long for the euphoria to wear off, as the frequent online engagements began to reveal the early signs of the alternate universe that so many users are tragically substituting for the real thing.
These resurrected “friendships” only served as the booster for algorithms and a fragile ego, that needed the daily reassurance from increasing numbers and the casual inclusion in active forums that hosted discussions about topics that weren’t directly connected to my wellbeing.
It became clear that the only tangible thing holding us together was the login information that kept my page active.
And so the deactivation process was the test that would prove me right. Aside from the hearty birthday wishes that used to feel good back when it was enough, nobody really cared about my stark absence. Only a handful of friends out of all my “friends” that registered numerically, bothered to reach out to confirm that I was okay.
That signaled the urgency for final deletion.
The best aspect of that much-needed parting of ways, is the loss of the half-assed birthday greetings and the nonsensical “friendship anniversaries,” with the latter being one of the most excruciating rituals ever invented.
And as I welcome another birthday, I am amazed by how much I have matured just within the last 3 years.
A lot has changed, and it hasn’t been the easiest of transitions both personally and professionally, but the steady rhythm of functionality has been the utmost respect for the aging process, and what a privilege it is to not just observe the physical revisions, but also the mental manifestations.
It’s certainly not fun to be hit with the brutality of prematurely losing your womanhood, and dealing with the consequences of erratic hormonal changes that force you to contend with longterm grief of what you will never muster in the realm of motherhood.
We talk a whole bunch about periods, even though back when that was my normal, we didn’t really talk about it. But we hardly speak up about the issues plaguing women of a certain age, particularly at an age when such things don’t typically occur.
I had a rough time catching up to my body’s dysfunction, and so the only option was to drink my sorrows away. For 2 years straight, I was a functioning binge-drinker, who couldn’t stand the notion of being sober long enough to recall the pain that drove me to those extremes.
Thankfully those days are long gone.
My recovery had a lot to do with my aging parents, and how that visit over Memorial Day weekend was the wakeup call that I had been missing because of the bit about “chasing dreams” and assuming that tomorrow will always be there.
My father’s limping because of nagging knee pain, and my mother’s shoulder issue only heightened how much older they both looked when they opened the front door to welcome me home.
It was sobering to realize how direly misplaced my priorities were, and the healing had to begin with me before it could extend to the ones I love.
Fast forward to the present, and turning another chapter with the embrace of another blessed year feels appropriately gratifying.
My pool of friends has been greatly reduced to a small number of women who need me as much as I need them, and that’s about all I can handle at this point in my life.
For me, aging means the simplification of relations and functions.
Suddenly, you comprehend the value in accepting why it’s okay and sublimely freeing to let go of relationships that have run their course. There’s more strength and intimacy in smaller numbers, despite what the mechanisms of social media dictate.
I’ve also happily retired from the strenuous task of trying to convince people to like me.
It’s absolutely a fact that as the years go by, the constant duty of over-extending yourself in ways that aren’t beneficial, in an effort to maintain communication with those who could care less, eventually becomes the permanently crossed out item on your to-do-list.
Your best interest no longer takes a backseat, as you realize that time is of the essence, and the only way to make it count, is by being available to the ones who matter.
That’s why aging is the best birthday present.
Yes, getting older is scary because of the frequency of morbid discussions about death and its aftermath. A couple of my friends are curating burial arrangements for their parents, while I’m losing the relatives who played a vital role during my formative years.
This explains why each birthday elevates the joy of living, and how the accumulated lessons that I never would’ve been privy too if I had died a decade ago, have proven to be the lifesaver, as I marvel at the contentment that comes with knowing what I know so far, and the excitement over the level of maturity that will greet me in the years to come.
And even if I don’t have years left, the invaluable instructions of life that have been delivered though the experiences of highs and lows have armed me with the knowledge of why beauty never fades.
When you are healthily appreciative and spiritually fulfilled on the inside, the glow on the outside will always be stunningly seductive.
And that’s beautiful.