Guilt and inadequacy can sometimes be found in the most surprising places.
At work, birthdays are a big deal. Because morale is a big deal. And certain people here believe that receiving trinkety shit on your special day generates enough sunshine and happiness to last all year.
And I like the people I work with, I really do. They all deserve their sunshine. The problem is, everybody has a birthday, and that's a whole lot of birthday cake, handmade cards, and thoughtfully wrapped trinkety shit to come up with throughout the year.
PS, I'm really bad at remembering birthdays anyway. I've probably lost friends over it. I'm not the type of person who always has The Perfect Card on hand for any occasion, it's just not what I'm good at.
When my department grew from 7 people to 13, I felt my stress level getting out of control over birthdays. I was running to QuickTrips on my lunch break for cards and lying about having "left your gift on the kitchen counter at home – can you believe it!?" I made a decision. I would no longer participate in the Birthday Recognition Program. NOBODY was getting anything more from me than verbal wishes on their birthday.
That went really well until my birthday, when I came in to the office to find gifts from all the people I had nongifted all year.
So I made another decision. I would ride out 2004. Then in January 2005 I would buy gifts and make cards for EVERYONE at once. I would wrap and file gifts by month. If this whole thing was so important to everyone else, then I would treat birthdays just like any other job responsibility.
Well, today is Connie's birthday. I found myself rushing to Target this morning before work, grabbing a card and a gift to shove into a gift bag, and apologizing for being late because I "left your gift on the kitchen counter at home – can you believe it!?"
But it didn't matter, right? I was on board! I was doing the birthday thing! No more guilt or unreciprocated gifts for me!
I set Connie's gift down on her desk and exclaimed "Happy Birthday!" Then I noticed the two December Birthdays who had gotten nothing from me a month ago, standing right there by Connie's desk, looking at me with that pointed oh, so SHE gets a gift from you…? glare.