I sent this piece in awhile ago to Good Housekeeping and since I have not heard back about it, I wanted to share it as a little birthday message to my fellow Marines. I love my second birthday something fierce, and I know many Marines that feel the same way. This message is in honor of those I’ve befriended over my journey as a United States Marine and the friends I’ve met as a Marine veteran. All I ask is if you drink today, please don’t drink and drive. The same goes for tomorrow, and all the days that follow.
The birthday weekends. The birthday week. The birthday month. When does it stop?
I’ve never wrapped my mind around the prolonged adult birthday. The over-the-top festivities for one adult person seem a little crazy. From birthday sashes to birthday crew embroidered or screen-printed shirts, I just don’t get it. The fact that there are currently over 2.5 million posts under #birthdaymonth for Instagram terrifies me a little. If American weddings are getting out of hand for costs, how are the prolonged birthdays impacting everyone’s wallets and personal time? Maybe it is because I grew up in a house with a lot of siblings. In fact, I have a twin and my oldest sister’s birthday is six days before ours—my parents could never afford to gives us lavish birthday events, but they still celebrated us as unique individuals, often with simple birthday events at home complete with pizza, cake and ice cream, and presents. There would be paper decorations, themed party plates, and cheap party favors to hold over neighbor kids since you know, it wasn’t their birthday. My oldest sister often received clothes and makeup whereas I, the polar opposite who also looked oddly more like her than my own twin, received gifts most introverted people love: journals, books, and art supplies. Who knows what age I was when I figured out I did not like to “people” and maybe that’s why I’ve never adored the idea of a flashy birthday that no one wants to end.
And then I was entitled to a second birthday, which changed everything.
I drink on my second birthday; it’s a tradition, which I will explain in due time. I was underage for my first second birthday and in a situation where underage drinking was easy to curb. In the interest of being honest, underage drinking did not appeal to me but for the first new birthday the more senior adults present crafted a night of revelry for all age groups in attendance. Music, plenty of conversation, the chance to relax, and an abundance of food to rival some Thanksgiving tables. From an array of appetizers; beef and seafood entrees, but oddly, no chicken; hearty homestyle sides like baked potatoes, corn, and dinner rolls with butter for those looking to indulge plus fruit and salad for those seeking mindful choices; and with cheesecake, fruit pies, and birthday cake as our dessert options, it was apparent no expense was spared in feeding us all. There was enough to feed all my brothers and sisters present.
Belonging to this big, blended family is not easy all the time. I cannot recall who all made it out to my first second birthday shindig, but I kept the commemorative menu. There are faces I haven’t seen in ages and I don’t know who has kids now versus who might still be traveling around the United States or around the world, but this paper survives. Keeping this scrap evidence in nearly mint condition feels impressive given the moves I’ve also made across the United States over the past nineteen years and it is a healthy reminder we are all family regardless of our personal differences. Those aren’t as apparent to outsiders though; we are often viewed as a rowdy homogenous group by strangers—and I feel the lens with which others see us is not entirely false. After all, we dress in matching birthday outfits. Yep, we are that kind of family. Buttoned up in our formal attire, we look fancy to the untrained eye, until we open our mouths. Then we let it slip we only look refined. (Watch out, we swear.)
I may not miss all these family members, but every year, there are some I really miss, and we keep in touch over Instagram and Facebook. We are a weird bunch, but it is nice to share your birthday with others, and I don’t mean casually share (i.e. you come to my birthday party and I come to yours). We share the SAME birthday. Our second birthday was bestowed upon us because we all opted to become United States Marines and the Marine Corps birthplace, Tun Tavern, is why it’s common to drink on my second birthday. We had our love-hate relationship with the Marine Corps on a regular basis, but it is always amusing to reflect on how much going to a birthday ball was like being a kid whisked away to an extended family member’s house for a holiday gathering; it could be you’re visiting the extended family you love or you’re visiting the side that loves nothing more than to criticize; and since drinks are easy to find, you’re either drinking with people you like and already drink me pretty regularly or you’re in the company of people who make you want to drink and let’s hope the bar is not too expensive. A good (read: less over-the-top) Marine Corps birthday experience can fall on a workday, saving you some of the pain of readying yourself for the family to compare your achievements to those of your siblings. I think plenty of Marines (and Marine veterans) might agree that the birthday itself is often more fun than attending the Marine Corps ball. You are spared some uniform and ball prep stress: you can hold off on buying ribbons and medals you need to get your dress blues updated, you can stop looking for a ruler to see exactly what 1/8” looks like for your ribbon bar, and you are not out money to stay in a hotel room for the event or the money it takes to get there. How many hours away is this thing again?
At your home base though, it’s a different story. Everywhere you go, you run into a fellow Marine, also dressed more casually in their camouflage utility uniform. You yell out, “Happy Birthday.” In return, you are greeted with a “Happy Birthday.” The next Marine you see, you yell out, “Happy Birthday.” She responds, “Happy Birthday.” Repeat. ALL. DAY. LONG. Everyone is so busy telling each other Happy Birthday no major arguments seem to crop up and very little work gets done. No one is sizing you up on your number of deployments or knows you barely make it through the rifle range due to your pizza box rifle badge the way they might have if you were at the Marine Corps ball in blues. Instead, the day speeds by. Soon enough, it’s four-thirty and time to go home. You might end the day hanging out with Marines you like the most, and the very next day is Veterans Day, meaning no work tomorrow. This situation is probably the closest thing I can recall to being a little kid on a movie day in school or passing out Valentine’s in an elementary school classroom. Does it really matter if you like everyone or not? No. You recognize that everyone deserves to feel special and you participate.
When you’re truly fortunate, you get to marry the two experiences—and the situation gives off vibes of the prolonged birthday weekend. This can happen, too, after separating from the Marine Corps as I have been gifted a mini bottle of liquor from a fellow Marine veteran when our shared birthday rolled in on a weekday. I’ve been known to bring in a “Happy Birthday, Marines” cake even in an office populated with veterans from other services—and everyone gets to eat cake! (It’s my birthday and everyone is invited for the festivities.) My Facebook activity that day will also center on reaching out to my old boss from 1st Marine Division, seeing if my former SSgt is still doing well, and checking up on my brothers from that unit that are still involved in my life to see if they’re having a good day. If it’s not me saying hello to them directly, I might also drop in to say hi to a spouse to relay the message. I will equally haunt them the following day to wish all a Happy Veteran’s Day, too.
Maybe that’s why it is time I revisit my feelings on the birthday weekend, week, and month. Sure, it’s not my preferred way to celebrate, but not everyone is entitled to two birthdays. The Marine Corps was a workplace environment, one that honored its birthday in a way I have not seen emulated in the civilian workforce. Perhaps that issue is a big part of why my fellow adult Americans are clinging to extended birthday endeavors. The workplace they are in has let them down a bit and by connecting more with friends and family—or indulging themselves with a month of various self-purchased treats and experiences—they are rekindling their spirits. Esprit de corps is not found everywhere; it is cultivated repeatedly as the Marine Corps has shown me. If my peers are looking for others to support them as they reinvent and reinvest in themselves year after year, for someone to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and to give them a better sense of belonging than where they started, I know I can do that. The Marine Corps taught me how—sometimes, it can be as simple as saying “Happy Birthday,” checking their birthday outfit for them before they stroll out the door and eating cake together.