The last time I wanted to make a big to-do about my birthday, Showbiz Pizza was still a thing, with its janky simulations of jugband critters and state-of-the-art flashy blinky machines. Now at age 50, I myself have become a janky simulation of a critter, and I don’t enjoy flashing and blinking nearly as much as I used to.
Nevertheless, 50 is kind of a landmark birthday, so I feel a little bit of social obligation to put it on public display. Because a landmark isn’t much of a landmark if it’s hiding in the basement crying and eating ice cream straight out the container while listening to Sinatra sing “It Was a Very Good Year” on a loop.
Also, I’m happy to report that my wonderful wife seems to be pleased with my achievement in remaining alive. Her enthusiasm for my ongoing respiration has bled over onto me a little bit, and so we’re talking about taking a celebratory vacation together as soon as school lets out so no one will notice we’ve left the children by themselves for a week (kidding; five days, tops).
Why is turning 50 a big deal? Why is it “the big five-oh”? I don’t get any special perks for turning fifty. Believe me, I’ve checked. Nobody gives any special deals until you turn 55 (“the big double-nickel!”), and the really good stuff doesn’t start until you’re 60 or 65. I’m already old enough to run for president and rent a car, although now maybe I can rent a car that has a left-turn signal that never turns off (ba-dum-tshhh!).
Since I’m not accruing any special benefits or crossing any special goal lines, all that can be said for 50 is that it’s a round number that seems… surprisingly biggish when referring to one’s age. Definitely more surprising than 40. So I guess that’s the number one reason to celebrate it: the surprisingness. It gives me, my family, and my friends a chance to spend some quality time together saying, “Fifty?!? Really?!? I mean, dang!” So celebrate we shall.
Part One: The Lead-Up
I highly recommend marrying someone who likes to plan things. There is no end to the benefits that come from this. If it were up to me alone, I’m sure at some point this year I would’ve thought, “I should do something special for my 50th.” But then the thought would trail off, and I’d end up doing nothing at all, or at the most wearing some kind of humorous t-shirt (“Hawaii 5-0!”; “50 Is The New Number Less Than 50!”).
For Rachel, though, when I create the opportunity to plan something it’s almost like I’m giving her a gift. There was no way this momentous birthday year was going to pass by without some birthday activities being planned, by jingo, so she has kept me focused and on track. And it says a lot about my level of introversion that I need somebody to prod me to leave the house for a vacation and/or party FOR MYSELF.
When we started discussing exactly what kind of soiree to throw, Rachel gave me a ton of leeway to do whatever felt right to me. I, wishy-washy and inexperienced at planning parties, swung wildly between extremes while Rachel tried to point out the pros and cons of each — from “Let’s take everybody we know to Top Golf!” (expensive; might still be mask requirements there; everyone we’d invite has small children they’d have to account for); to “Let’s just you and me have hot dogs and watch a Simpsons marathon” (we do this anyway; might want to see at least some friends; one of us doesn’t like the Simpsons).
Truth be told, my ideal “party” would be one where I was not the center of attention. I’d like to see my friends and give them a chance to enjoy themselves, while at the same time expending exactly zero effort myself. I’m a low-impact socializer. With that in mind, we settled on a day at the park for low-key fun and frivolity. Everybody can bring their kids to run wild and pound pizza while we visit; no muss, no fuss.
But as I mentioned, in addition to the party we also wanted to plan some kind of birthday getaway. Again, Rachel gave me the reins to pick where I wanted to go while reminding me of the practicality of each possible destination. Spitballing trip ideas was both a) a fun exercise, and b) an annoying reminder that there are still a bunch of COVID restrictions all over. I have stalled a lot in the planning process, both because I’m a procrastinator and because I’m hoping more restrictions would go away as time passed.
Since I don’t want to sit on a plane in a mask, we were definitely going somewhere we can drive. I had an idea to rend a Tesla and drive in luxury, but that was a little harder to pull off than I had expected. Let’t get to work on that, Elon.
I also wanted to trip to be as fun for Rachel as it was for me. I just want to play golf, so we considered Orlando so she could apparate herself on over to Harry Potter World while I was on the course. But we decided it might be better to save our Orlando visit for a time when we could take the kids, so we could experience it when we were more exhausted and miserable.
It boiled down to Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach, both of which have beaches (plus for Rachel) and lots of golf courses (plus for Jason). What’s that? Hilton Head just extended their mask mandate into June? Myrtle Beach it is.
Part 2: The Day Of
We weren’t going to schedule any activities for the actual weekend of my birthday, though, because that also happened to be the weekend of Mother’s Day, and we were pretty sure our friends would have other obligations. So my actual birthday was just a quiet day with my family, and I was the happiest guy in the world.
Chocolate pancakes for breakfast, homemade cookie cake, homemade birthday decorations from my little ones, and I think I squeezed a nap in there somewhere. It was a fine day indeed.
Some of our friends inquired with Rachel about my mental state — “Is he ok? How is he taking it?” — like I had just gotten very bad health news. On the days leading up to and the day of my birthday, I did some probing of my psyche to see how I did feel about it. I tried to make myself feel sad, or melancholy. I tried to stir up a sense of regret, of loss. I tried to make myself want a red convertible or a motorcycle or a hair transplant. Because apparently those are the things you’re supposed to feel.
But none of those feelings stuck. The day felt just like any other day. How could it not? I don’t think the calendar flipping over one more day, and thereby one more accumulation of 365 days, has any significant effect on your mental state. You’ll feel, on that day, just like you feel on every other day. Except that maybe you’ll dwell on it more.
And everything I have to dwell on is a blessing. Not to brag or anything, but my 40’s were flat-out fantastic. And I don’t see any reason to think the 50’s won’t be better. It’s not always sunshine and lollipops — I lived through 2020 just like everybody else did. But there are blessings in the challenges too.
If you’re approaching your 50th birthday — or 60th or 21st or whatever — don’t expect that number to be the fulcrum of your life. It will be a day just like every other day. So make all the other days worthy of celebrating too.
Coming soon: The Party and the Trip