Friday, March 2, 2007

"Happy Proximity To Birthday" To Me....

I had to open birthday cards and gifts three days early today!

At noon my co-worker compatriots set out a spread of homemade food that was utterly scrumptious, then Marlene (also celebrating a birthday in a day or two) and I were handed wicker baskets filled with all kinds of smile-inducing Marlene- and Kris- specific gifts.

Marlene is a twin and is accustomed to sharing birthdays. Birthdays have always embarrassed me to wits' end, so it was great to have everyone's attention divided. (Guess I shoulda been a twin!)

Even as a kid, birthdays were so traumatic that I must have blocked all memory of them from my mind, because while I remember several birthday parties thrown for my sisters, I don't recall a single one of my own.

I must've had 'em, because Mom didn't play favorites... I must've burst a blood vessel and stroked out from the horror of it all.

I have never enjoyed being singled out, even when it was a good thing. I must be a herd animal... there is comfort in being viewed as just one of the bunch, you know?

Am I the only ham with a shy side? Probably not...

What prompted me to become such an oxymoron (a shy show-off) was my upbringing. Mom and Dad said I was originally their little "sparkler," their own genetic rendition of Shirley Temple. I would happily and frequently dance, sing, jump, wiggle and in all other ways entertain -- to the point where they became concerned that I was significantly too far "beyond the norm" to be well-tolerated. So they set about to "normalize" me. (Try normalizing a tornado sometime. There's bound to be damage.)

Somehow during this "taming," there must have been some "shaming," because at some point during the process I began to think that there was something intrinsically "wrong" with me. Whenever I would express myself fully (I am a high-decibel, full-tilt enthusiast in unguarded moments even to this day), I must have been thwarted, corrected, seriously convinced (yeow!) to knock it off. I remember a frequent comment: "Keep it to a dull roar!"

All I know is that by the time I started kindergarten, I was so painfully aware of my unspecified- but-intrinsic shortcomings that I wasn't able to interact in normal ways with non-family members. Even when my cousin Tim, three years my junior, would come over to play and then would go away for lunch, when he returned I was shy all over again.

Mom, of course, didn't see this. (She was probably just relieved that I had settled down!) My little sister knew it; she saw me tucked into the corner of a building during recess and tried to get me to come out and play, but had very little luck.

Being "broken to saddle" in this way is probably why I became a writer from the moment a teacher showed me how to string words together in third or fourth grade. Turns out I had plenty to say, but not enough courage to come out with anything "spunky" or "outstanding" in public!

It was in sixth grade that my teacher, Mrs. Choyce, recognized a fledgling writer in her midst. I had written a Roy Rogers tale and shared it with her. She thought it was so noteworthy that she decided to read it to the rest of my classmates. (Can you believe I am beginning to perspire as I recall this unconscionable treason?!) I was utterly traumatized, forced to sit there and endure the recitation of my cowboy fantasy. I wanted to melt and run under somebody's shoe...

I didn't see any benefit to being singled out. In fact, I assumed an opposite response -- not a benefit, but a disaster! The kids would think of me as some kind of freak -- or teacher's pet -- or they would find out I idolized Roy Rogers, or they would be jealous or... Heaven only knows what might happen, but I was pretty sure it couldn't be anything good!

All I knew for sure was, I was very glad my teacher liked the story but very sad that she had decided to read it to the class!

It didn't take me long to realize that I would not be able to function in the world if I retained this wallflower persona. When I was ten or eleven I forced myself to take debate, drama and public speaking. It was hell -- I sometimes thought I might die as I waited my turn to present.

It finally occurred to me that if I would simply raise my hand or stand up and volunteer to speak FIRST, the trauma would last far less long, and there would be no prior speaker to compare me to, a win-win situation (plus, I'd earn points for bravery!).

Procrastination is not an issue to this day. If I fear doing something, or don't want to do something, I usually do it right away, so I can get it off the agenda. Waiting to do something I'm not looking forward to doing just compounds the problem, adds to the psychic burden, and ticks me off.

Over time, the white-knuckle aspects of these formerly tension-inducing exercises subsided and my speaking grades became B+s and A's... and... I began to look at "facing my fears" in the same way a lot of people ride on roller coasters or go bungee jumping. I now view any remaining public speaking anxieties as "race-horse-at-the-starting-gate energy" rather than as crippling fears.

Look what the mere mention of a birthday party dredged up!

I suppose you want to know what was in the basket. While my cat Ashley rattles the cellophane that surrounded and contained the treasures, I will reach in and extract them one by one and tell you about them:

A wonderful birthday card signed by the whole gang, with wonderful, warm, fun and funny sentiments.

A book, The Magic of Peanut Butter (a Skippy Peanut Butter publication) -- 100 New and Favorite Recipes using peanut butter (yum!)

dark chocolate covered cherries (yes!)

special edition hot chocolate (yes!)

sunburst-shaped large candle holder (lovely!)

Catzilla salt and pepper shakers (purr-fect!)

a gift card for Borders (yes!)

Tres Kitten note cards and envelopes (paws-itively purrescious)

bee bar lotion (zzzzzzzzzzuper!)

a book mark: "Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be." Grandma Moses :)

flamingo note pad :)

lady bug clock keychain (adorable)

very wee ceramic kitty in a ceramic kitty bed (cute!)

and last... but not least.... a candle with a scent like red cinnamon candies (*aaaww*)

Then after work my little sister Jackie and I linked up with our big sister Laurel in Olympia and "LoLo" (that's how Jackie and I said "Laurel" as kids.... so we dust it off at times like these) bought us a wonderful to-die-for dinner at a marvelous restaurant. I haven't had food that good in a restaurant in decades...

But do you think that was all? The pre-birthday continues...

I got a great card from Annie in Aussie Land with a delightful cat on the front. Another came from Nogopiano (Nancy Graf) with a beagle on it (of course) wishing me a happy day when it gets here... (ahem....)

And a package came for me from a Colorado "sister-in-spirit" Margot. Yes, I opened it! I'm on a roll tonight! Did you think I could STOP after the day I've had? Not on your life!

"Marmot" sent me four Aussie wildlife warrior bracelets (Annie, she's stealing your stuff! ), a DVD of a PBS Nature special, the final Steve Irwin show, and a Tribute to Steve...
Along with a DVD of the movie Seabiscuit (wheee!), some coupons for my cats (they thank her!) and a Seashore tote that is just precious.

I have been so spoiled today that my actual birthday is bound to be an anticlimax! And that's just fine with me! As stated earlier... I don't "do" birthdays... except when they are thrust upon me by well-wishing, wonderful friends (and family) like all those who contributed today!

May God bless you and prosper all of you!

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