The Birthday Party

by Laura Rittenhouse

Next month is a biggie in our house. You see, my husband and I happen to be born a mere two days apart. So ever since the year we met, we’ve always celebrated our birthdays jointly. This year we’re both hitting the big four-oh. Maybe that’s why Martin’s just given me some unusually specific requirements with respect to our party: “I want this to be the best party either of us have ever thrown or gone to, okay Anne?”

I know that doesn’t sound all that specific, but after fifteen years of these parties, it’s the first time he’s shown an interest of any kind before the event, so I’m feeling positively bolstered. And then I think about the implementation of “best” and push my luck with a follow-up question. “Do you think we should have a normal bash, or should we theme it in some way to mark the passing of our youth?”

Martin looks up from his vegemite toast with a deer-in-the-headlights aura about him. “Um, well, I’m not sure. What kind of theme were you thinking about?”

“I don’t know, maybe asking everyone to dress in black – sort of a mourning party?” I really don’t know what I mean, but I’m getting pretty excited about Martin’s response as I envision days and days of us talking about what food to serve, who to invite, decorations, . . .

He answers, “I don’t think I’ve been to a party since the 80s where 90% of the people WEREN’T dressed in black.”

“Good point.”

“Really, love, whatever you think is best will work for me.” He looks at his watch. “Gotta go. I have an early meeting.”

So much for joint planning.

Thank God for my sister Kerri. She’s a natural party planner. If it weren’t for her, Martin and I would have forgone birthday celebrations at least 7 out of the past 15 years.

“Okay, so Martin wants a great party and not one where everyone is told to wear black. Can you give me anything else to go on?” Kerri cocks her head and screws up her eyebrows.

I give the same answer I do every year, “Don’t ask me. You know I hate these things. If Martin’s birthday wasn’t so close to mine, I’d never have a party for myself. But he loves ’em so much that I have to throw one – especially on our 40th. Just tell me what prep I need to do. Then make sure that my glass never runs dry on the night.”

And the planning is off. Kerri doesn’t need a lot of encouragement. And I do my best to do what she says without thinking about what it all means. If it were up to me, Martin and I would have a quiet dinner alone someplace to celebrate turning 40 together.


“Hi, thanks for coming.” My cheeks are already aching from the constant smiling.

“Oh hi, thanks.” I take the gift from the latest arrivals and turn to find Martin. He’s surrounded by more well-wishers than I have the energy to wade through right now. I pivot back to signal to the gift givers that we’ll have to wait to open their offering. They’re already halfway to the drinks table.

Kerri catches my eye and holds up a bottle of champers to me. I rush to her like a diabetic to insulin.

“I really think we’ve outdone ourselves this year,” Kerri says. “Look at your friends, they’re having a great time. And have you ever seen Martin look happier? With that smile he looks 25, not 40.”

“Yeah, it’s great,” I sigh. Martin looks fantastic but the spectacular event that is “my day” is starting to wear a little thin with me. I hold onto the knowledge that within five hours, all of these people will be gone and I’ll be in my bed snuggled up next to my husband. Then I can relax until next year.




That old sinking feeling has settled in my gut. Another birthday is upon me. Not only am I about to turn 40, but Anne’s going to arrange one of her horrid birthday parties for us. When she asked me what kind of party I wanted, why didn’t I say I didn’t want a party? For the same reasons that I haven’t told her that I hate parties for the past fifteen years. She loves them too much. Besides, it’s only once a year.

But if it were up to me, we’d have a quiet dinner alone someplace to celebrate turning 40 together. Instead I have to suffer this stupid party and pretend to like it.


“Hi, thanks for coming.” My face is stuck in this fake grin. From the look of the smiles on the other guys in the room, I bet at least half of them are faking it too and they’d rather be home watching the footy. I can’t believe that Anne picked the weekend of the big game for our 40th.

“Oh hi, thanks.” I take the gift from the latest arrivals and set it on the table where Anne has dropped a couple of others. Why don’t people read the invitation where it says “no gifts please”.

Anne’s holding a glass of bubbly and beaming around the room. She looks fantastic and, as expected, she’s having a great time.

Time to recharge my glass of beer. It’s a good excuse to sneak out of this crowded room for a couple of minutes. Not much longer now. In a few hours all of these people will be gone and I can watch the replay on the TV in the bedroom. Then I can relax until next year.




The sun blasts through the window way too early for my taste. Opening my eyes I relish the peace and quiet – the aftermath of that awful party.

I roll over to find my beloved party-animal staring back at me.

“Wasn’t last night great?”

“Sure was.”

“I wonder if we’ll be able to outdo it next year.”

© Laura Rittenhouse 2011