I can’t remember what started the conversation, but a year or before my Mom died she asked me what one of my favorite memories was. I took her back to my college graduation in 2006, the night before the actual ceremony. My family had come to town (my twin sister, my Dad, both sets of Grandparents and my Aunt) and we had a dinner reservation at an Italian restaurant in Dupont Circle following a department celebration of some kind at the school. And the way I remember it every moment of that night was perfect. From waiting a bit too long for our table (which meant getting cocktails at the bar until it was ready) to joyfully sharing family sized dinner portions and bottles of wine. From the outside I don’t think anything looked all too special about that particular night, but it sure felt special at the time. Though during this particular conversation with my mom, and seeing her surprise when I shared that memory, I began to realize maybe it wasn’t all that special for anyone else. ‘Really?’ she asked. ‘Of all the things we’ve done over the years, that’s your favorite memory???’
After spending some time talking about it together, it became a bit more clear as to why this was the memory that most stood out. At 32 (the time of this conversation) that dinner was the last memory I had where I was being celebrated by my family. As a twin I’ve shared every birthday, and several other big life milestones, and this was the first (and last) time I can remember being celebrated solo by my family. And while everyone requires or appreciates different levels of validation, appreciation, and acknowledgement, I think we can all agree on the fact that it never feels BAD to have those you care about celebrate something you’ve done or accomplished. So let’s move forward under the assumption that celebration is generally a good thing we can all appreciate.
What We Celebrate
In the 15 years since that dinner at Buca di Beppo, the Smith family has come together to celebrate my twin sister at least five more times. In those 15 years we’ve celebrated with a bachelorette party, a wedding shower, a wedding, a baby shower… you get the idea. AND I LOVE THIS. I think these are all important life milestones, and deserve celebrations. But what’s interesting to note about these events is that they’re all moments in what we consider to be ‘the path’ for women. And boy do we know how to acknowledge and celebrate that path. We know what those parties will look like, and who’s supposed to throw them, and we have no trouble finding a card at Target to accompany the gift that’s been picked out from the registry.
And while I am not making an argument here that we should remove any of these celebrations (I’m all about celebrating MORE, not less) I do recognize a couple problems.
What happens when you don’t choose that path?
If we truly want to empower women (and all people, but let’s be honest women are most impacted by this) to pursue a life full of choice we have to change the ways in which we celebrate, so that they don’t feel subtly shamed into making the ‘right’ choices. Additionally, it’s not always about choice, and there are many who want these things and haven’t been able to make them happen for a variety of reasons. See the next problem…
Are the things we celebrate products of hard work, or just choice and a little bit of luck?
Graduations aside, the majority of things we know how to celebrate are not the result of sustained work, commitment and/or accomplishment. We often celebrate the START of something (like a marriage) rather than the work and dedication it takes to make it successful. Not to mention, while many of the things we celebrate are exciting (engagements, weddings, babies), they often involve a lot of luck. Which means if you’re not so lucky, the absence of celebrations make you feel like you’re doing something wrong. When in reality, it has absolutely nothing to do with you. If we’re able to diversify what we celebrate, and how we celebrate, women aren’t left feeling like they have to pursue these two things like they’re the only things that matter. Instead, they can pursue the things they DO have control over, and feel seen and rewarded for the result of work (not luck).
So what am I recommending?
That we celebrate MORE.
We need to add more milestones to the list of things we know to celebrate. You might need to make custom cards, but what about celebrating some of these things: Getting a promotion, Buying a house (cause especially these days, that process takes WORK), business anniversaries (cause starting a business is hard, and keeping a business alive is even harder),
That we get more comfortable suggesting a celebration (for ourselves!).
In my 20’s it seemed like it was totally okay to organize/plan your own birthday celebrations. ‘Hey guys! My birthday’s on Friday… let’s go out!!!!’ But when I hit my 30’s it started to feel like someone had to plan it for you. This is easier if you’re in a relationship (they typically get stuck with the job) but for those who are single it seemed they just ended up being celebrated less. So another possible solution is that we all get a bit better at helping our friends notice big things that would be fun to celebrate. It doesn’t have to mean suggesting a party for yourself (though you can, and should!), but perhaps just letting your friends know when something exciting has happened and suggesting dinner or drinks. I think one of the reasons we don’t celebrate other things more often, is that often our friends and family don’t know what’s happening and when. It’s normal and acceptable (and expected?) to post on social media when you get engaged, have a wedding, and are expecting, but not as much when you get promoted, pay off credit card debt, or meet your New Year’s goals. Let’s change that!
That we get more creative with HOW we celebrate.
Not every celebration has to be a party. Or involve a group at all. Some celebrations are likely best done one-on-one, or solo. But creating more traditions and celebrations around different milestones and accomplishments can help us learn how to celebrate more than just getting married and having kids. It leaves space for different paths besides just this one, and more opportunities to acknowledge and recognize the things our people are accomplishing as a result of hard work and commitment.
SO, here are some ideas I crowdsourced on things they wish were celebrated. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s certainly a place to start if you feel a bit lost on how to begin celebrating more often with the people you love. As you look at it, I challenge you to think of at least one person you know who is currently experiencing one of them and find a way to celebrate them. Could be a dinner out with friends, could be Friday night drinks, could be a bouquet of flowers delivered to their office, or could be a surprise party.
Owner, Storyteller, & Chief Dog Lover