I don't remember exactly what happened, but one of my elementary school birthday parties started with me crying in a cowgirl costume. There are pictures, because my parents were sadistic like that. We were in the backyard with the neighbours and I was off to one side in the grass, pouting under a jauntily-askew cowgirl hat, arms crossed over a brown, velvety, vaguely country western vest.
Being born on Halloween was (as demonstrated in Exhibit A) a mixed bag for me growing up. I just couldn't quite figure out how to do it. My parents threw me a party, invited all the neighbours and my friends, and set out chili and lasagna and birthday cake before herding us out the door to trick-or-treat — all birthday-slash-Halloween things you were supposed to do. And sure, I ran into the classic holiday birthday problem of feeling like it wasn't really my special day; it's hard to force kids to watch you blow out candles when they're up to their foreheads in candy. But it kind of went both ways. Either people weren't paying enough attention to me, or they were paying way too much.
See, I felt like I had to have the absolute time of my life. Take all the joy every kid is supposed to feel on their birthday, but multiply it by six. I had to have the most fun possible on my birthday, even more fun than any of my friends had on theirs. It was my duty. The way I saw it, Halloween was supposed to be peak childhood joy: you literally stay out late dressed in ridiculous clothes, soliciting free candy. That was what I was competing with. I was trying to somehow be happier than the pinnacle of happiness.
By the same logic, I also needed to be the best at Halloween. I needed to be the Halloween Queen. My costume had to be the cutest, most creative, and most recognisable, and let me tell you, it never was. In second grade, all I could muster up last-minute was this sheer black cloak thing, which I threw over a witch's hat and a white T-shirt with a jack-o-lantern on it. I'm still haunted by a picture from the school Halloween party featuring me in my half-assed witch look, gawky and ginger-haired with a braces-filled smile, next to my tiny and adorable friend dressed immaculately as the Statue of Liberty.
When I began ageing out of trick-or-treating, the stress really began. With the old neighbourhood kids party off the table, I actually did not know what to do on my birthday night. I wasn't the type to party (as a guest or host); just eating dinner with my parents felt unspeakably lame; inviting my friends over effectively sucked the potential out of their Halloween nights.
If you're thinking, "wow, this girl has no chill," or "just relax and do whatever you want," you're totally right; I had no chill whatsoever, and I definitely should've just focussed on what made me happy. Instead, I felt like I had something to prove, like I had to be seen having the best f*cking Halloween ever, so that everyone would know that I was . . . what? Cool? Special? It would take several socially-stressful more years before I realised that what people thought of me had actually nothing to do with either of those things, on my birthday or on any other day.
College helped me shake off the idea of FOMO in general because there was frankly too much going on to be worried about doing everything, and too many other people around to stress about being seen to be having the best time. And on Halloween, it suddenly dawned on me that it wasn't my "responsibility" to throw a party. There was plenty going on as it was and the school was so big that hardly anyone even knew it was my birthday, so who was going to judge me based on what I did or didn't do that night?
And really, looking back, my best birthdays don't much resemble what you might think. The closest I got to a big Halloween bash was the year my boyfriend flew back early from a job interview to throw a surprise party in my dorm kitchen with my closest friends, all of whom dressed up as Kim Possible characters with me. (For the past few years, I've solved my annual costume crisis by dressing up as different red-headed TV or movie characters. It's always a hit and I don't have to worry about wigs.) Before that, in my senior year of high school, my three best friends came over with presents and a homemade cake, which we ate while watching the least-scary parts of The Exorcist.
Then there's my 21st. Had I been at school, or in the U.S. at all, it probably would've been wild, but I'd spent that Fall studying abroad in Florence, Italy, where Halloween is very much not a big deal. Recognising this, most of my friends left for the weekend to party in Barcelona. I stayed in Italy, celebrating with one friend at a hole-in-the-wall wine bar down the street from my homestay and watching the few groups of costumed kids walk by in their artful skeleton face paint. I went to bed early, got up at 7 a.m. the next morning, and went for my favourite run, which involved a painfully steep hill but paid off with a breathtaking view of the city.
What I've learned is that your birthday is a day to prioritise, as much as possible, what you want. It actually doesn't matter how other people think you should celebrate or what you might feel pressured to do. Take it from me: as a kid and a teenager, no ghosts or monsters were scarier than the feeling that I was doing my Halloween birthday "wrong." A few short years later, I spent arguably the biggest, most party-hard birthday of them all at a deserted bar and happily going to bed before 11 p.m. while my friends partied in Spain. Avoiding FOMO is about finding what makes you happy, on your birthday or any other day of the year, because once you've discovered that, you realise there's really nothing to miss out on at all.