1. Your parents take the opportunity to remind you what you were like as a baby.
I, of course, don’t remember being a baby. I could hazard a guess that I was probably a bit pink, unpredictably tearful and partial to a nap (so not that different from now) but that’s all I’ve got. My mum, on the other hand, has all the memories anybody interested in hearing about my life as an infant could wish for. And each year on my birthday I get a new instalment, which I very much enjoy. There’s the one about how I was a lovely baby (her words), and how pleased they were that I was a girl, and the surprise they felt when it took just four hours for me to be delivered (beat that, Amazon)…. It’s just unfortunate that I also know that I was rather prone to tantrums and that I once threw up in her bed. Though arguably that was worse for her than me.
2. People don’t ask how old you are, just if this is a ‘big’ birthday.
You know you’re truly an adult when people are cautious about asking your age in case they offend you. They didn’t used to worry. Such questions would just lead to conversations about what you were legally allowed to do now that you’d reached the latest milestone. But by the time you get to 29, all your birthdays feel pretty big. And not because you’re suddenly allowed to smoke or drink or gamble; but because you’re far too tired and partial to the indoors to even think about doing any of it.
3. You no longer feel the need to open your presents as soon as you wake up.
When I was a child, going to sleep the night before my birthday was as impossible as it is for me to stay awake beyond 10 o’clock now. But things are different these days. It was my alarm that woke me up on Friday and it took me a good few moments to figure out what day of the week it was, let alone that it was my birthday. With age comes the knowledge that the longer you wait to open your presents, the longer it is until all the fun is over. I think it was about 9pm on Friday when I finally started doing any unwrapping. If one of my gifts hadn’t been a jar of strawberry flavour mushroom sweets it would have felt like a very mature affair. (And no you CAN’T have one.)
4. The majority of your presents could be described as ‘useful’
(Well, aside from the sweets. A girl’s got to eat though, you know). I can’t think of a birthday in the last five years when I haven’t received a cardigan or a handbag. This year I got both. And a lunchbox. These are the things I need in my life now. Glitter nail varnish and hair mascara (or whatever it is kids are into these days) are all very well but are they going to enable me to carry the recommended volume of blueberries I should eat around with me each day? Do they have a pocket that will hold my Vaseline? I don’t think so.
5. All you really want for your birthday is to hear from people you love.
Aside from a good book, a strong drink and the promise of a meal we don’t have to cook ourselves, all we grown-ups really want for our birthday is a little correspondence; the odd bit of post that isn’t a bill or a takeaway menu or yet another reminder that the local estate agent would just LOVE to sell our house if only we’d have the decency to move out. A card or a text message from a chum to wish us an enjoyable day is enough to make it almost worth adding yet another year to our total. Birthdays are an excuse to get in touch and say hello and remind somebody that you’re glad that they were born, which is always nice to hear.
The only dilemma such contact presents for me is whether to tell those asking how I celebrated my birthday the truth (i.e. that I was home, in my pyjamas and drinking a smoothie by 9 o’clock) or whether to lie and say I was on the tiles until the early hours. I think that by the time they’ve heard about the lunchbox, they’ll be able to figure that answer out for themselves.