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On Turning 34

Today is my 34th birthday.

(I somehow think that  entitles me to take one of these self-aggrandizing phone portraits in which I angle the camera just so that all the best parts of my face are highlighted, and none of the worst. For the record, and because you’re probably making guesses already, I only did one retake. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad one.)

It’s been a nice day so far. I went to the OB (nothing exciting happening baby-wise yet, although I’m due three weeks from tomorrow) and then I went to Target to finish getting everything I’ll need for Vera’s birthday in a few weeks. I want to be prepared in case I go into labor before, during or after her birthday. When I came home Greg and Vera had a chocolate croissant with a candle in it waiting for me. For any new or potential parents reading this, let me just say that the first birthday in which your kid can actually sing Happy Birthday to you, will probably be your best birthday ever.

Birthdays have been weird for me for a long time. I guess ever since my mother died they’ve been kind of flat. And now that I am a mom, I get why. There will probably never be anyone as excited about your birthday as the woman who carried you around in her body for nine months and then finally expelled you into her very own arms one fine day. It’s a momentous occasion. With Vera’s birthday just weeks away, as well as the pending arrival of number baby number two, I’ve been thinking an awful lot about the day I gave birth three years ago.

Giving birth is the strangest combination of joining and separating. On one hand, you’re finally releasing the creature who has utterly taken over your body for months and months, and on the other hand, you’re gaining a person you will love more deeply than anyone else in the entire world. I miss my mom just thinking about it. She was crazy about my birthday every year, really wanting to make it the most special day possible, and pretty much always succeeding. It kind of feels wrong to have a birthday without her here to celebrate it with. Like I said, I never understood why it’s felt this way all this time until these last few years. Vera’s birthday probably means more to me than it ever will to her.

I drove home from my friend Liz’s house last night, along the streaming 405 freeway with the setting sun eclipsed by the moon and just visible through the clouds, thinking about what the next year of my life will be like. 34. A new baby, another book to work on and hopefully sell. A trip to Australia, the continued building of my therapy practice here in Los Angeles. My aunt is an astrologer and she wrote to say that the next several years are going to be very industrious and work-oriented for me. I believe her. I can feel it all swelling. I look forward to it though. That’s what this time is about anyway right? Our thirties? Building our adult selves? God knows, I spent enough time in my twenties indulging my adult self. I’m happy to work on the building part now.

Anyway, so 34 years ago today my mother gave birth to me. She was forty years old. It was spring in Atlanta and she and my father drove me home among the dogwoods and blooming daffodils and spent that summer becoming parents together.

Thirty years ago today we had one of a dozen annual pool parties in which my mother invited at least 75 people and there were balloons and cake and babysitters to watch the kids while the parents got buzzed on mint juleps and margaritas from the bar.

Nineteen years ago today I turned fifteen and I got my learner’s permit and then came home to a surprise party my mother organized with all of my girlfriends. We ate pizza and got dressed up and then a limo came and took us to the movies. I wanted to die of both gratitude and embarrassment.

Thirteen years ago I turned twenty-one while living in New York City. I went to the bar and ordered the obligatory cocktail, but the waitress didn’t bother to check my drivers license. It wasn’t a big deal anyway since I’d had a fake ID for three years. My name on that ID was Barbara Fine — a woman I’d never met but who’d been a friend of my mother’s in her mythical NYC days.

Nine years ago I spent my birthday in Las Vegas with my boyfriend and a few friends. I had been living in Los Angeles for under a year and I’ll never forget the way the ringing of the slot machines sounded that day while I stood in the casino, my cell phone pressed to my ear, listening to my father tell me the results of his most recent biopsy. Even though it was my birthday I’d begged him not to hold back the news. He would die just three months later.

Five years ago today my grandmother died. And because of her death I got on a plane to Cape Cod a week later for her memorial service. Instead of returning to Los Angeles at the end of that trip I stopped in Chicago and met the man who is now my husband. Everyone said that Grandma died on my birthday so that I could meet Greg. Maybe it’s just one of those things we all say, but I will say that she did always want me to get married.

Three years ago today I was heavily pregnant with Vera. I stayed home from work that day thinking I was having mild contractions, but she wasn’t born for another three weeks.

One year ago today our Chicago friends threw us a going-away party on our deck. Our house was a maze of boxes and our car nearly packed and primed for the drive that would take us across the country and into California.

And now here I am, thirty-four, about to become a mother of two, taking these few quiet moments in the house while the laundry clacks and tumbles in the dryer, before Greg and Vera return to our little house in Santa Monica and we all go for a walk on the beach.

Life just keeps marching forward.

I have an essay on The Rumpus today about the incredible experience of writing that Letter in the Mail a couple of weeks ago. Did you know that for two weeks I’ve been receiving letters back from strangers every day? I got one from Greece on Saturday!

Also, our friends threw us the loveliest baby shower over the weekend. Feel free to peruse the photos.

[booksellers] Want to buy my book? Do so at any of the above!

10 comments

10 Comments

  • Posted May 21, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    Happy birthday, gorgeous! Love from Chicago…Nadine

  • Posted May 21, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    And so fine you are! What a beautiful, sentimental look at birthdays past. And with so much yet to come; the best, in fact. Happiest of birthdays, dear. xoxo

  • Posted May 21, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    Happy happy birthday! :)

  • Aeshna
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Happpyy birthday, Claire!
    You just get cooler and cooler as you age ;)

  • Helene
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Happy belated Birthday Claire!

  • Sarah Whiley
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 4:35 am | Permalink

    Oh dear, I’m 34 today and I just took one of those self-aggrandizing phone portraits, with all my best angles. It must be a biological thing that happens on that particular day. Personally I think my nose has got fatter, my eyes bluer, and if I lift my chin high enough while holding my mid eye brow region still, I can conjure 24. I read your post and laughed, and had a little tear. Happy belated birthday

  • Posted May 23, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Happy Birthday a few days late! :) Is this baby due on Veronica’s birthday? Or just close by?

  • Posted May 23, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Thanks to everyone for all the nice birthday wishes!

  • Posted May 24, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Happy belated birthday from a grateful reader. You share a birthday with my oldest son. He just turned 14. His brother’s birthday is Friday. They were born 3 years and 4 days apart. Is your due date with this baby the same as it was with Veronica?

    My due date with my 2nd was in July, but he just decided to show up a little early. He probably would have been born even sooner, but I delayed going to the doctor until after my son’s 3rd birthday party. I just couldn’t imagine being away from him when he turned 3. In retrospect it was silly of me to delay, but at the time, that birthday celebration just seemed like the most important thing in the world.

  • Posted May 30, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Kirsten, my biggest priority is being there for Vera’s birthday so I totally relate! Either the baby needs to come soon or wait til after June 10!

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