I took it like the champion birthday girl I am, with a smile and a thank you, but was instantly transported through a lifetime of birthday flashbacks, ripe with all of the unique, raw emotions another candle on the cake inevitably brings.
I remember feeling terribly anxious at birthday parties as a little girl. I worried excessively about fitting-in. The party games, my party dress, my present, even my shoes and those little white ruffled ankle socks that were a staple in little girl wardrobes when I was growing up, all represented bottomless wells of childhood angst.
I was about nine years old and this was the “school’s finally out and summer is here!” inaugural sleepover birthday party of the season. I was one of about 20 lucky guests on a girls-only invitation list.
The party trick I credit with transforming my nervous tension into a confidence club was a fashion show.
We teamed up in pairs, tore into drugstore makeup kits, and got as dolled up as we possibly knew how. The host-mom was patient enough to lovingly french braid each of our hair, and we were ready!
One by one, each little girl took a turn to “walk the runway” while the others looked on and host-mom judged the “competition.”
My turn arrived. Dressed in my favorite hot pink and white striped bikini, I covered my skinny little self head to toe in an oversized yellow beach towel and tentatively walked down the lawn.
At the final moment, I dropped the towel and struck my best bikini-girl pose, one hand on my hip, one hand in the air.
All of the girl cheered and clapped and I was awarded “best presentation.” It was an epic night for me. While the rest of the evening unfolded with the standard cake, swimming, and bedtime ghost stories well into the wee hours, a small seed in my subconscious took root that night.
I spent my twenties retreating into myself, learning to how manage chronic illness, heal myself, and dream up a better version of me and my life.
My thirties were consumed with getting a new business off the ground, shedding poor relationship, and learning to believe in myself again.
By age 33, my original self concept became way too small to fit me anymore. Exhausted from holding back and squishing into this limited cast of myself, I finally broke free.
The childhood desire to "fit-in" crumbled.
I embrace celebrating my birthday becasue it's a culmination of everyone I've been before and everything I can still be.
Unplanned opportunities, from fashion shows to wrinkle creams, bring forth unexpected facets of myself the same tired experiences can't reveal. (The 7 Centers Challenge taps into this principle too)
Do I still feel a touch of party anxiety when I host an event or dress up to go out? Absolutely!
Except now I figure, with my new wrinkle cream working its magic, surely I’ll have the confidence to handle whatever this year brings!