2009: The big one – 21. I’m fresh off the plane from the United States and spending the semester studying abroad in London. Even though I’ve only been in London for 11 days, I cleverly brought one of my best friends to study abroad at the same school, so between the two of us we are able to wrangle up a few new friends to help me ring in the year.
While I’ve been able to drink legally in this country already, the bartender couldn’t be more thrilled to help me celebrate my official U.S. legal-ness and promptly hands me a tequila shot. Not much more of the night can be said.
2011: I’m traveling for three weeks in Turkey on a short-term study abroad trip. Once again, I find myself celebrating my birthday with a group of people who really just started to get to know me in the last ten days and shouldn’t feel particularly obligated to make me the birthday princess. Luckily, I spent the last week intensely advertising my upcoming birthday and look forward to what they might have in store.
And that day was, well… kind of normal. Our educational activities that day in Konya were blah. We couldn’t even do anything fun that evening as we have an overnight train ride back to Istanbul.
I’m a little bummed as I sit in the train station, secretly wishing the day had been a bit more glamorous. As the train pulls in, the program director asks me to help with with his stuff and we fall to the back of the group. As I finally get on the train, I’m unable to find my friends and walk down the aisle calling out, “Guys?” Suddenly, the door of the train compartment next to me swings open and my twelve new friends start singing happy birthday as they hold a cake modified into a birthday cake (eventually covered with Nutella frosting) and candles purchased at the nearby gas station.
My birthday ends with a grumpy Turkish man yelling at my friends to stop singing, and all of us (including the program director and his TA) playing
games crammed into a train car.
2012: I’m back in Turkey on that same short-term study abroad program, this time as the TA. On my birthday we sent the kiddos off to a one-night homestay, and the program director and I celebrated being free by going out to a nice dinner. As I return to my hotel room, I’m surprised to see a beautiful birthday cake with sparklers and “HAPPY BIRTHDAY KRISTEN MCCARTHY” written across the top.
2014: I’m six months new to Boston and have just started to date someone new a week ago. Naturally, what every guy wants to hear on the first date is, “Oh yeah, my birthday is next week!” He did wonderfully under the pressure, taking me out to a lovely dinner and treating me to crepes and flowers. And joke’s on him, because we’re still dating.
2016: The night before my birthday, I’m in New York City for a business trip and wrangle up a few close friends from different parts of my life to come together in celebration of me. The next morning, alone in my hotel room, I wake up to a voice memo with one of my best friends creepily saying, “Happy birthday,” because I had mentioned to her I was bummed that I wouldn’t wake up next to someone saying that first thing. She rules.
2017: One of my best friends graciously decides to get married two days after my birthday, which works very well in my favor as that means all of my favorite people in the world – bridesmaids in her wedding – are also in town to celebrate my birthday. We have a low-key day of Top Golf, cocktails, and massage appointments (for me) but I keep the party going on the wedding night when the bride surprises me by having the bandleader officially announce me as “The birthday girl!”
One of the things I love most about my birthday is getting the chance to reflect on the year past, as well as the years past. What I’ve learned most from this reflection exercise is that I am lucky enough to have had some amazing travel opportunities and incredible people in my life dedicated to making my day special – things I want to keep in mind as I go through the last year of my 20s.