Valentine’s day or my birthday. I had to choose one.
When they fall four days apart and you’re living on one graduate student’s stipend, there isn’t enough money to go big for both. Not one for made up holidays (I’m looking at you, Sweetest Day), I chose my birthday. I’m sure we bought each other Valentine’s Day cards for a few years, but that went by the wayside well over a decade ago.
My dad used to listen to Prairie Home Companion almost every evening when we were growing up. Garrison Keillor’s steady voice narrates the soundtrack of my childhood. We were back home not too long ago and my kids asked the score of the basketball game from the previous night, which ended well after they went to bed. My dad turned on the radio, “The news will be on soon.” He turned on the radio because the news was going to be on soon.
I picked up my phone and in a matter of seconds I had our answer. “The Cav’s won. 117-103.”
For two year’s of my life, I had a day job. I’d wanted to try sitting at a desk and going to meetings. I wondered what it was like not working overnight, on the weekends, or through a holiday. I thought wearing dress pants instead of scrubs seemed like a good idea.
We’d lived on so little for so long, I didn’t mind driving in the old car with it’s rust spot and faded American flag sticker we put on the back window after 9/11. With the car too old for a CD player (and because smartphones that had everything you need were not yet a thing), I started to listen to the radio. Z104 “with Matt and Chili” on the way in, and the Dave Ramsey Show on the way out. Matt and Chili became like friends, and I loved listening to Dave giving it to people straight – not investment advice, but sound financial advice.
Birthdays then, during the days when I’d drive to and from work, listening to the radio, were slow and relaxed. I’d spent the day the way I wanted. I might take the day off work, get a massage or a pedicure. Have lunch with a friend. Maybe I’d read a book. Or take a nap. My husband would take me out to dinner. Jewelry and wine were often involved.
Birthdays now, when going into the city is sporadic and automatically involves the HOV lanes and listening to the radio is avoided due to the number of small ears with me, are also slow and relaxed— and not entirely about me. There are always lunches to make and missing socks to find.
The other day, I saw an article posted by Mr. Ramsey, the financial guy I used to listen to on my way home from work, about the idea of Keeping Up with the Jones’. He wrote about living life next to those people we all have in our lives— the ones with the best stuff. The author boils it down and says: these people are either drowning in debt, or they can afford what they own. He goes on to say, “so be happy for them or feel sorry for them. But don’t try to keep up with them!”
“Comparison is the thief of Joy.” — Theodore Roosevelt
Here’s the truth: We don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day and my birthday isn’t always (or ever) Over-the-Top. And when I don’t look around, I’m really happy with that.
Here’s another truth: If my ego manages to get out unscathed from the holidays, my birthday and Valentine’s seem like the perfect time for it to look around each year and ask, “Is this special enough?” “Am I being shown enough love?” “What is everyone else doing?” and “I wonder what they think of us?”
Keeping up with the Jones’ manifests itself in many ways. It’s hard not to look at someone else’s elaborate birthday or thoughtful Valentine’s. Their playful marriage or gorgeous children. Their stylish friends or cushy jobs. Maybe it’s an illusion. But maybe they worked really hard on certain aspects of their life, for a really long time, and are ever-so-deserving of them.
I wonder, if we take what we have and see it for what it is, leaving everything else out, how much joy could we keep within that sweet little place?
My husband takes one look and says, “What’s this?”
“It’s a cake.”
“We don’t celebrate Valentine’s.”
I can’t help it and flash him a smile, “I know.”