Saturday, May 02, 2009

Birthday Party for an Introvert

or, How I Ruined My Own Surprise

Hear that? It's the sound of a calm house: kids lackadaisically reading books and flipping channels, husband finishing his labor law final, two fat dogs resting warmly in the same doghouse, and me, sated from tonight's MomandDad turkey dinner, lounging on the comfiest bed in history, ice cold feet tucked in my flannel sheets. My laptop is balanced on my birthday cake-laden belly. Teevee is tuned to XM 863, the Joint. Yes, you read that correctly. Reggae and writing. I love alliterative phrases where the letters don't match up but the sounds jive. All is well.

I'm thankful for my comfort in words every time a milestone passes. As I age, I see that there's something inherently rewarding about the discipline of sitting down, allotting time to the documentation of each life experience while the detail and emotion are fresh in my heart. I used to do this in the journal I kept on my computer--the day I met my AP class at Chipotle after the test, my trip to Mt. Shasta with the ladies from work, the Whale Lady story--these are all cataloged and accessible whenever I want to relive them. I've also kept copies of the things I've written for other people--a vignette for K, the story for the Bestie about the comical garment that brought us together, a poem for Addie's first birthday--reading these always reminds me of what I hold in my heart. The painful stuff is there too. The stuff from the separation is so bleak, so bleedingly painful; I'm glad it's there though. It's a part of me. The recent change is that most of what I document is done here. I find it helps me to bank much more time writing. I have a reason to do it.

Today I'm thankful for so much, beyond my blog, beyond just the fact that I have an outlet for my feelings, my creative drive, and my need to talk so dang much about every little thing that happens. I'm thankful for 30, and in so being, I'm thankful that I had the wasteland of 29 to bring me here. I'm thankful for the struggle and I'm thankful for what feels, for now, like peace. I'm thankful for this space, because it allows me the chance to document my 30th Birthday party. Forever.

Friday was a crummy day, at the end of a crummy week, at the end of a crummy year. No delicate way to put it. I had a resurgence of my anxiety this week, I was cranky, I didn't run as much as I'd like to, I wasn't really nice to anyone, and I felt alternately frustrated, unappreciated, taxed, and just plain old bored with the routine of life. Not a good week. I was restless. I got home Friday afternoon and I dropped. My body did that thing where it's Friday and you finally let go of whatever last bit of composure you were clutching to get through the week. I dropped it and went right into sweat pants/giant greasy hair mode. Over IT.

I played Wii Fit with the kids for all of two minutes before crawling into the fuzzy purple cocoon that is my afghan from the Bestie. E's Aunt Chris came to get the kids and I couldn't even muster getting up to A) answer the door, B) hug her upon her entrance, C) talk to her, or D) hug her when she left. I lay there like an invalid patient, but with no real ailment other than my own selfish exhaustion. Weak sauce, but I succumbed. I don't even think E and I talked for more than five minutes before I told him it was Naptown, Population: Me. Oh wait. I missed a detail. Right before he was about to head out the door with Chris, Henry (who was such a crazy man he couldn't hold still for two seconds that afternoon) says Mommy, we're surprising you tonight. E brushed it off right away, and I have to say I was too dumb/tired (take your pick) to even think twice about it. I was too invested in my bad mood and bad week anyway. That requires a level of self-absorption that pretty much negates any valid social interaction or deep thought.

The plan was that E and I were going to dinner after the kids left. Only I wasn't hungry. I wasn't cheerful. I wasn't warm, and I wasn't desiring to go anywhere with anyone. The kids left and I took a serious nap. I'm not talking an on-top-of-the-covers-in-your-work-clothes catnap. I'm talking flannel sheets, 3 quilts, taking the hairpins out, pants off, middle-of-the-bed kind of coma. I'm a champion napper, and when life is hard I hit the sheets like nobody's business. Had I been left alone, this would have been a night-long venture. E had other plans.

I have to warn you. I do not advise doing this to anyone you love because it will unleash the inner Grendel. (Or should I say Grendel's mother? She really was the meanest of the two. Don't mess with Momma Bear. Anyway.) E comes in after only about an hour and a half, and YANKS THE ENTIRE BLANKET/SHEET COVER DOWN TO THE END OF THE BED.

Imagine for a moment, my reaction.

No. I'll wait.

Yeah. It was exactly like that. Basically, by this point I'm about to cry or hit someone. Or launch whatever heavy object is nearest to me across the room. Combine this with the Crazies (my and E's word for my anxiety) and I'm basically like the whole cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest rolled into one. I refuse to get up. I whine. I plead. I ask if we can go out to dinner another night. This has been the worst week in the history of weeks, and doesn't E understand that?

YahNO. Apparently not. E, who typically has about as much desire to be on time or alert as a hibernating bear, is rushing me to get up and get dressed. My hair hasn't been washed in three days. My makeup looks like somebody drew on me with a sharpie and then rubbed olive oil into my face. I can't find anything to wear, and the five year old T shirt I wore to school has a bleach spot in it. I haven't shaved my legs. Do you know this about me? I'm a leg-shaving freak. I've barely missed a day since I was 13. I can't function if I have discernible stubble. Some things are important. Only not today. Today I am greasy, grumpy, and grimy. I wish I had a picture. E pushes and pushes and just makes me madder and madder. I don't even want to eat. Why the hell won't he leave me alone? I just want to crawl in my bed and hide.

