My Double-Nickel Birthday: Over 55 But No Ticket Yet

For 50 of my 55 years, I've been searching for one thing. I just got it.

Posted Jan 16, 2012

"Small and cute

and full of fun,

All day long

you're on the run,

Playing games

and learning, too—

Everyone's sure

proud of you!"

My husband, Michael, gave me a birthday card saying "A SPECIAL GIRL IS 5 TODAY!" and simply by adding an extra digit made it read "A SPECIAL GIRL IS 55 TODAY!" Michael also added earrings, red-high heels, and curly-hair to the cartoon figure on the front of the card to make it more closely resemble me, his wife of more than twenty years.

What impressed both of us, however, was the fact that the little ditty on the inside of the card, which I've included above, actually contains every single thing I have ever wanted to hear in my entire life.

That's sort of sad, and sort of funny, and sort of weird, and sort of entirely understandable for anyone who's ever opened a book on psychotherapy: OF COURSE I have searched and scrambled and longed for and wept over precisely what I didn't feel I got at age 5. OF COURSE the last 50 years have been spent in a quest to gain, own, retrieve or recover early feelings of basic and essential value.

I'm getting this thing framed.

I have no ideas where my diplomas from Dartmouth College or Cambridge University are; I couldn't tell you where to find the first editions of the eight books I've written or the 19 I've edited. But I am getting this birthday card framed and I am going to hang it on the wall so that I will always have it in front of me because IT—not the diplomas or the books—offers the kind of validation I want.

I want to know that somebody out there acknowledges that I am "on the run" "all day long" and even though it might seem as if I am only "playing games," I'm actually "learning, too." I want somebody to think I'm "cute." (God help me, it takes ever molecule of self-effacement I have to admit that yes, even at 55-years-old, I still want to be considered cute, at least and especially, by my mate.)

And, yes, I'll admit it, I still search for outside validation of my worth; I want to know that somebody is proud of me. I won't even put quotation marks around the word proud.

My poor mother, who was consumed by her own sense of sadness and exile, couldn't offer me that when I was a kid; having never experienced it herself, she could certainly not offer to it to her needy daughter. I've spent my life trying to get somebody to pat me on the head, on the back, and to say "Good job!" until I could start to believe it. I've worked hard and with one of the profession's great therapists to get the dents out of my own wreck of a self-image.

And with this year's birthday card framed in front of me, I feel like I've got a ticket to ride.