The Personal Stuff:
It’s about to get a little louder and a little brighter than it typically is in this corner of the web. I am a nuanced human being after all, and as much as I love vintage wood grains, I love a nearly neon, pink, stone-washed jumpsuit and roller skates. But before we fully get this party started, I want to share why this party, this loud, silly, colorfully over-stimulating party was so needed.
Shortly before my 34th birthday, a high-school classmate of mine lost a long fight with cancer. We hadn’t kept in touch in the years since AP English, but her death stopped me in my tracks. Her death painfully put life in perspective.
Renee and I first met on the soccer fields. She had a solid kick, and I was small but quick. Soccer progressed into the same middle school, where we overlapped in honors classes, sports fields, choral performances and probably crushes on Matt R. Renee had a beautiful voice, which qualified her for solos and the elite choirs. I was an Ozian in the school musical, whereas she stood a fighting chance for the part of Dorothy.
She was a good person. I didn’t know her as an adult, but I imagined she was a healthy, rational, reasonable person who still went to church and gave back to her community. I imagined she took care of herself and her family. She wasn’t one of the many students who earned popularity by prematurely smoking cigarettes or sleeping around. It’s not that I deem any of those classmates as deserving of a fate like cancer, but their lifestyle choices would have been easier to stomach. Not Renee. If Renee could die of cancer, I could die of cancer.
As I sank into that thought, I realized I was approaching the age when one of my closest friends would find a lump that would irrevocably change her life, inflict her with horrific pain and leave her with PTSD. Our friendship blossomed after the diagnosis, after the battle, after the fight for her life.
My partner’s mom was another breast-cancer survivor, and likewise, she waged her battle long before he entered my life. I’d skirted these cancer tragedies, and the luck of avoidance felt like it would catch up to me. I found myself surrendering to superstitious thoughts. Would I be next? I felt paranoid.
I allowed fear to push gratitude and zeal to dark recesses. I allowed myself to be sucked into work. I celebrated that 34th birthday briefly, for a day, with the one I loved, but I quickly closed up shop on celebrating life. If you knew me up until then, you knew that was completely unlike me.
I’ve always been the kind of girl to stretch my birthday celebrations. I’m one of those people who say “birthday month.” My whole family knows my birth time. Birthdays have always been a big deal.
As an adult, I developed a new tradition to continue my love of birthdays. I’d make a miniature cake for each year of life. It started when I was 25. The idea was to celebrate my life, to celebrate cake, and to share said cake with those I loved. When I told friends the story behind the many cakes, they’d always joke about when the tradition would become too much to bear – at age 30? 40? 60?
At age 34.
It wasn’t that baking 34 cakes was too daunting. It was that the luck of life was too daunting, and rather than celebrate my tremendous luck, I cowered. I let fear win. Then I let guilt seep in. By letting my tradition slip, I had let myself down.
You’d think 35 would have been ablaze in 35 little cakes, but then Erin died. Likewise, Erin and I had overlapped in sports and honor roll classes. We both had siblings far older than our peers and could relate on that front. Erin and Renee had been close friends. What a cruel system. But dammit if I wasn’t going to celebrate 36…
And as I neared 36, so many aspects of my life crumbled. I broke my romantic partnership of five years. I broke free of a business partnership. I faced criticism after an event I cohosted, which required me to face deeper insecurities about myself, about how I hold space for minorities. My inner critic seemed to say, “would you like an alphabetical list of reasons why you shouldn’t celebrate your birthday this year?”
There was a tiny but persistent voice that said, I need to celebrate my birthday this year. I need to feel joy. It is okay to celebrate myself, to take up space on this planet and cherish those who will merrily join me. I whispered those sentiments to a friend, who saw through my celebration shyness, and she took the reigns. I am so grateful to Marlene, for stepping up, for organizing, for adding extra color and joy when I so needed it.
And so, I baked. I baked 36 rose-shaped miniature cakes, inspired by the work I had done with The Wild Rose Collective. I baked gluten-free cakes inspired by the cookbook I had birthed into the world, inspired by my love of cake and sharing. We celebrated my “9th” birthday because 36 is really just 3+6, and why do we not let our inner nine-year-olds rule more of our adult lives?
I’m so grateful to the friends who could join, who braved falling, braved looking like beautiful fools to roll slowly and surely in circles. I’m so grateful to the friends who joined in singing “happy birthday” as I blew out a fleet of candles on miniature cakes. I am grateful to Chris for being spry enough to skate and photograph that special night, preserving the memory for me.
In these photos, I see myself choosing joy over discomfort, choosing gratitude over fear, and I see friends who will skate by my side through highs and lows. I am reminded of why I turn again and again to Brené Brown for guidance on living a fuller life.
Let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen, to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee… to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, to be this vulnerable means that we’re alive. -Brené Brown
And now, in the words of J. Lo, “Let’s get LOUD…!”
Just the Food Stuff:
Stay tuned for the cake recipes in a followup post. 😉
The Icing on the Miniature Cake:
Thanks to the generosity of my friends, I was able to raise money for Trash to Thrash, a program that helps put kids, and in particular, girls, on skateboards as a means of empowerment.
Just the Julep Stuff:
I don’t have a photo, so could we all just spend a moment creating a mental image of Julep wearing two, tiny pairs of retro skates?!
Cheers friends! May we all find more gratitude and joy in each day!
All photos in this post by my talented friend Christopher Sprowls.