We get out the door. I have to say that him pushing is a second clue, but I'm not really wanting to commit to the thought that something is going to happen. The thought of a surprise party makes my hands cold and makes me sweat uncontrollably? Why? I want to have friends, I want to have a party. I wanted E to help me plan something. The idea of a surprise paralyzes me though. Where will I look? What will I say? Then, just because I'm such a nitwit about over-thinking everything, I start to play this scenario out in my head where there's no surprise party and then I'm going to be even more upset because I tried to mentally prepare myself for something that was not in the realm of reality. That's just the special brand of crazy I carry around. At that point I tell myself to stop. E and I had gotten into a big fight about the birthday because I wanted him to help me throw a party and he refused. Acted disinterested. So I was sure that there was nothing up and I better abandon this mind game I was playing because the Crazies, they were already strong with me that day. I know not to touch dynamite. Or at least I like to convince myself that I have that kind of power. Ha.

About two seconds later, we turn the corner to my mom's house and I see the following, parked around the corner: Lis and D's truck, MLB's CRV, and C's (from dance, and high school) big white Durango. I knew.

I knew at that point that something was for sure up, and then I started to freak out. Do I pretend I didn't know, so I don't let anyone down? It's not like my knowing represents a colossal failure on anyone's part, but I feel like letting on that I know is not holding up my end of the bargain. I'm stuck. I don't want to move. I want to see if I'm right, because that's really nice (E, planning something? Wow.) but I am scared. We pull into the driveway and E tells me to get out and help him carry the Wii in to the house.

I have to be honest here. I wasn't very nice to him. I'm such a punk. Not because I was trying to be a butt, but I was. I can't help myself. Fear transforms me into an ugly troll. I feel really bad, because E planned it and this has nothing to do with my not wanting a party, or not wanting to be in the party, but I'm scared and I don't know what to do. I always feel awkward when people sing happy birthday to me... where do you look? You can't just stand there and be like Yay me, I am sooooooooooo awesome, so you sweat your way through it and think about how much longer. Or maybe that's just me. So I'm REALLY not sure what I'm going to do when people yell surprise and look at me, expectantly.

I go in the house, and I blow it. My over-thinking means I have the worst possible reaction--embarrassment, paralyzing fear, and then shame about not being surprised. I feel like I let people down. I have surprisee guilt.

I hope you kept reading after that last paragraph though. I hope you're still with me here. That party was so sweet. In fact, it was awsome. I was so thankful. I was so emotional every time I thought about the fact that all of those people were there for me. Greasy-haired, cranky, improperly-being-surprised me. About introverts: we might have such a difficult time showing it, but we want the attention. We want the love. I might not be able to look people in the eye when they yell surprise, but I want to go home and write about it and savor every detail about the fact that so many people love me and want to help me celebrate such a milestone birthday.

I hope you know this about me and I hope you know it about other introverts. Our crippling anxiety in pressure-cooker social situations aside, we love you, and we're happy you love us. We actually wouldn't be able to get by without that love. I store it up like a cactus in the desert, and it gets me through the drought. To somebody like me, this gets filed away under "warm fuzzy" and tides me over for a long time. I can ride the high from a single compliment for a week. Imagine, for a second, how much it touches me that E planned this for me. What that means to me. E, who doesn't even plan what he wants to do with himself, planned something that was just for me. My heart is smiling. Good job E, and a huge thanks to Lis for helping arrange details.

When I was downing my first margarita and stuffing my face with guacamole, my Aunt Cathy was talking about how parents are trained to embarrass their kids, and that I have lots of family members who are well-versed in embarrassing me. You know what I told her? That I'm so lucky to have the family that embarrasses me. That it is such a blessing.

I needed this surprise, and I needed it this year. The last year has been so full of trial after trial after stressful, crummy trial. When I miscarried our first baby at 22, I thought that there was no deeper pit for my sadness. This last year revealed a new depth of pain. Every time I thought that life was going to get better, it got harder and more difficult to get through. I was clawing my way out of the sandtrap, and there was not a clue as to when I'd get out. One painful thing happening, in isolation, is sad. A year of disappointment, heartache, depression and anxiety really knocks the you-know-what outta you. It causes your world view to warp. If you would have asked me a year ago how many friends I had, I would have probably said two, maybe three if it was a good day. Last night I wanted to cry, I was so overcome by the sheer number of the people there. Nobody who was new to the table, either. Those were the shoulders I cried on this last year, the cooks who fed me, the arms that held me. They were there all along.

Do you see what a beautiful blessing my surprise party gave me? The surprise was not in the surprising, as everyone had hoped, but it was in creating my own Dorothy, post-Oz moment. I am surrounded by love. They've all been there holding my hands, praying for me, keeping me standing, walking next to me, all along. Any one of those people in that room would do anything for me, and they have.

"If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any farther than my own backyard, because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with."

What's my heart's desire? To be loved. I am, and I was loved even when my pain blinded me to it. It was there all along. Happy Birthday to me.


  1. I'm glad your friends and family supported you on your big birthday!

  2. Happy belated birthday! Glad to hear you had a wonderful day!

  3. I'm glad you enjoyed your party so much. I really appreciate getting to hear your thoughts through your blog. Since you are an introvert, you often don't express yourself verbally, so it is nice to know what you are feeling and thinking. - Lis

  4. I'm glad you atleast had a good evening. But don't forget, Friday wasn't horrible! You saw me! And I love you!

    By the way, I love your blog. It's so much fun to read. I share a lot with Christopher and he loves hearing them. I reminded him you are an English teacher, and he says "Oh, now it makes sense as to why she is such a good writer."

    We enjoy reading about your life. =]

  5. "I always feel awkward when people sing happy birthday to me... where do you look?"

    Me too. Every year.

    I found your blog entry because I'm also an introvert, and I'm trying to decide how much of a birthday celebration to have this year, so I Googled for advice. Thank you for sharing your experience.