I’ve made it no secret that I love birthdays. I love the presents, the parties, the sheer unadulterated fuss that comes with getting one year older. But it’s not just my birthday; I love all birthdays. You want a thoughtful, beautifully-wrapped gift? Done. You want an extravagant cake that sums you up, both in design and flavour? I’m your girl. You want me to come to your fancy dress party? I’m there – in fact, I probably organised it. The fuss, the celebration, the time and creative energy I put into every present or party or cake; it’s how I show the people in my life that I love them. And while this may all seem like a weird brag of what an excellent, thoughtful friend I am, it’s not; it’s a weird brag – for illustrative purposes only, I promise – of how excellent and thoughtful I used to be.
I can’t remember the last time I did something special and well-thought out for someone’s birthday or special occasion. I can’t remember the last time I had a brilliant, personal, creative idea, which I painstakingly worked on just so I could see the look on someone’s face. I can’t even remember the last time I realised someone had a birthday coming up without saying, “Oh crap, what am I going to do for that?” Every birthday I’ve celebrated with other people recently has been a quick let’s-make-do affair, with more than one instance of “I’ve ordered your present but it hasn’t arrived yet…weird…”
But I used to be brilliant at it. Birthday fuss is kind of my thing. My housemate at uni was a big fan of The Wizard of Oz so on her birthday I left a trail of “yellow brick road” cupcakes from her bedroom door to the living room (I even made and decorated the cupcakes in my bedroom – aside from 20 nerve-wracking minutes of oven baking – so she wouldn’t catch on to the surprise). I’ve helped organise an Olympics-themed fancy dress party – with the five, full-sized Olympic rings cakes in five corresponding colours and flavours – for a friend I’d only recently met. In fact, you name any kind of birthday cake – from a chocolate fudge Grand Piano to a Breaking Bad lemon sponge with crystal meth candy and a drawing of Bryan Cranston’s actual face in icing – and I’ve probably made it for someone. So where has the Birthday Queen gone?
I don’t know if I’ve whinged about this recently, but I’m very busy at the moment – and by “the moment”, I mean a moment measured in months, even years, of crazy-busy life with no end in sight. And before I moan about it too much; I love my life. I love having multiple jobs, and don’t think I could go back to having just one. I love the things I volunteer to do or go to at church, which is why I keep volunteering. I love hanging out with my friends, spending time with my family, having a big, energetic but adorable dog who, yes, demands a lot of attention but is extremely happy to see me whenever I come home. But all that comes at a cost, and that cost – this sounds overdramatic, and it is – is my birthday fuss mojo.
I made that trail of Wizard of Oz cupcakes when I was a student, with very little else to do. I only really got into making birthday cakes when I was unemployed with lots of time on my hands, but the label just kind of stuck with me. I was really good at birthday fuss back then simply because I could put the hours in. But you can’t go the extra mile when you’ve burnt yourself out on other things. You can’t be thoughtful when your head is buzzing with a million other thoughts. And I want to go back to being the Birthday Queen. I am going to try to carve out more time in my calendar for rest and relaxation so that hopefully the creative birthday juices start flowing again. But, actually, it’s OK if that doesn’t happen.
It’s OK if you can’t be “extra” all the time, and sometimes settle for normal. It’s OK if you feel like you’re spinning too many plates, and let the less important ones drop for a minute. It’s OK if you have people round for dinner and serve them jacket potatoes instead of the usual three-courses on your best serving dishes, because you didn’t have time to shop or prepare anything “special”. I think sometimes we confuse what’s nice to do with what we have to do – because you can’t go all-out all of the time. There’s a reason it’s called “going above and beyond”; you’re going above and beyond what the situation necessitates. It’s not business as usual; there’s nothing usual about it.
My best friend just had a baby, and she’s doing phenomenally well. Her Instagram photos still look flawless. She looks ten times better than I do whenever I see her. Hell, the baby looks ten times better than I do. But yesterday she posted photos on Facebook with the following caption:
Yes. We are in our pyjamas at 4pm. I am learning to lower my expectations about what I can accomplish in a day. I manage to put the water and the washing up liquid in the sink, pop the washing up in there but not actually wash it up. I manage to get the washing in the washing machine but not get it out again. And sometimes I don’t even manage to do those things and all I manage is to keep me and baby warm, fed and loved. And that is enough 🖤✨
I think what I’m learning – which is actually something the friend with the Wizard of Oz cupcakes used to say a lot – is that it’s all about balance. Some days are for going above and beyond. Some days you can be thoughtful, be creative, be extra, and some days you can’t. Some days you have to phone it in with the minimum requirement of effort. Some days even getting showered and dressed is an actual achievement – because you’ve done your best. You did the best that you could possibly do on that day, under those circumstances, and that’s all you can do. I love being the Birthday Queen – and I don’t expect I’ll abdicate my throne any time soon – but some days the crown has to come off, and that’s OK.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti