Keep Two Thoughts

Personal essays

Birthday - Essay from Newsletter 106

Celebrating any day you want


You know those people who tell stories and get lost in the details that don’t matter?

They start to tell you about waking up with a pain two months ago on a Tuesday.

At this point you just want to hear if they’re ok or not but they pause and wonder out loud, “maybe it wasn’t a Tuesday.” Or maybe someone interrupts them to correct them and insist that it was a Thursday.

I just want to hear if they’re ok. I don’t want to know what day it began. I don’t want to know that the receptionist looked a little like someone I went to high school with.

Sometimes, these details matter. Often they don’t.

On the other hand, I had a friend who was home over break during and he was downstairs drinking a cup of coffee when his brother joined him.

They sat for a while chatting and then my friend asked his brother, “aren’t you going to wish me a happy birthday?”

“I thought it was today,” his brother answered, “but mom told me it’s Thursday.”

My favorite part of the story is that his mom didn’t know when his birthday was.

So yeah, so sometimes, these details matter. Often they don’t.


My brother sent me a message early Friday afternoon. “Happy Birthday,” he texted along with an emoji of a face that included a tongue sticking out.

I laughed at the sentiment and the emoji and sent a thumbs-up in return.

People had been texting and sending me birthday greetings off and on for hours.

I should have just said “thank you” in return.

Instead, I thanked the first few and then let them know that actually my birthday is in September.

This confused some.

Some said that FaceBook had gotten it wrong because it had told them that my birthday was April first.

A few were pretty sure that I was wrong and FaceBook was right.

In either case, the fault was mine and I began to understand that I was handling the situation wrong.


After I had set up my FaceBook account I began to get uncomfortable with the data they had for me.

This became more apparent to me during my year of trying online dating. With little more than a first name and a city or a profession I could often find the profiles of people I was matched with. It was unsettling how quickly I could find out quite a lot about others and discover how they might be connected to me.

I deleted my account on those apps and kept my FB account so I could continue to get news from family members and friends. I pulled all of my past posts off of FB and I changed my birthday to April 1.

It wasn’t an April fools prank. I just thought that people who knew me well would remember that I have a fall birthday and would shrug it off.


Last year a bunch of people posted very nice notes to me on April 1 when FB told them it was my birthday.

I thanked them all and messaged each of them to let them know when my real birthday is.

I tried to change the date so that people wouldn’t think that it was an April fools prank but FB wouldn’t allow me to change the date a second time.

So my FB birthday will remain April first.

Friday afternoon when I got the “Happy Birthday” text from my brother, Maggie and I were having lunch with my mom and sister. It turned out to be a birthday lunch - though unlike my friend’s mom, my mother knows when my birthday really is.

Not often

Last week my mother’s cousin contacted me ahead of my “birthday” to ask when my birthday really was. She remembered that it wasn’t in the spring and yet FB had warned her that it was coming soon.

That was nice of her in many ways. I let her know when my birthday was and thanked her for reaching out.

Friday morning I got a bunch of texts and I started out thanking them and explaining when my birthday is.

Then I stopped.

I was the person who had gotten sidetracked in the story and was arguing about whether it happened on a Tuesday or a Thursday.

To these people, my birthday is April first.

These people were taking time out of their day to wish me a Happy Birthday on a day they knew to be my birthday.

The correct response is, “Thank you!”

That’s right - exclamation point and everything.

It used to matter a lot to me whether we got facts right or not. But this is one of those things when the details don’t matter.

Whatever day it is, if you wish me a Happy Birthday, I will try to remember to smile and say, “Thank you!”

Sometimes details matter. Often they don’t.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 106. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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