We’re Always Getting Older, but always young at heart


I love those puppies.
I love those puppies.

Random Observation/Comment #117: I passed my birthday doing what I had missed most from my high school years. Yes, I played (and pwned) at Counter Strike.  Since this was such a large part of my childhood, I will dedicate an entry to this separately.

I went through a few phases in my life where I pondered my birthday’s timing.  I wondered whether or not I was gifted or cursed with my birthday being so close to the holiday season.

When I was in elementary school, I loved a Christmas Eve birthday because I would always be on vacation, and there would always be snow on the ground.  I remember the blizzard of ’93 when I played in the three feet with my little plastic sandwich bags lining the small mittens and a long hat that dragged behind me.  I dug an ice cave and crawled through my little world.  I think I got stuck when the walls collapsed.  It was as good of a time as any to learn about structural engineering.  Luckily, I loved eating snow and eventually found my way out of the mess.  You can picture the scene with a little, chibby Clemens jumping headfirst into the fluffy snow with his small feet moving back and forth, struggling to get out.  I had such a fun time swimming in the snow and building a zoo on front of the lawn.  My mother made snow people (we’re Politically Correct Chinamen), caterpillars, rabbits, bears, forts, and some battle zones.  There were those nefarious years of ice-ball wars, but they were quickly replaced by hot chocolate and marshmallows in front of heaters.  Anyway, the point is that every birthday became associated with snow and gifts.  I didn’t count the number of gifts I got, or the number of inches of snow that fell that day, but I was simply happy looking forward to forming new memories.

In middle school, I began comparing my things with everyone else in my community.  My coveting mindset started to mature into our economic dreams and expectations.  I desired new material goods to replace old ones that were still perfectly functional.  I consumed to keep up with trends and built my character based on my unique choices of fashion.  Happiness was mistaken for an infatuation with new possessions.  Of course, we must follow this ideal to a certain extent to actually maintain a capitalist economy, but this younger mindset made me lose appreciation for the gifts I received.  At this age, more and better is better than nothing at all (probably everyone would see this as a good deal – who wouldn’t want a new toy?).  My birthday, compared to others, became a little crappy because my parents would give a single gift for both days.  It really didn’t bother me, but my friends kept getting new things and convinced me to conform.  The logic could not be argued by my feeble mind – what else could you do but ask?  Unfortunately, I began to see the holiday as a parent’s obligation to give gifts, and my time to show off my new toys.

Through those trickster years in High School, I started asking for presents over the summer and hoped my parents forgot they bought me something in order to get an extra present on my birthday.  This worked surprisingly well.  My parents really didn’t know what to get me, so the present-giving tradition transformed into receiving two “free gift” passes per year.  I tricked the banker by asking for gifts of smaller magnitude and did my best to remove any paper trails.  Either I made sure they didn’t remember the new gift, or I happily used the gift and showed its usefulness and my thankfulness.  If these techniques didn’t work, I did the pros and cons list for them.  It was my first glance as a lawyer or an engineer defending a product choice.  The list of reasons why this would benefit me slowly chiseled at my parent’s will to fork out the cash.  During this point in my life, I also realized how important it was to love the present you receive.  If anything I did showed that I lost interest in the new toy, I expected my dad to say “I told you so.”  My fluttering decisions sounded good at the time, but the point was to make sure I stubbornly stayed with bad choices as a sacrifice to guarantee future gifts.  If at any point I started a reputation of losing interest too quickly, my defense would be pinned back to those moments.  I can’t even count the number of times my mom brings up that hole I kicked in the wall (I can’t be trusted with walls?).  At the end of the day, I found a loophole in the whole present giving thing, but things eventually changed…

As the Cooper years came around, I worked my butt off.  I missed those weekends with free time and dinners with family (my mom’s cooking is the best).  When the holidays returned, I used this time to relax.  My birthday came with the promises of drunken nights and happy stories.  Most of the time, I went out with friends and barely spent time at home, but since my birthday is clumped with family time in other homes, I could use the birthday to catch up (except for that Jewish friend).  There was not a worry in my mind, and I sat back to appreciate my accomplishments.  I felt like an old man looking back and smiling on the decades accumulating a fulfilled life.   I thought about the presents, but my own source of income and unsupervised spending never coincided with the holidays.  There were nice discounts, but I felt like my purchases were out of necessity instead of pride.  The other money I spent was dedicated to the experience of a night out with friends, or buying gifts for girlfriends (I guess I’m still a sucker for this).  My joy from the holiday changed from receiving gifts to giving gifts.  The small gifts that I did receive were not particularly functional or perfect for my taste, but it meant that someone cared enough to include me.  It was a nice reminder that I have friends.

After graduating Cooper, I’ve found the past birthday to be a normal day of a normal person (whatever that means).  I made it uneventful to escape my hectic life of deadlines.  I spent the day rereading my old entries and taking a few naps.  I was alone, but I was not lonely.  My memories kept me warm and the hope to form more fond ones made me wishful for tomorrow.  It was a sober day because I wanted to truly give my body a break.  Best decision, ever.  (Besides, I caught up with the drinking later).

~See Lemons Birthday Happiness

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