Monday, November 28, 2011

Just stop!

Celebrating my youngest brothers' first birthday
I'm going to stake out an unpopular position here, but things have gotten out of hand and it's time for someone to take a stand. 

Today at work, I was called to a meeting in the conference room, and as I sat there, my colleagues came in bearing a giant cake topped with swirls of whipped cream, singing "Happy Birthday" to me.

Please just make it stop! I beg you!

In my office, birthdays are important. We post a monthly birthday list on the bulletin board. We surreptitiously circulate birthday cards for signatures - discretely hidden inside manila folders labeled "Confidential" - as if we didn't all recognize the folder when it goes around. People get together and whisper conspiratorially about who will get the cake and what kind of cake it will be. A collection is taken up.

And then, inevitably, the birthday person is called to an "important meeting" in the conference room, and - SURPRISE!

Honestly, I appreciate the thought. Really. It's just that I can't keep eating huge slabs of buttercream-iced cakes or giant triangles of meringue topped pie two or three times a month in the middle of the workday.

The week before Thanksgiving, four Marie Callendar pies - apple, chocolate, banana cream and cherry -  were brought in to celebrate the boss's birthday. I was hoping it was a co-celebration, for both of us, since our birthdays are only a few days apart. But no, today it was a lemon-raspberry cheesecake, just for me.

In recent years, the retirement of two long-time employees, and the inter-departmental transfer of another employee gave me hope that our long-established birthday custom would soon become obsolete. New hires wouldn't have the same expectations as the old guard. 

Yes, we managed to squelch the gift-giving - this had become a pointed display of co-worker popularity. We halted the escalation in party decor - paper printed tablecloths and matching plastic flatware and even fold-out tissuepaper tablescapes. The theatrically elaborate surprise ruses were no longer so complex. But the first birthday after the retirees were gone, the whispers began "What kind of dessert does X like?" 

So we are still bringing custom-iced, boxed sugary buttercream treats to work, and stuffing ourselves with fats and sugars.

Hello, people! I don't want chocolate buttercream at 2:00 in the afternoon when I really would rather be finishing up that email I'm writing to Risk Management about a client's insurance certificate - and doesn't that tell you how serious I am about this? I don't like Carrow's apple pies, with crust that tastes like cardboard and filling that comes from a can. Half of us are on a diet, anyway!

Frankly, it feels crappy to lie and say how pleased I am. It feels crappy to say, "only a sliver for me" - meaning I don't want any. It feels even more crappy to eat more than I want, just to make you feel I'm grateful. It feels crappy to feign enthusiasm about taking home a box of supermarket cake to "share with my family" and then throw it in the trash. 

I don't want a birthday cake at work! And I think there are other people who feel the same. 

But maybe I'm being churlish here. What's your take? What do you do at work to celebrate co-workers' birthdays? How do other people feel about it? Any suggestions how to change it?


Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

Ha! This post made me think of so many things. First, there was a Seinfeld episode about this exact topic (later in the series). Too funny. We don't do schoolwide birthday celebrations at our school, but my team does. For a few years, we'd all contribute $5 for a gift card for the birthday girl/boy and then pass around a card to sign. That was until we realized that the gift card is basically all the money we put in, given right back to us. Then a few bdays in a row, we just passed the same gift card around because someone forgot to pick it up, etc. So now we just go out to dinner for the bday person and call it a day. I think it's nice to say "happy bday" and even a card is sweet, but to do full on bday "meetings" several times a month, that would get a little annoying. :) Especially for those who do not wish to celebrate our bdays any more.
Happy Bday btw!

Anonymous said...

I have to say, first of all, that I love that picture of your little brothers' birthday! Too cute.

If half the office is already on diets, maybe that is the best way to approach it? Especially this time of year! Maybe make it a New Year's Resolution?
I don't really have answers. My birthday is at a time when it is easily forgotten, and my "office" is my home. I was just contemplating yesterday that if I don't say anything, will anyone remember? It happened once -- the forgetting. My husband felt awful and begged me to never let it happen again.

