Birthday Dread and Abundant Gratitude
It’s November, which means my birthday is coming up and Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Am I the only that suffers from birthday dread syndrome? It’s not the age that bothers me. It’s more skin deep than that.
It’s the reminder that time is passing and that deep down, I’m guilty of comparing myself to others based on my perceived successes and failures; taking some things for granted, instead of growing as wisely as I assume most of you are…
Shouldn’t I be more evolved than this by now? More grateful and satisfied with what I have?
As my close friends know, I grew up poor as shit, and, as anybody who’s been through the poverty gauntlet can tell you, it not only changes you, it sticks to you. It shapes you whether you choose to let it define you or not.
When I was younger, the future didn’t often look bright or promising. That isn’t to say I didn’t have a charming childhood. I lived in a harsh reality cloaked with the magic of a pagan gypsy mom, hillbilly storyteller dad (when he was still there) and an outdoor life.
My childhood was often spent relying on the kindness and generosity of friends for really basic things, like a place to live, firewood or a healthy home cooked meal. When I started first grade, my mom, dad, brother, sister and I lived in a one room house without plumbing on the side of a mountain. We had a camp kitchen, a bearskin rug and two puppies. At night, my sister and I would hold hands as we crept down the hill to use the outhouse. It had two seats, side by side, and we preferred to pee in the dark in the safety of company. My dad lives on the same mountain today without plumbing and bathes outside, under the vine maples, in a wood heated tub. Some days, I think he deserves a medal; other days I just want someone to kick his ass.
When my brother was in high school he had a bedroom with walls so thin you could see through the cracks. It was at this house that he taught me how to ride a bike and he built a rope ladder that he hung from a large cedar tree in our front yard. We didn’t have nice things but we were creative and easily amused. I envied my friends that played with expensive toys that I didn’t know anything about, but I was never short of adventures or friends that shared everything they had.
I don’t think I can remember everywhere we lived, but some of the ramshackle places were really neat, and often eccentric. Like the house that had two doors in every room and every room was on a separate level. We had a clawfoot bathtub in the bathroom, but an outhouse in replace of a flushing porcelain throne. There was a yoga studio on the hill behind the house shaped like the Gravitron, where the walls angled back.
My 5th grade year we moved to Kimberly BC and we shopped at the Platzl, a pedestrian only outdoor shopping mall, with the biggest cuckoo clock in the world. If someone put money in the tower, Happy Hans, the little French man, would come out and yodel. One night, my family soaked in hot springs, saw the Northern Lights and explored an old burnt down cabin where we found blackened treasures; silverware and pottery that had survived the flames. At home, we ate meals at the benches and table my mom’s boyfriend roughly built from a tree he cut down in the back yard. They gave me splinters but it was the only furniture we had, besides our beds. My mom taught me how to crochet under the big windows on the living room floor.
It was enchanting, but we lived in a grown up world, constantly aware of money problems and the stress it caused. I still think in exact numbers because, when you’re that poor, even the numbers after the decimal point are important. Every penny counts. Holidays meant pretending we were happy with what we had, because we knew what my mom sacrificed to give us presents. I felt bad asking for toys and worse if I got them. I inherited a chronic feeling of dread.
At some point we lived with friends of ours that made us feel incredibly welcome. Their garage/art studio was converted into a temporary room for my mom, and the two sisters, the same ages as me and my sister, shared their one bedroom and two beds with us. My memory is terrible, but we were teenagers by then I think. Two moms and four girls living together under one roof. Old enough to appreciate the immensity of the situation and how accommodating (and fun) they were. It still humbles me.
Those are things that are etched in my mind.
So, it’s not like when I was growing up I thought by the time I was an adult I would be a super fashionable soccer mom with a diamond ring and loving husband living in a fancy home. I prayed I wouldn’t be on welfare. And, somehow, I landed myself a full scholarship for college and in my twenties I foresaw myself changing the world in revolutionary ways, stopping deforestation, saving the salmon, solving world water shortages.
As of now, I haven’t made history. I still fight with my sister and my mom still fights to find finances for healthcare. I’ve battled with debt, cancer, depression. I’ve hurt people I care about and allowed myself to be hurt over things I shouldn’t care about.
So why does my birthday make me think about all these things??? As if the day is a testament to life being a hardship instead of a celebration? A monument to the sacrifices people have made to give me the smallest gifts and the biggest opportunities. You know what’s even sadder than being 35, another year older, and still feeling ashamed of how little I have, sorry for how weathered and tired my mom is, or silently waiting for things to be perfect? All the time I’ve spent dreading life, wishing I was someone else or somewhere else (yeah, I’m that immature). I’ve spent plenty of time trying to be how I wanted people to see me, instead of being who I was. But, I’m getting there. Late bloomer, I guess.
So, here’s to being 35 and trying to make this the year that I enjoy my birthday, because, I have a wealth of things to be grateful for. I’ve found myself living the way I always pictured a normal person would: bills paid, groceries in the fridge, gas in the car, friends that care about me. I have the most patient and supportive boyfriend I could hope for. He’s adventurous, brilliant, and charming. I’ve always found kick ass jobs that anyone would be jealous of and that I enjoy. This New Year will be my 5 year CANCER FREE anniversary! Last summer, I got to bond with my youngest niece in a really heartwarming way. My mom continues to teach me what it means to love unconditionally. My cat is the sweetest thing in the world and brings me comfort and entertainment every day. I bought a pistol worth more than my car, because I have faith that I’ll be able to save up for a better car someday. Luxury!!
I CAN see a bright future for myself, even if I never imagined it would take so long or be this hard.
As I look back on my childhood, it’s clear that I’ve learned some valuable lessons by growing up in the conditions that I did. I learned the immense value of sharing. The importance of taking good care of what little I have. That skinny dipping in a creek, catching salamanders and painting my face with rocks means more to me than anything I can buy. Talk about appreciating the little things. I’ve learned how to have compassion, because I know what it’s like to be at the bottom of a well of sadness. I’ve learned that it’s the people who make a home, not the size of a house. And my favorite: to never forget where I came from. I’m unbelievably proud of my adventurous and wild upbringing. Maybe I haven’t seen the world, but, my world has never been boring. I’m grateful for that.
So, yeah, I can wish that I had been afforded an easier and more glamorous life, but then it wouldn’t be mine, and what other deep well of experience would I have to draw from? And, where else would I find as much joy in pledging to help those in need as much as I possibly can? I owe everyone that has ever contributed to my welfare and growth more than I could possibly express. The people who have taken me in, helped me feel special and given me a sense of belonging thank you!! I owe so many of my strengths and successes to you.
If you want to feel rich, just count the things you have that money can’t buy. Proverb
Guess what? I wrote this exactly a year ago and I did make the best of being 35! Even more awesome, I set goals for myself that I am starting to see happen. I’m looking forward to turning 36 and following my dreams!!
And! The pistol I bought that I thought was worth more than my car… well, I just sold my car for double that. I bought my 1991 Honda Accord for 800 dollars, eight years ago, drove it to Alaska and back, barely had to put any money into it, and just sold it for 1300 dollars. Van Life travel money, yeah!
Happy November 2014!