A friend told me he wished he was born in December, like me.
I asked him why.
He said it would be nice to be a year younger than his peers.
I found that statement to be amusing, and yet partly true. As a December baby (and nearing the end of December at that), I’ve always been seen as the younger one, no matter what. As long as I can remember, I would always win the “who’s the youngest” game among my peers. Only another friend of mine, born on the 30th of December, would occasionally beat me to the game when she was around. While my friends were already getting their driving licenses, I had to wait a little longer before it was my turn.
And because my birthday was always during the school holidays, I never got to celebrate my birthday in a classroom like my other friends and be in the centre of attention for a day (I think this holds true for many December babies). Yet, I’ve never felt left out. Because on that particular day, it has always been a double celebration year after year – my birthday and the Chinese Winter Solstice coincide on the same day. I used to think that everyone eats glutinous rice balls on their birthday!
Which is why, birthdays, to me, has always been about coming home. It’s the time of the year when I let go of everything, pack my bags and head to the place where my loved ones reside. The day is always filled with a little bit of catch-ups on the side with some reflections of the year that is coming to an end.
Malcolm Gladwell mentioned in his book Outliers that most parents whose kids are born towards the year-end tend to hold back their children from enrolling in kindergarten until they are really at the cut-off age. He went on to explain that children born in the beginning of the year tend to hold a long-term advantage over year-end babies like me as they would have had almost a year more for physical and mental development.
My parents were aware of that truth even if Mr. Gladwell had not mentioned it. Although they did not hold me back from enrolling into kindergarten and school, I could tell that they were always a little more cautious about me being a year behind my peers. My older brother, in fact, was born even later in the month of December. So the moment we were brought into this world, we were sometimes unknowingly given the “it’s okay if you can’t catch up” free pass when we were kids. And when we surpass expectations, they seem to be even bigger achievements. I remember being confused about my age a lot, and I would ask mom why I started Standard One in primary school at five years old when my peers were six.
The difference is hardly felt as I got older. Just like how a child prodigy becomes less extraordinary when he gets older and his peers have caught up to him, leaving him to be just like everyone else. In fact, because of my old soul – most of my closest friends are often older than me.
However, I think being a year-end baby has built a lot of grit and resilience in me. I’m not trying to toot my own horn, but being someone who has always been younger, having to wait for certain things, and sometimes have to work doubly hard to catch up – the road to success is sometimes a little longer. There are no shortcuts – whatever I have and where I am today is a lot of hardwork (okay, a lot of play, too), patience and support from my family. And I know that I still have a long way to go to get to where I want to be.
I like to think that year-end babies have an advantage over others – and that is the ability to sit back and watch the world go by once in awhile. Because since we were kids we tend to be impatient to catch up with the rest of the world. And soon we learn that whatever our peers did, we would eventually go about it as well. And how sometimes being first is not necessarily the best. Everything was just a matter of time. We learn to trust the nature of how things work – and some of us just trust God.
Having said all that, who we are does not entirely depend on when we were born. Our genes, our environment and upbringing, and the choices we make all contribute to the person that we become. I don’t think all December babies would agree to what I’ve just shared, and I also know some who are born early of the year may share some of the sentiments with me.
Does it matter? No, not really. What matters is our ability to differentiate nature and nurture. Some of us may be born left-handed, some of us may be born black, and heck, some of us may even be born gay (though some might disagree with me on this one). But at the end of the day, it is the choices we make and the roads we choose to take that determines our role in this society.
And regardless of whether you’re born early or late – to your loved ones, the timing of your existence has never been more perfect.