I like to been seen. So do you. Might be in totally different ways or contexts or audiences, but we all want to be seen, understood.
As a kid, I was introverted and socially anxious, good academically, and eager to please. In elementary school, I more or less spoke when spoken to. I remember clearly getting in trouble for blurting out an answer once in fourth grade, and while I can’t say for sure that’s the only time it happened, it was rare enough that that once sticks out.
I was “seen” by doing my work well on time. A sticker or a pat on the back. Because that’s good enough at that level and that was enough.
As school got harder, I found a niche and a family in performing arts. I was never great at any of it, but I was dependable, and for what we were, that was enough.
And then we all grew up and life went in planned and unplanned ways, and some combination of social struggles (in part because of childhood emotional trauma, in part because we societally don’t value introverts), and “good enough” and “dependable” not being enough to be seen, and choosing a career path (teaching) that’s considered “less than,” and within that choosing a specialization (band) that is constantly fighting for time, students, space, validation, I’ve spent a lot of time feeling … invisible.
All this to say that this is why I have a stormy swirl of emotions regarding birthdays (and now also Mother’s Day).
Because I want to be seen. And if the anniversary of being born is a socially acceptable day to get positive attention, I’ll take it.
But we’re adults and I’ve certainly heard enough times to grow up, that birthdays are for kids (with the possible exception of milestone birthdays, though their importance is pretty random unless you’re becoming eligible or ineligible for something legally).
Birthdays always runs into gifts, and I’ve written about gifts before.
I don’t like obligatory, “I have to have something to give you” gifts. But I love gifts that are thoughtful. A couple of years ago, The Climbing Daddy threw a surprise party. A few people brought gifts: a stainless steel water bottle; a bag for dance shoes; a vegetarian cookbook for backpacking (or camping) and a gift card for REI; a pair of earrings from a friend who always picks out the best earrings. (Others, but that’s enough to make the point.) They are really different things, and they all say HEAT all over them. Having the party in the first place was amazing enough. Gifts that say “I see you, I know you” were icing on the proverbial cake.