I took my daughter to the Cheesecake Factory for the first time. We were there from 8-10pm after an appointment at the mall ran way too long, and we were overdue for a date before she went off to middle school. While we were there, having pleasant conversation, we heard a group of wait staff sing “Happy Birthday” to someone. Five minutes went by. It happened again. By the third time, I was silently putting up fingers in the middle of our conversation to tick them off.
We got to seven.
At seven, I pulled aside one of the young waitresses and asked her, “What’s the record for the number of times you have had to sing Happy Birthday to people in a night?” She chuckled and said that one of her coworkers admitted to eleven times, (Eleven! Smh) and that she often accidentally sings “the Cheesecake Factory version” instead of her own relative’s name at home. I asked her if it drove her crazy, and she politely said that she doesn’t mind, and that she thinks it’s nice.
She’s a sweet girl, and I’m a customer. She has to say that. I thought about the fact that we were there on a late Tuesday night, not even a weekend during peak dinner hours, and that these poor minimum wage staff had to dance around like trained monkeys and sing to their tables, interrupting my and everyone else’s conversation – for what? Because it’s your birthday? Well excuse me, but I don’t get it.
There was once a time where I participated in this ritual (no, not having wait staff sing to me. That has never happened.) I mean celebrating my birthday like I have accomplished something. It wasn’t until I heard some viciously funny bits by some of my favorite comics that I began to change my philosophy on the matter. The day of our birth (they joke) is a celebration of the 9 month mark of the time when our parents…did it. And that is their accomplishment, not ours. If you need an awesome laugh, check out these bits by Patton Oswalt and Christian Finnegan (warning: rated M for cussin’, and the humor is VERY blue). All joking aside, I don’t understand why the tradition in this country is for us to receive gifts on the anniversary of the day of our birth. Now that I have birthed two humans, I realize that the only person who accomplished anything on my birthday is the woman who birthed me. I think she deserves the gifts.
I’ll be the first one to admit that I am in a full-fledged, mid-life crisis. I have been thinking a lot about what makes my life meaningful and precious lately. I certainly think that just having it is a start. The blogosphere lights up every day with people worried about how we are creating generations of entitled children. So why, then are we teaching them from the get-go that they are eligible to earn fabulous prizes every year just by being alive? Where is the gratitude lesson there? I’m not trying to get all Jehovah’s Witness on you: I believe in celebrating things. I love the tradition of giving and receiving. But observing a bunch of underpaid, and most likely, underappreciated waiters sing to adults over a piece of cheesecake on feedback loop really bothered me. And the over-the-top ridiculousness of birthday parties these days and the Great Goody-bag Crisis that’s coming to a head also really bothers me. I believe that these traditions are damaging our children, and turning them into adults who expect hard working people to “dance” for them without so much as a glance. And, lest I be accused of making generalizations, I do not know the whole story behind these restaurant celebrations. One of those people might have really and truly cherished that moment for reasons that I don’t know. I certainly hope so. But I doubt it.