My most surprising birthday was my 34th.
It came at the end of my first year as a teacher. That first year was hard. Really hard. The first week was terrible, absolutely if-things-don’t-improve-I-need-to-find-a-new-job-fast terrible. The first day . . . I don’t even want to talk about the first day.
The only good thing that happened that first week was that one of my co-workers, Tim, invited me out for a drink with some co-workers after school on Friday. If I had turned him down, I might be in a different line of work right now. But I said yes, and I went, and I made friends. Friends made the job bearable.
The second week was marginally better than the first, and the third was just a little bit better than the second. Gradually I started to, ever so slowly, get some idea what I was doing. I made it through the first few months, and then the time from the end of November to Christmas break was just a blur, because Abby was born and I had to function on little or no sleep. I don’t know what I did in class that December, but apparently I made it through.
And finally May rolled around. The last day of school was also my birthday. My parents were in town, and they took me on a trip to the mall. I don’t remember the pretext. I do remember sitting in the food court, saying we should go home, and them stalling for time.
Still, I did not really suspect that Alice was preparing a surprise party. Alice is terrible at surprises. It’s one of her virtues; she is an open and honest person, and not given to deception. It had never occurred to me that she might be planning something behind my back.
But she did. When I got home from the mall, my house was full of people. My friends from the Church of the Redeemer were there, and so were my friends from work. Alice had invited them, and they had made plans to come, without anyone letting anything slip. It was remarkable.
It was a celebration, not just of my birthday, but of my surviving my first year as a public school teacher. The surprise only made it better. I’m grateful to everyone who came, and I will always be extremely grateful to Tim, Jay, Jenny, and the other teachers who helped me stay sane.