The Birthday Box

I learned a long time ago, that birthday’s should be a time that you put aside to celebrate you, the way you want them, not wait for others to celebrate you. Mine seemed to land at the most inconvenient time, or at least, that is what I always felt. Being in a diplomatic family, meant a lot of sacrifices, and my birthday was always a sacrifice.

My birthday is the very beginning of September. Always the tail end of moving and unpacking, and the beginning of school. It was always awkward, some years I didn’t have friends, because we were in a new country, and when we did live somewhere long enough to have friends, they were either prepping for the first day of school or away, some years, my Father was travelling or we were. Birthday’s in a hotel were usually insane.

Birthday’s in my house growing up, meant a whole lot of unceremonious birthday’s… I never had a birthday party, any presents I received were for school, or at least had a back to school theme, and I never really had a birthday cake, sometimes I had a random slice of cake with a candle from the hotel staff if we were still in a hotel. There is a lot to unpack there, but I decided early on, to never rely on anyone else to celebrate me. There were Birthday’s spent in a new school, where I was overwhelmed by a new language, culture and I would cry A LOT. There were birthday’s I would have my Great Auntie’s over, they fussed over me but school always loomed over me. My Mother usually was running around attempting to get to know a new country, get schools, uniforms, and supplies sorted out, to really acknowledge a birthday for a whole day. My Father, usually felt guilty that his vocation made me move, would attempt at buying something in the airport duty free. In my adolescent head, my birthday seemed to be a blip in a hectic schedule.

At 15, we had to move to Venezuela. My friends in Ottawa celebrated my birthday early with a going away party. It was the first time I had anyone else celebrate me, and the first time I had a real birthday cake with candles.  Since my Mother and I were leaving to Caracas ahead of my Dad, I decided to put a little care package together for myself, filled with some of my favourite things. I had a book, some chocolate, a little bubble bath and a new album for my Sony sports Walkman.

My Birthday in Caracas consisted of me waking up at 5am, and running down the street to meet my bus to take me on a 2 hour bus ride to school. We were living in the Official residence, but with the outgoing Ambassador and his wife, to say it was awkward was an understatement. I had been at this new school for 2 weeks, and spent many moments shedding a few tears in the bathroom. This move was more than overwhelming, it was the year I was turning 16, in Canada, I would have gone to get my learners permit, instead in Caracas, I was sitting in the back of a bus, weaving through a country that was teetering into despair.

I arrived at school and the office staff saw it was my birthday in my transcripts, they met me at the top of the stairs to my locker and got some of the kids in my class to clap and sing happy birthday. It was an International School tradition, never let a child feel alone, especially on their birthday. Only, I was completely caught off guard, and it made me feel incredibly lonely, I had trained myself to disappear and not be noticed in schools, I was always new and was almost afraid of attention. When I look back on it, I think I just didn’t know how to let others celebrate me, because I didn’t know how to celebrate me.

That night, I got back to my room, which was in the guest wing of the official residence, and I sat on my bed, opened my little box, grabbed the book and chocolates, and went into another world. It was absolutely lovely, I wasn’t lonely, or sad, I just leaned into celebrating me and my day. That box, was the first time I planned out me time.

The tradition of my birthday box was born.

The next year, I was off to boarding school. I planned out my birthday box, a book, chocolates, cookies, a new album, and I even got a few friends to write me notes to open on my birthday. Back then, we had no cell phones to text, no social media, no way of communicating with friends in other countries other than those thin blue airmail letters.

The night of my birthday, I was in a strange hallway. No one noticed it was my birthday, staff in the office didn’t celebrate me like they had in the international school. Instead, I sat in a shower stall of my new dorm, opened up the small box, ate chocolates, listened to my new album on my Walkman and opened some letters from friends around the world. It was me time, and it wasn’t lonely or sad. I didn’t rely on anyone else to remember, I was just grateful for another year, another adventure and a quiet moment to myself to reflect on all the good friends I had.

Fast forward to the present. I have moved many times as an adult, somehow we have moved a few times on my birthday. I hadn’t kept up with my birthday box every year, kinda leaving my birthday celebrations to hang in the wind. As a mother, sometimes I have just forgotten, too busy thinking about my son’s first day of school.

This year, I planned out my birthday box. I put a few things in it that just make me happy. I knew moving a week before my birthday, meant it was going to be a stretch, we were going to be really tired. So I planned it out, even put a cake mix and some chocolates. My birthday is really about me celebrating myself, finding gratitude in my everyday life, reflecting, and rejoicing my life and where I am. I don’t need anyone else to celebrate me.

My husband never fails to celebrate me, which is so incredibly sweet. So my box this year was actually untouched for 2 days. This Birthday Box has been my tradition while moving, it has brought me joy, has given me gratitude for the small things, and has filled me at a time when I should be loneliest in the middle of a move, but I never am. I just celebrate me the way I want to celebrate me.

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