the other side of birthdays

I’ve spent quite a bit of time this evening thinking about how much pressure I feel as a mom to make my kids’ birthdays exceptionally special. Dave and I are pretty low key about holidays. We try to limit the presents, the consumerism, and the attitudes centered on “stuff” and instead attempt to teach our kids about celebrating the person or the reason for the holiday. This weekend we had a small party for Nathaniel in which three of his friends and his brothers ate pizza, went swimming, and played on the playground at the Rec. There was not a theme, no organized games, no grand fanfare. Oh, and I made gift bags for our guests. Which ended up ensuing in tears by jealous brothers. Fabulous. Very low key (except for the tears).
We’ve done the other kind of party with the theme and the games and the whole class of 25 kids invited. But, we’re kind of over it.
So, why did I wake up this morning thinking of ways to please my sweet SEVEN YEAR OLD boy? Certainly because I love him, but there’s something else. It’s the expectation of a birthday that puts the pressure on me as a Mama.
I remember, vividly, the tears I cried myself on many a birthday. It had nothing to do with my mother (although I probably thought it did at the time). It had to do with the expectation of a perfect day. Everyone sings to you. You get presents and cake and icecream. You’re the center of attention (very important to people like me and also my middle child).
We tried to celebrate Nata’s birthday on Saturday because we knew that Mondays aren’t super easy. We all go to school. We rush home to eat lunch around 1. I have a staff meeting at 3 at my school. Sam has TaeKwonDo at 4 at Nata’s school. Nata has art at 4:30 at a third location. I come home; Sam gets dropped off at home; Someone hopefully remembers to go get Nata. We shove down dinner, study spelling words, and it’s bed time.
Add to that a perfectly frosted cake which the birthday boy has diagramed in great detail, lasagna made from scratch, presents to be wrapped and unwrapped. Oh, and also last night and today we have had a turkey problem (long story) and had to kill 6 turkeys. So we roasted 3 turkeys and froze 3 turkeys today. Oh and my car died today (and was also repaired). Dave shopped for presents and lasagna stuff AND picked up Caleb’s new passport up from the Embassy. AND we had to call the plumber to fix the kitchen sink.
On the way to pick the boys up from school at noon today I was trying to think of ways to make this day special for my boy. I want him to know I love him. I love him so much. I some how squeaked 8 extra minutes out in which I made a mad dash into the supermarket to buy CHICKEN NUGGETS (the first I’ve EVER purchased in Niger), Pringles, Fanta, and Coke. Because this mama shows her love with sugar and fake chicken byproduct. And whatever is in Pringles.
But I can’t quite explain to you the feeling of gratification when I set the table for lunch and called the boys and my Nata IMMEDIATELY honed in on the special treats, “Oh thank you so much for making this SO SPECIAL!!” he squealed enthusiastically. It didn’t matter that there were 6 dead turkeys, a plumber, and sink full of dirty dishes going on in the next room. My boy felt the love.
And that’s really the point.
Some times (many times) my day gets to be so full of all the stuff and the coming and going that I don’t even have time to see what really matters. Today, somehow, through the craziness we sat down in front of birthday cake and lasagna and special presents sent by each one of his grandparents and we talked about why we love our Nata. And I got to think about what it is about this boy that makes him so special.
Yesterday Nathaniel said that the two great gifts God has given him are, “art and viciousness!” This pretty much sums up my boy’s personality. He is intensely creative and yet somehow all tough boy. He loves to dance and sing and draw and paint. He’s emotional and sensitive. He’s also courageous, fearless, and determined. He swims so well that his friends think he should have to play pool games with a handy cap. And if any one ever explains to him about Parkour we are in trouble. Most importantly, he really loves Jesus and wants to be like Him. He comes home from school with proud stories of how, “I did not repay evil with evil, Mom. And that kid was really mean.” He’s growing into a boy that cares about doing what is right and defending those in need. He has a heart full of compassion, full of adventure, sensitive yet fearless. He listened intently as his daddy prayed a prayer of blessing over him tonight. He hung on every word spoken by his father to the Father because he believes that those things are so important. I can’t wait to see what this kid has in store!
Our day was full of all the things that make us a family. Including spelling words coupled with hot tears dripping down Sam’s face as he quietly confessed that his heart was full of jealousy. “I miss my birthday,” he mumbled. Because sometimes it’s not easy to watch your little brother be so special. And we loved him, and we hugged him, and we encouraged him to go to his brother and apologize. And we talked about our hearts. And Mama whispered that she used to feel jealous of her sister too. What an honor to sit with him as he recognizes something so raw and so real. How profound that he was able to voice that to us instead of just having an attitude.
As I sit here tonight and reflect on my day. As I sigh about the struggles and wonder how many other Mamas feel this way about birthdays, it hits me that this is a good parallel to life. It’s busy and crazy and all kinds of things go wrong, but it’s beautiful and joyful and FULL; there’s so much good to be found in the growing and learning. As we struggle to survive, trying to thrive, it’s the things we can learn and the things we see when we step back that make all that running around worth it.
These boys (including Dave) are such amazing people. I am so honored to know them the way that only I do. Any day that I don’t stop and think about that is a little bit wasted.
That’s why I love the joy and the tears that come with birthdays.

One thought on “the other side of birthdays

  1. I love you so much, Hopie! I feel the same way about my girls. It’s an honor to know you and the woman you’ve become. As well as, of course, all four of those wonderful boys (I’ll include Dave too in that category!) xoxo Mom

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