I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
Most of what I learned from children’s books is stored in the deep dark recesses of my mind. Revisiting what was read to me as a little kid is kind of like trying to retrace an acid trip: Oh yeah, I vaguely remember experiencing that. I don’t remember much about these books that my parents generously read to me over and over and over … except for one: the Berenstain Bears book Too Much Birthday.
The 1978 book follows Sister Bear as she prepares for her sixth birthday party. Naturally, she gets way too excited, writes an excessive guest list, arranges too many games, and overindulges on cake. By the time the party’s in full swing, she totally flips out and starts inexplicably sobbing. She’s having too much birthday.
Personally, as a 24-year-old woman, I don’t care much about my birthday. But this experience of having “too much birthday” certainly carries into my life. This happened most recently in Miami last December. I’m an arts journalist by trade, and I was there to report on Art Basel, which is kind of like our Super Bowl. After it was all over, I attended a cocktail party on South Beach. I stood there exhausted for about an hour, still weirdly wired from the mad dash of the fair, swishing a drink around in my hand half-heartedly and checking the time for my flight.
And then, the sun began to set. There I was, standing in a flowing silky dress on the beach, free mojito in hand, when I realized that wow, the week is over. I can finally just enjoy being here. I took my shoes off, felt my feet in the sand, and let my shoulders finally relax. Just when they did, a flock of birds flew in front of the swirling tie-dyed sky, and I felt a hand on my back.
It was my friend from all the way back in New York. I had no clue she’d be here. I was so relieved to see her, everything around me was so beautiful, I finally recognized how lucky I was to be exactly where I stood and all of the sudden it felt … like too much birthday.
“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you’re here! Hold on one sec, I gotta pee.”
I did not have to pee. I had to go stare blankly in the mirror until I could pull myself together. The serotonin was rushing to all the right places, yet somehow simultaneously lighting up all of my body’s cortisol levels. Too much positive was somehow creating a negative, and my reflection all the sudden had a kind of feral edge to it. That right there was way too much birthday.
This isn’t an emotion that’s often spoken about, so into my adult life, I still describe the feeling as having “too much birthday.” It’s the sensation of feeling so much joy at once that you almost feel lonely, or like you can’t really enjoy the happiness surrounding you. It’s the reason why I’ve irish goodbye-d parties right at their peak, and why playing with a new puppy for too long can somehow make me agitated. I can’t very well say, “I’m sorry guys, I need to step out for a second, I’m just having a little too much birthday right now.” But if only I could!
There’s probably some long, whimsical Nordic or German word for this feeling, but over here in America, I have Stan and Jan Berenstain to give me my emotional vocabulary. Our depressed society is under the impression that we can never get enough serotonin, but what do we do in those rare moments when we get too much? The inside sleeve of the book warns, “At the first big party, we sometimes forget that the birthday bear may end up upset.”
I’m not totally sure why I don’t hear more about this feeling, but I could perhaps trace it to our society’s desire to come across as too cool for school, or above admitting that they’re actually enjoying themselves. Allow me to give voice to the voiceless though: I am exactly cool enough for school, and frankly, I’m having so much fun chatting with everyone at this dinner party that I must leave before I begin frothing at the mouth.
The only other piece of media I’ve seen that accurately describes the sensation is that monologue from American Beauty about the plastic bag. “Sometimes there’s so much … beauty in the world,” Wes Bentley’s creepy character Ricky Fitts mumbles. “I feel like I can’t take it. My heart is just going to give in.”
If I were Thora Birch in that scene, I would have taken his hand in mine and felt his pain deep down in my soul. “Yes, Ricky,” I’d confess, “Sometimes I also have too much birthday.”