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Happy birthday, Aidan

| Monday, March 1, 2021

This Saturday, March 6, is my birthday. I will turn 20 years old that evening, around 8:30, or 7:30 central. 

My mom is all too keen to remind me of the time; she is under no obligation, apparently, to wish me happy birthday until exactly 7:30 p.m. “You could have been born at 7:30 in the morning,” she’ll say. “But you CHOSE 7:30 at night.” I have to pay the price for those painful 12 hours, and it is one of her favorite jokes.

I realized recently, what with this delayed, truncated and spring break-less semester (no, Fr. Jenkins, two “mini-breaks” don’t count) that this will be the first time in my two decades of life that I haven’t celebrated my birthday at home. 

Last year, my birthday fell on the final Friday of classes, right before our — shall we say, extended — spring break. I drove home that Friday and ate pad thai with my family. I met my parents’ new puppies, one black and one white, so small I could hold them in both of my palms and cradle them like freshly-stuffed plush toys.

I am suddenly reminded of how coming to Notre Dame was the first time that I had ever moved. I have lived at the same house in Wheaton, Illinois since I was quite literally a glimmer in my parents’ eyes. It is a cute home at the bottom of a tall, winding hill — spectacular for sledding but terrible for thunderstorms. Trees shade the street like a leafy, green awning; when I was little, my backyard was my personal arboretum. But the trees got old, and when they died, we cut them down.

When I was applying for college, I did not humor leaving the Midwest for very long. I did for a little while, but almost as a kind of performance. Deep down, I don’t think I meant it. In fact, I am always surprised by how some of my Notre Dame friends feel “suffocated” by the Midwest. 

Do I suffocate you?

I’m supposed to turn 20. Why does that number sound so big? I know that my parents, and their parents, laugh at the number 20; I know that in time I will, too. But I think a small, sad part of me is going to miss teendom. Not high school, but teendom — being a teenager. It’s not so specific as the nostalgia of a late-night car ride through the suburbs or reminiscing about summers where you wake up with no plans and fewer worries. It’s about what it means to be a teenager, existentially. 

Teenagers are horrible. We know this; we once were them. But when you’re a teenager, it’s not so much about who you are now as it is about who you might become. It’s about the POSSIBILITY of you. And when you’re a twentysomething, suddenly you’re expected to REALIZE that possibility. 

How cruel! I don’t want to realize anything. I want to play in my personal arboretum. 

That being said, I hope that it’s sunny on my birthday. I hope that it’s warm; I’ll count 50 degrees. And I think, as a present to myself, I will walk around St. Mary’s Lake. I will sit under a leafy, green awning of trees, and hopefully I will see how much it looks like my home. 

And hopefully, I’ll understand that I have brought home with me.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Aidan O'Malley

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