I don’t like my birthday. For many reasons. I was born on July 5, so it was always overshadowed by the 4th of July. Birthday decorations were inevitably leftover stars and stripes. As a child, friends were out of town on family vacations so no one could ever come to my party (at least, that’s the excuse my parents gave me…) And, more than anything, as an extroverted introvert, when I’m given the attention I sometimes crave I feel exposed and want to crawl back into my shell.
Every year as my birthday approaches, I am filled with a sense of dread. Should I plan something to celebrate? But what? I don’t drink, so going out and mingling in a bar isn’t my bag (and to be honest, I’m getting old and like to be in bed at a reasonable hour dammit!). I don’t want to force my friends to come to a party or buy me presents. But I also don’t want to spend it alone.
So this year, my best friend Hope and I came up with the perfect plan — spend the day at King’s Dominion. I’d never been, and she grew up in Woodbridge so knew the park like the back of her hand.
We planned everything leading up to the day…matching outfits (Yes, plural. She works at lululemon athletica and I have a problem so we own a lot of matching outfits), ride plans, food plans, everything. I didn’t know what to expect, I’ve never been to a major amusement park. I grew up in Albuquerque where the “big” attraction was Uncle Cliff’s, which had maybe one decent ride.
When we walked in, we immediately veered over to the fast roller coasters to start the day off with a bang.
And bang. We rode the fastest rides. We went down all the water slides. We screamed at the top of our lungs. We laughed harder and longer than I’ve ever laughed. I have never had more fun in my entire life. There’s something about an amusement park that forces you to be happy. Life’s stress falls away, you’re on an adrenaline rush, you’re laughing, you’re screaming, you know you’re acting like a fool. And you. Don’t. Care. You know why? Because EVERYONE surrounding you is too. The common denominator as you look around is that everyone is smiling. People are happy and friendly and allowing themselves to have fun, just like children, without worrying about all the things we normally worry about. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what gender you are, what race you are. Everything is stripped away and you’re smiling and a part of an experience with all the people waiting in line with you. You stumble off each ride looking at each other, like, can you believe we just did that? Can you believe how loud I just screamed? You’re laughing because you can’t believe the rush you just had, right? Did we actually survive that? And you’re all in it together.
So how do we go about embracing this inner child that we catch a glimpse of here and there as we go about our lives? Maybe we hold on to the experience and remind ourselves how we were able to let go of stress or anger that time we were riding rides. Maybe we put ourselves in situations where people are happy — like a hike in the beautiful outdoors. Maybe you take a class with people looking for the same sort of experience you are — like your favorite yoga, Pilates, or barre class (depending on if you’re in it for torture or bliss). But you keep reminding yourself that it is possible to smile every day, regardless of all the problems big and small you have weighing on you. You don’t need a roller coaster to remind you of that…although it can help.