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Breaking the Birthday Paradigm in Portugal

I sat at a table in an open air restaurant a hundred metres from the Atlantic Ocean and breathed in the tangy smell of salt and fish. I was in Porto, Portugal, with my daughter and her husband, and life in that moment was perfect. My other children were happily home in Canada and I was about to begin a birthday week the likes of which I had never before experienced. I had been resisting going on this trip for months, mostly because I had given up celebrating my birthday years ago. But my oldest daughter had had enough of my grinch-like birthdaytude and had taken it upon herself to single-handedly change my perspective.

“Mom,” she had said, “you have to start celebrating your birthday.” Heather is the Queen of Celebration and I have often admired how she can turn almost any occasion into an Event. Her own birthday celebrations have taken place at manor houses in England and seaside resorts in Spain. She always has a bottle of champagne handy and there was even that time she sent herself flowers just because it’s nice to get flowers. She goes to Ascot almost every year and her wedding last year in Toronto was an EPIC event. When Heather and her husband, James, went on their honeymoon in South America they left no stone unturned in their quest for adventure, romance and excitement.

There’s no doubt about it, my daughter is a woman who can throw herself into a festive state at the drop of a hat, and I am in awe of how much fun she has. It’s fascinating to be in the position of having a daughter for a role model on this issue, focused, as I have become, on a more staid way of being in the world.

Porto offered the ideal combination of temperate weather, terrific historical sites, great food and, of course, opportunities to learn more about Port wine. We stayed at an Air BnB that Heather and James had found, we went on a cycling tour of the city, we marveled at the beautiful tiling on buildings throughout the city, we enjoyed numerous port tastings, ate magnificent food, talked non-stop, and generally celebrated the chance to be alive and writing another chapter of our lives together as a family.

It occurs to me that one of the reasons I like writing so much is that it allows me to capture moments in my life that are profound and precious, and it helps me process experiences that have changed my trajectory. It brings me to new understandings of my own story, and new understandings of the bigger story, the Human Story. My Portugal holiday in Porto wasn’t just a fun week of sightseeing and overeating, it represented a massive shift in my Birthday Paradigm and it’s one which both my daughter and her husband colluded in bringing about. It made me feel incredibly loved. And, while I felt blessed to experience these emotions in the moment—at the time of the vacation—I get to roll around in the delight of it all when I write about it…and then again when I read what I’ve written.

In the end I believe Heather and James ordered six birthday cakes for me while we were together. I felt my old Birthday Paradigm slip away into the past like a pair of worn out shoes and I felt myself embrace my new Birthday Paradigm, one that is filled with adventure, fulfillment, fun and sweets. After years of ignoring my birthday I’m now ready to rejoice in it. And eat cake. Lots and lots of cake.

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  • Susan, I am in tears and smiles reading your birthday paradigm blog. So instructive and so …close. I appreciate, as always, your openness to life’s opportunities and your honesty.

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