JCK said...

OH, sigh... I have no suggestions, but do wish you luck with waving the white flag.

At my children's school they don't allow sweet, sugary treats for birthdays. So, each child receives a "birthday shower" on their birthday. The child gets to sit in the front of the room and his/her classmates get to with them Happy Birthday or say something nice about them. It's lovely, but perhaps too lofty an ideal for adults in an office. ;)

Happy Birthday!

Gary's third pottery blog said...

Well, I am very picky, and risk offending people, because unless I made it or somebody who knows my preferences or allergies, I won't eat it, and that is just how it is. I was hearing on the radio that people are on average 20 pounds heavier than they were in 1990. That is a lot of cake....
In other news, happy birthday :)

Deborah said...

Oh geez I hate the work birthday thing too! I worked at a place years ago that did a full-on cubicle decorating routine for birthdays, such nonsense. Lately I've taken to telling people that I prefer not to celebrate my birthday. Most people seem to think it's because I'm getting older and I don't bother to correct them. Whatever it takes to make it stop.

Oh, and whenever we're at a restaurant where someone has been pegged and has to wear a sombrero while the wait-staff sing feliz cumpleanos, I've told my husband: "Don't ever do that to me."

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I was hearing on the radio that people are on average 20 pounds heavier than they were in 1990.

Me, too, damnit!

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

P.S. The birthday photo is adorable!

Janet said...

My company decided to do monthly birthday celebrations...put the name of each person who was born that month on the cake and have a little break in the day. However, even that has kind of fallen by the wayside because it seemed to be my responsibility and when I was out sick for quite a few months, no one else did it. And that's fine with me!

smalltownme said...

It may be hard to change the whole company culture but a person is free to opt out of celebrating.

Anonymous said...

One year, i was forgotten in the work birthday cycle. My birthday is right before Thanksgiving so I figured that was why. However, it did tick me off that not even my assistant remembered to say Happy Birthday. That being said, I was glad when the office went to a monthly celebration on the first Wednesday of the month. No card, no decorations, just a list of names and a carry in lunch if you wanted to participate. Some months it was only cake, some months it was a full blown lunch.
We made the change at the beginning of the new year and it worked out fine.
Happy Birthday!

Ellen Bloom said...

I take the day before, my actual b-day and the day after off from work! Sometimes I even take off the whole week! Out of sight, out of mind. I've asked my boss to please forget about the whole thing. A card is sufficient. We've been co-existing this way for over 7 years now!

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I'm not too big on the office birthday party thing. In December, though, I'd always bring a box or two of clementines into the office. Inexpensive, guilt-free, delicious.

Sheila said...

At Weight Watchers they tell you not to let anyone sabotage your program by offering you food; just say "No, thank you." And mean it. The end.

Jen on the Edge said...

I like the monthly celebration idea, with a shared treat. That's not a perfect solution, but it's a step in the right direction.

When I worked in an office environment, I would take a small piece of cake, have one polite bite, then throw the rest away.

Anonymous said...

We do it backwards. The birthday person brings food for everyone (about 100 people). The most common birthday treat is bagels and cream cheese. Some people get more elaborate and bring lox, tomatoes, onions, etc. Some people bring coffee cake. Some people make cookies. Some people bring fresh veggies and dip. Some people don't participate. Nobody keeps score. The food is laid out in the birthday person's office, or the nearest space that works, and an email goes out to the building. People go and help themselves when and if they feel like it. One day a year you can feed everybody, and the rest of the year everybody feeds you. I thought it was a bit odd at first - are these folks all hobbits, giving things away on their birthdays? - but it works out pretty well.

cactus petunia said...

First, here's wishing the rest of your birthday was happy !
Second, I totally agree about the sweets. How about a simple birthday card?