Ah, August. I have a conflicting relationship with this month.
As I mentioned, August is my birthday month. My awkward relationship with August began in childhood, specifically once I started school. You see, August comes before September, and September means SCHOOL! And there is my birthday, smack dab in the middle of August, two weeks before the beginning of SCHOOL!
Most kids dream of their birthdays. Am I right? And like most kids, I dreamt about mine, in living color. Cake, ribbons, wrapped surprises, games, all kinds of fun. And yet, the specter of SCHOOL was always breathing down my neck in the form of some hideous monster who would show up to ruin it and scare the bejeezes out of me and everyone else. I’d wake up in tears and disappointment. In my waking life I’d think, “Oh boy, my birthday is coming!”, feel a quick sense of excitement and delight at the prospect only to have those feelings diminished the second I would compute the timing and what would inevitably come right after. It didn’t help that some of my birthday gifts might include school-oriented things like fall clothing, a bookbag, or a new pencil case. Such a mixed bag for a kid to manage.
As an adult, I developed what one might call “unrealistic expectations” around my birthday. I think on some level I had hoped that adulthood would negate the conflicting emotions since school was no longer an issue. The end of August was only the end of Summer (bad enough actually, but not as bad as SCHOOL), and I love the fall season so it was not so bad. Subconsciously (maybe not so “sub”) I expected the day to be extra special somehow. And sometimes it was. But most times it was average or less. I often felt let down and sad. It just never measured up to what I had hoped it would be. My birthday continued to be a mixed bag emotionally.
I love being a student and eventually – you guessed it – went back to SCHOOL!! And guess what – that old anxiety returned and I would measure the month of August (and my birthday) against the impending beginning of my school year and eventually my child’s. No matter what I did, I couldn’t separate my birthday from what would arrive shortly thereafter.
As I’ve grown older and more mature I’ve worked at my relationship with August. I am a proud Leo woman, and I’ve educated myself about what that means. I have made peace with the placement of my birthday on the calendar and celebrate the radiance, color, and light that August brings. I pay close attention to the beauty of it and get myself to the beach as often as I can to enjoy the warmer ocean waters and the golden sunlight that is unique to the month. School is a constant in my life. I am always taking classes, teaching something, supporting my family who are teachers and/or students, and I’ve come to embrace the onset of the school year. I see it as a beginning rather than an ending – or at least that is my intention.
I’ve also taken the time to look up the definition of the word august. Here is what I found: respected and impressive. Synonyms: distinguished, respected, eminent, venerable, hallowed, illustrious, prestigious, renowned, celebrated, honored, acclaimed, esteemed, exalted; great, important, lofty, noble; imposing, impressive, awe-inspiring, stately, grand, dignified.
OK, maybe not dignified, but I’ll take the rest and add in some of my favorite Leo traits: kind, sunny, passionate, creative, generous and loyal. We’ll just leave it there.
My birthday became an even more poignant day on August 16, 2012. My father died on that day. He fell into a coma and was in grave condition on August 13. I think I knew then that he would die on my birthday. There is something about that fact that was comforting then, and continues to be. It seems to have some sort of cosmic significance, though for the life of me I haven’t been able to figure it out. I only know that on that day I feel great reverence and peace, along with genuine sadness at the loss of my beloved father and hero.
The day my father died my daughter made me promise that I wouldn’t spend my birthdays grieving. I don’t, but I find that the day has taken on a different energy. I no longer have lofty expectations and anxiety around it. It’s now a day for me to reflect. I think of my Dad and that day five years ago. I also think about how grateful I am to be here on the planet and celebrate life. I enjoy time with my family, but it’s not a requirement. I’m also fine with passing the day alone, doing something I love. This year I plan to take myself to the beach.
My Grandpa Louie used to tell me, “Never be too happy or too sad”. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by that when I heard it as a young child. But, his words stayed with me and as an adult I finally get it. My birthday is a great metaphor for that advice. It’s a wonderful day of celebration and gratitude – for the magic of birth and the gift of my life. Happy. Juxtaposed with all that happiness and joy is the opposite – my childhood dread of school, the sadness at the end of summer, and the inevitability of loss and death. Sad.
So, with Grandpa Louie’s advice in mind, my birthday is “never too happy or too sad”. I’m OK with the mixed bag. It means I get to have it all. I like that.
STRETCH: Take time to think about where you may have “unrealistic expectations”. Can you imagine removing them? Can you imagine how much more at peace you will be when you do?