I love celebrating birthdays. No, really — I LOVE it.
The themed goody bags, the careful plotting and party planning that so precisely reflects people I care about — it’s all so fulfilling to me.
Maybe it started when Dad chose me to help blow out his candles and deliver cake slices to grandparents and party guests.
But, I think age 12 was the real game-changer: It was November, and one of my best friends — and personal heroes — was turning 13.
Jessie and I grew up on the same farm-facing street in southeastern Massachusetts, about 50 yards apart. I had spent weeks piecing together this surprise party — snacks to eat, games to play, movies to watch — but couldn’t figure out how to get the guest of honor to my house without blowing the whole thing.
So, at the advice of my mother, I faked a bad haircut — a shame-inducing, wear-a-hat-for-six-months kind of cut. I practiced my speech in front of the mirror a few times, worked up some crocodile tears, and picked up the phone.
My performance was flawless. (It helped, too, that I had only recently recovered from a bad, self-inflicted haircut months before, which resulted in classmates calling me “Spike.”)
Jessie arrived on my doorstep, armed with love and understanding, ready to console her buddy. Mom directed her to the porch — where I was allegedly wrapped in an afghan, sobbing uncontrollably in the damp darkness.
She flipped on the light switch, and — SURPRISE! We poured toward her, all thrills and giggles.
This big birthday love of mine grew several sizes in January 2015, when I started volunteering with Extra-Ordinary Birthdays, a DC not-profit that orchestrates custom parties for homeless children and their families.
Hosted in the cafeterias, play rooms, and classrooms of shelters all over DC, Maryland, and Virginia, these celebrations are expertly designed to inspire imagination and boost self-worth so that the birthday boy or girl — regardless of their circumstances — has a space in which to feel valued.
In April 2016, I was appointed to EOB’s Board of Directors, where I’ll focus on volunteer coordination, content creation, and fund-raising to bolster the organization’s continued growth.
Saturday, we celebrated Josiah’s first birthday in the community room of New Beginning shelter in Columbia Heights.
I‘d never done a first birthday party. Usually, the kids are a little older — walking, talking, remembering the memories being made.
How could this 12-month-old remember such a day and all its details? The hand-made decorations. The baby carrots, the string cheese atop a party table so intricately set.
Josiah entered the small, carpeted space with hesitation, waddling over to me — grumpily — to investigate what I held in my hands.
“He’s very moody,” his mother said. “He’s a Gemini.”
I handed him the pair of plastic, light-up balls and — sure enough — his grizzled expression softened considerably.
I asked: “What do you call him? Does he have a nickname?”
“Jo-Jo, sometimes. But we usually call him ‘Chunks.’”
Stretched out on the floor, we crawled and played for an hour — rolling the coveted light-up balls, wrapping ourselves in yellow streamers. Forty-five minutes in, he even cracked a smile or two. I could see his brand-new bottom tooth.
At party’s end, as Mom corralled all the gifts and stray cupcakes, she said, repeatedly: “Thank you. We appreciate this. Thank you for this day. Thank you.”
Josiah’s “day” was a simple celebration of his life — its deep importance and the unencumbered joy he brings his mother, and every person he meets.
On the eve of my 28th birthday, I have but one big wish: to continue to give every deserving child these parties, these special moments.
Cake. Ice cream. Presents. It may seem obvious, why birthdays matter. But EOB reminds me — every day — to honor and underscore the “celebration” part.
Sponsor an EOB party when you donate here.