Thursday, August 31, 2006

another birthday on the books

Today is the first day of the 31st year of my life. I'm still deciding whether this will be a look-good birthday (shopping; pedicure) or a feel-good birthday (donate blood; rescue a pound puppy... okay that second one's bullshit, I don't care for dogs and they aren't allowed in my building, but I am in the mood to tap a vein). What to do, what to do... Blood replenishes faster than cash... but... Loehmann's... birthday... discount... ohIgiveup. Shopping it is. I'm weak but I'm well dressed.

You know what's weird? I feel younger. Younger than I felt a year ago. While last August I was pumped and ready to barrell into my fourth decade with attitude a'blazing, on this birthday I have had to remind myself -- several times already -- that I am not 29 today. My inner grownup, patient and patronizing, strokes my hair and cups my chin: "Yes, honey, 30 was a turning point, but that doesn't mean you get to count backward from now on."

I actually celebrated last weekend when my family and I descended upon Rockville's famed Far East restaurant for the Annual Chinese Birthday Feast, a ritual in which we order enough to feed a Jewish football team (if such a thing existed) at sundown on Yom Kippur, and leave with a week's worth of leftovers -- yessir, yessir, three bags full.

My youngest brother gave me this card:

He's a clever little bastard.

Early acknowledgments continued when my Grandma called around 3:00 yesterday afternoon. "Happy birthday!" she sang. "Thank you, Grandma! But you know, my birthday is tomorrow."

"Oy vey, I got confused," she chuckled. "Eh, alright, so you'll take it today. Nu? What are you going to do on your big day?"

"Well, I'm having lunch with a friend. And then after work I'll either go shopping or donate blood at the Red Cross up the street. And I'm sure I'll fit some dinner in there too."

"WHAT?!" My grandmother produces thunderous volume from her itty bitty frame. "Donate BLOOD?! Who DOES such a thing?"

For a second I thought she was pulling my leg. "Well... um... lots of people. All the time."

"But WHY? Why would you let somebody TAKE YOUR BLOOD?"

"Because I'm type O Negative, the universal donor. And there's a shortage. And... it's just... a nice thing to do?"

"Don't do it," she commanded.

I tried not to laugh out loud. "Grandma, why not?"

"It's not a good idea. Don't do it!!!"

"Why is it not a good idea?"

"For your health. It's not a good idea for your health."

"Are you kidding me? People do this all the time. I do this all the time. They have blood drives. At the temple (I tried to make it Jewish for her), and in high schools. Blood grows back in no time." I cringed at that last part -- "blood grows back" -- how embarrasingly elementary, but I had to explain this concept in a way that might help it sink in.

"No. No way," she insisted. "People give blood when they know somebody who's sick."

"Then it's okay?"

"Yes, then it's okay."

"But it's not okay to give blood to a stranger?"

"That's right."

"Nice attitude, Grandma. You're a real humanitarian."

"You listen to me, Danielle." I could feel her angry little finger pointing at me. "I know what I'm talking about. I've gone my whole life, 80 years, without letting anybody take my blood."

"And I'm sure you'll leave this world feeling that much richer for the extra pint you've saved."

And with that she grunted a final "Happy birthday" and hung up the phone. Of course Grandma immediately phoned my mother to report my horrific plans. Whether Mom defused the situation or incensed Grandma further I do not know, but I expect this will all have blown over in two weeks' time. Three at the most.

Later last night my mother called to tell me, as she often does, that I was missing a fascinating program on television. "It's about the end of the world. They're talking about what would happen if a black hole came too close to the earth. We'd have a couple days to say goodbye and then we'd all just... disintegrate. Or something like that. Anyway, turn on '20/20.'"

While I changed the channel she sighed into the phone and I could imagine her -- right hand pressed over her mouth, head shaking slowly. "It's so scary," she moaned. "That it could all end like that, just in a moment. Oh, honey... I love you. Go. Enjoy an ice cream. Right now!"

And then I decided it'll be at least another year before I'm too old to listen to my mother.