Somehow, when I was a young girl, I picked up on the idea that more is always better. "The more the merrier" might as well have been tattooed on the small of my back. I relished being part of big groups, big parties, big committees, and, well, big anything. In high school, I traveled in a “pack,” solidifying my identity as simply one-of-the-group, never really knowing what my own personal identity was (not that I cared much at the time). College wasn’t much different as I dove head first into groups, committees, and a new-and-improved pack of girls. I amassed girlfriends, knowing that they would one day dutifully serve as my bridesmaids and the hosts of many future bridal showers, and, eventually, baby showers. And, I, in turn, would do the very same thing for all of them. I stretched myself to the absolute outer reaches of thin to “be there” for each and every one of my girlfriends. At any cost.
As I began my post-college life as a new bride and a new elementary-school teacher, I quickly and excitedly joined the ranks of the big-girl groups and committees and happy hours that every more-the-merrier adult is required to join. I kept my Lily Pulitzer calendar swirling with never-ending activities, socials, meetings, and get-togethers. Every party’s success depended exclusively on the sheer number of people who attended (oh, and secondly, on the wee hour of the morning at which the last guest left). Happy hours were the same: how many co-workers showed and how many of us stayed to close down the bar were the measures of success. Did at least 90 percent of the invited guests show? Did at least half the guests last ‘til 2a.m.? Yes. Check. Success.
As time passed, parties and happy hours turned into lavish baby showers and playgroups. My own three daughters brought to my life endless opportunities for even more friends, jogger-strolling dates, and endless first birthday parties that made my own wedding reception seem less than impressive. Soccer teams, gymnastics teams, dance teams, and children’s choirs all arrived on cue, catapulting our family calendar into a dimension that even I was unaware existed. To add to the mix was our ever-growing extended family.
In my family, the one I was born into, we don’t do anything small. If there is a holiday — any holiday on a Hallmark calendar somewhere — we celebrate it. We host huge dinners, lavish parties, and over-the-top, more-expensive-than-we-can-afford affairs to which all members of the family are expected to attend — birthday parties, anniversary parties, wedding showers, Christmas parties, Thanksgiving events, Labor Day get-togethers. You name it, and we throw it. But not just quaint get-togethers, but full-on, blow-the-budget, invite-everyone bashes. Are you exhausted yet? Don’t get me wrong. I have been on the receiving end of some of the most spectacular spare-no-expense events that my family has ever thrown. And, for the most part, the memories we have made have been worth the craziness that everyone has endured for the sake of a good event.
For 40 years, this fast-past, crazed, over-the-top, larger-than-life, packed-full way of living seemed to work. After all, it was really all I knew. And by most people’s standards, it all looked really good, even quite enviable and successful, by some measures.
But, as I neared the beginning of my fifth decade, I noticed a small shift inside. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I knew I felt something in my very core changing. It was a feeling that made me uneasy, like someone was trying to knock me off-balance.
Still, I beamed with sheer delight as my most amazing group of girlfriends planned my 40th birthday celebration. The planning, the energy, the time and the money that went into the orchestration of this event humbled me completely. How did I ever deserve such magnanimous and devoted friends? My 40th birthday was truly breathtaking and overwhelmingly spectacular.