I cried on the morning on my 33rd birthday, during my commute to work.
It was peak hour, the train was going a lot slower than it ought to, and I was swamped amidst peak-hour crowd. Maybe it was the pushing and shoving, or the seemingly warm temperature in the cabin which was getting to me. Maybe my brain decided that it could no longer bear my pensive state of emotions without involving the other parts of my body. Before I could distract myself with anything else, a tear fell, and then another.
“Fa*k la, now I look like ****”, I sweared, silently.
I tried to psych myself out of going down the emo pit but it was too late. My heart was getting too emotional, too quickly.
It started the night before, on my birthday’s eve. As always, despite past years’ disappointments, my hopes were up that the husband might somehow make it a point to throw me a big hug while yelling “HAPPY BIRTHDAY SWEETIE!” followed by a birthday song and dance at 00:00. I know it sounds cheesy, to want a 40-something-year-old husband to still do that, but it was a gesture he used to spontaneously surprise me with every year. Until………. let’s not put all the blame on parenthood.
While I knew there was a huge likelihood of him not doing anything (it would probably be for the 5th year and counting anyway), I continued to hope. Because hope would keep me from feeling like I had a husband who was so occupied and stressed that he couldn’t care about his wife’s feelings on her special day.
Hope did turn out to be short-lived. It was 23:40, and I was going to ask the husband what he was busy watching on his tablet when I saw his tired-looking face drifting off despite his best efforts to keep awake. I couldn’t bear to impose my expectations on him and consoled myself to sleep.
“To wish was to hope, and to hope was to expect” – Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
I woke up feeling refreshed from 7 hours of sleep, and waited to hear the first of birthday wishes. Mom had consistently done it for the last 24 years until the husband beat her to being first, that it became something I was attuned to.
The kids, who were up surprisingly early, came running into our bedroom yelling “Mommy! Mommy!”.
“Ohhh!!!! here goes!”, I mused, in anticipation of being smothered with hugs and kisses. Instead, the husband asked if I could go and manage the kids while he changed up. “Sure, you selfish man. As if I don’t need to change up and get ready for work as well”, I uttered under my breath.
It was tough looking unaffected during the drive to the boys’ school and not answer to the husband’s question when he asked if I was okay. When I did decide to tell the boys that it was my birthday, while walking them to school, and asked if they would love to be picked up early to have go for some cake, I received a “No, don’t want to eat cake.” response.
No wishes, no kisses, no hugs. Pfffffft! For all the times I bothered to celebrate the boys’ birthdays, even taking half-day leave from work at last minute’s notice on the husband’s birthday just because he asked, it felt terrible to receive nothing. I felt empty and spent. I felt unappreciated, even if I was brought up on the values of giving without expecting to receive. Especially when it came from the people I love and care so much about.
But what could I do apart from turning to my phone to wallow to a few good friends.
“Happy Birthday BR!!!! Am I the first to wish you?”, “Happy happy Birthday natty!!!”, “Happy Birthday Girl, you are my blessing, my pride, my joy. You are loved more than you’ll ever know With all my love, mum” were among the many heartfelt messages received. I hadn’t seen my phone since the night before so it was nice to see that the messages actually started being sent from 00:02 onward.
Mid-way of responding to the many birthday messages, Mum called me a few times (but I had to miss her earlier calls because I didn’t want her to hear me feeling so down) to ask what my lunch and dinner plans were because she wanted to date me out if I had nothing on. There I was, so caught up with wanting attention from my husband and kids, that I forgot there was someone just as important who was ready to celebrate this very special day – the day she became my mom.
I did end up receiving a few birthday surprises.
The first surprise of the day came in the form of a crate of gorgeous birthday blooms with a cute teddy bear, which was delivered to the office, from the ever generous Angie & David of Life’s Tiny Miracles.
“Confirm not your husband send one”, a colleague affirmed. Even the colleagues knew. To how I deserved such friendship, love and kindness from this couple, I still don’t know.
“I will just declare to my family it’s my birthday and get them to buy me a cake! Why not?” Mabel said in response to my rants in group chat when I grumbled about feeling sad. There’s this positive, candid, straightforward streak about this woman from Amazingly Still which I sometimes wished I had more of.
“Nat, what time do you end work? We go out. We eat cake. Where have good cake? Birthday must blow candles. Your call” – she texted, offering to take time out of her new, busy schedule to come to town just to meet me to blow birthday candles and have cake. This was my second birthday surprise. Simple yet meaningful.
I was on my way to pick the boys when I received a call from a very exasperated-sounding security guard who was worried when he couldn’t reach me (my phone was on flight mode as it was running on low battery) on my mobile that he marched over to my unit and asked my helper to keep calling until I answered.
Turns out it was partly because there were deliveries of a beautiful pulut-hitam birthday cake (from my dearest FGMs Eliz & Sheri) and a bouquet of flowers from my BFF BR, and he wanted to make sure I received them ASAP as instructed by the couriers.
I reached home to my helper pouncing a hug on me and apologizing for not knowing it was my birthday. And seeing the cake and flowers (surprise #3 & #4) placed on the table overwhelmed me with love and gratitude till no end that I wept a little. To think I almost let expectations kill the joy of my birthday celebration when clearly, I was loved to the point of having good friends execute an urgent delivery, just so that it’ll cheer me up.
As for the husband, I stopped expecting anything from him after the cry. He did wished me over a call at noon, asked that I inform our helper not to cook our share, as he managed to make reservations for dinner. We ended my 33rd birth day celebration with a dinner date at Boruto, toasting to Japanese whiskey, and did our best to keep our phones away during conversations.
My 33rd birthday may not have started as awesome as how people on Facebook portray birthdays should be, but it sure ended meaningfully. On the first day of being a 33-year-old, I actually had in it me to accept disappointment, sadness, angst and gratitude all at once, within the day, by adjusting my expectations accordingly. That said, I need to work on being less judgmental too easily, such as assuming my husband to be inattentive and insensitive for not being the first to wish me, just because it’s what I would expect of myself to do.
Another huge theme that resulted from reflecting, introspecting and having belated celebrations for the rest of February was friendship. The number of friends may have decreased over the years but the value of the few relationships I hold dear to have increased.
To those who took the time to wish me, celebrate with me, bake a cake for me, surprise me, gifted me something as practical as an original iPhone USB cable (which I absolutely love), specially shopped for a very stylish top to expand my boring range of clothes; and especially to a dear friend whose also a happy mum to 3 kids, who stayed up till 4am to bake and decorate a cake just to surprise me and another birthday baby with after preparing and hosting one of the best steamboats I’ve ever had; I’m grateful for your love, your thoughtfulness, your patience and your friendship despite my shortcomings, insecurities, inadequacies and assumptions.
As I inch towards 34 in 300 and 30-something days’ time, I hope to continue focusing on living a purposeful life and to really, just be a better version of me: daughter, wife, mom, friend, colleague.