Not every happy birthday wish is genuine. Sometimes it’s just for show.
Yesterday was my birthday. I love birthdays. I don’t care so much about my own birthday, but I love to celebrate my friends and their birthdays.
I am a principal of a middle school. Somehow the kids and the teachers always find out about my birthday and I’m usually a pretty good sport about being sung to by the students all day long. But I remember one birthday when my ex-husband and I were still together and working at the same school and I wasn’t very gracious at all.
My ex-husband planned to surprise me with a cake in the cafeteria when I was on lunch duty and have the kids sing to me. I suspected something was going on, and rather than just go along with it, I resisted. Practically making one of my friends, the social worker at school, drag me into the cafeteria. The kids sang, we had cake, and it was great. But I was pissed about it. And I didn’t know why.
As I look back on that time now, I realize that one of the hardest parts of us working together was that the person other people saw (and loved) at work, and in public, was not the person I went home to at night. Everyone thought he was so sweet and wonderful, but the man I was with at home was angry, mean and spiteful.
We were living a lie, and I think at that time in my life, I was finally starting to realize it, but I couldn’t quite identify it. I didn’t really want to acknowledge it, but our life was most definitely not perfect, in fact it was pretty miserable.
He made such a big deal about being this great guy in public that it made me feel bad about the way he acted it home. It made me doubt myself. I was mad at him that birthday because he wasn’t trying to make sure that I had a happy birthday, he was trying to look good in the eyes of other people. So the birthday gesture didn’t feel genuine. And the fact that he continued to fool people, and still does, made me mad then, and is something I still struggle with now.
Even though I was alone for my birthday, every “happy birthday” that was wished to me felt genuine. The students, the teachers, my friends, my family, my boys, all wished me a happy birthday because they wanted me to be happy. Which [even as I sit here crying as I type this] makes me realize that I am a very lucky person. And I genuinely did have a very happy birthday this year.