On birthdays and turning nineteen

Gillian LelchukNineteen is probably the most worthless age I’ve ever been. Nineteen isn’t marked by some grand new privilege, like driving or voting, and it doesn’t come along with a growth spurt and a new haircut like 13 did. Nineteen isn’t just another birthday, because all the other birthdays meant something.

All this birthday means is that I made it through another year, another 12 months, another 525,600 minutes and another slew of Rent references. This birthday brings nothing new to the table of my life aside from an influx of Facebook notifications.

Is this what all my birthdays will be like now? Barring 21, my birthdays won’t be legally significant. Will there be parties? Will I get presents? When did we stop giving out goody bags at our childhood parties? Doesn’t everyone want to leave with party favors, a bag of candy and one of those plastic maze toys with the little silver ball inside?

Call this my quarter-life crisis, or don’t, but something is off with this one. Something about today feels different from yesterday, and it’s that nothing at all is different. I’m not bringing cupcakes to school in my honor, and I’m not expecting special treatment from my professors.

It seems to me that as we age a birthday becomes a social statement. Between Facebook and Instagram, Twitter and the little bow wrapped around the Snapchat squares, I’m drowning in social media notifications. Don’t get me wrong; I love the affection. It’s just that sometimes it seems like an unnecessary courtesy by the people I don’t really talk to. It’s like the “Merry Christmas” you get from cashiers during December — it’s kind and you appreciate it, but you didn’t need to hear it.

I’m nostalgic for the days when birthdays were about balloons and cake, themed plates and dressing up. There used to be age-specific birthday cards with characters from my favorite TV shows. I used to get stuffed animals and Polly Pockets. Now I get Amazon gift cards.

Maybe this birthday is different because I’m not excited about growing up. My birthday doesn’t carry the same eagerness I used to feel when I wanted so badly to be older and to do all the things you could only do when you were old.

“You’ll understand when you’re older.” “You can do it when you’re older.” Well, guess what, I’m older. I understand, and I can do it, and I would give my left pinkie toe to be able to go back to being younger. I would love to return to a time of being carefree and playful, a time without worries about school or money, a time when the sun shone bright and I was outside to see it.

That’s not to say I’m not happy to grow up. I’m living life, and I appreciate the marker of another year gone by. I’m still excited about college, about my friends, my family, the puppy that’s waiting for me back home. Birthdays are fun. One day out of the year everything is all about me. And that’s pretty rad.

This birthday culminated in an ice cream cake that was not very well-hidden from me, a personalized gift from my best friend that is equal parts funny and heartwarming and a surprise delivery of coffee and flowers sent by the friend who was out of town. Oh, and I guess I smiled a lot. My birthday sure isn’t what it used to be, but maybe that’s for the best.

Nineteen may not be about bounce houses and party favors, but it’s about something more important. Instead of having a party where I’m required to invite everyone in my kindergarten class, I get to spend time with the people I care about.

Nineteen is a celebration of the friends I’ve made in college, the friends who have loved me at my worst and cherished me at my best. They have taught me so much about myself, and they’ve taught me how to play water pong (I promise, the cups were actually filled with water). Best of all, they turned a wholly unimportant birthday into a pretty remarkable one.

Yeah, maybe I’ll keep celebrating birthdays. They’re pretty cool, even if you don’t get to have a party with Blue’s Clues-themed plates.

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