Today was my birthday. Typically people worry about their days counting down, that new grey hair on their head, or maybe that dreaded party where they pretend to like their gifts. Maybe some will go into existential despair thinking about the state of their life. Or maybe they will have their best day of the year. For me, it kept me up at night writing this piece ruminating over a question that has been looming over me for most of my life:
What is family?
The only people who remember my birthday tends to be my family (And also strangely the company I work at, but let’s not go there.) That would be my mother, my father, my older brother, and my younger sister. Then there are my partner, when I was in a relationship, and my friends. While I don’t tend to care much for birthdays and holidays in general, it was exciting to plan something fun with all of my closest people and have them all in the same room. To me, the nature of the relationship and the quality of time spent together are what matter more so than any given label for it. The birthday is simply an acceptable excuse to throw a party.
For well over a decade into my adult life, I’ve always ended up with two celebrations. One with my blood family. One with everyone else I considered family.
The ones with my parents and siblings tended to follow the same pattern, year after year. A Chinese dinner at a big round table in some restaurant I’ve come to associate with obligation. We sit around while my father and brother essentially order everything on behalf of everyone. Then it’s a lot of waiting around in awkward silence until the food comes, gets devoured, and the bill arrives. We each say goodbye as we go to our respective cars and drive home.
The other ones start with big smiles and hugs as people trickle in. It changes every year depending on my whims at the time. Maybe it will be a potluck and games in my crammed little apartment. Maybe it have a Korean fried chicken feast where I blow out the candles lit over a drumstick. Maybe it will end up as a picnic in the park where we can get some sun and toss around a frisbee or play a friendly game of soccer. It reminds me a lot of the birthdays I used to have as a kid. It was like hanging out as usual just with more people and hype.