(This post is underwritten by the American Cancer Society, official sponsor of birthdays.)
Emilia likes birthday parties. Actually, like is an understatement. Emilia loves birthday parties, with the fiery heat of a thousand wax birthday candles and a few hundred sparklers.
But here’s the thing about Emilia’s love of birthday parties: she’s not particularly fussy about whether those parties are in celebration of her birthday, or, in fact, whether they’re in celebration of any birthday at all. She’s really pretty emphatic that a ‘birthday’ – that is, a day marking someone’s birth – is by no means a necessary condition for a celebration involving cake and balloons and such. After all, if one limited such celebrations to birthdays, one would only have a handful of reasons to throw such a celebration in any given year. So why not declare every occasion a birthday-party-worthy occasion? Can you think of even one reason why you should not?
Emilia can’t, and so Emilia celebrates everything. And I’ve kind of taken that to heart. Because she’s right that we should be celebrating everything, and that when there isn’t anything obvious to celebrate, we should be looking for those things and declaring them celebration-worthy and then lighting candles and eating cake. So it is that we have thrown parties to celebrate potty-training accomplishments, dance recitals, haircuts, rainy days and Saturdays. We celebrate every visit to Grandma’s house with a cake and balloons. We do the same whenever Grandma visits our house. We do the same whenever pretty much anybody visits our house. Because, why not celebrate these things? Who knows how long we’ll have them to celebrate? We’ve faced too many losses; we’re facing too many losses. We lost my dad. My mom had a skin malignancy, and then an aneurysm, and then failed aneurysm surgery. My stepfather battled prostate cancer. Tanner fights his own fight. Every day could bring a loss, or bring us closer to a loss.
There’s a post at Babble this week by a mom who regrets having been too obsessed with photographing every moment of her family’s life. She forced herself to put the camera down, and, she says, is happier for it. “While I still desperately want my boys to be able to look through photo albums of their childhood and feel a deep sense of love and family,” she writes, “I also want them to remember that I ran into the cold Maine surf right beside them, that I danced the night away with them in my arms at their auntie’s wedding, and that I simply sat with them while they talked about cars and firemen and bugs. That I did not leave them to grab my camera — no matter how adorable they looked. Instead, I stayed and I listened.”
Which is lovely, really, and I get it, I do. There is a difference between living a moment and documenting a moment, between being in and aware of the lived experience of a moment and being an observer of that experience. Here’s the thing, though: each of those experiences is a discrete and unrepeatable experience. It happens once, and only once. Which is, perhaps, all the more reason to just live each experience as fully as possible. It’s also, however, an excellent reason to seize those experiences – some of them, anyway – and do whatever we can to hang on to them. Photographs are one way of doing that.
It’s Jasper birthday today. He’s three. Don’t tell him that, though.
Me, this morning: “Is it your birthday today, Jasper? Happy birthday!”
Jasper: “No, Mommy, not my birthday. YOUR birthday.” He’s close: my birthday is just a couple of days away. Still, you’d think that the child would be kinda pleased about having a birthday. Birthdays are awesome when you’re a kid. Less so once you’re a grown-up, but still.
Me: “No, baby. It’s YOUR birthday. You’re three! Happy birthday!”
Jasper: “NO, Mommy, I NOT. IS NOT MY BIRTHDAY.”
There’s nothing like being away from home and getting a text from your spouse that says call me as soon as you can.
It’s about Emilia, he says when I call.
What about Emilia? I don’t know what the right words are to express, here, how shrill my voice was. ‘Shrill’ works decently well, I suppose. My voice was shrill.
She came home from school with a note. It said that she hit Madeleine, and that L and C were involved, and…
At which point I tuned out, a little, because I needed to take a moment to exhale. Everything’s okay, nothing happened to her, everything’s okay, she just hit another child. And then I had to take another moment, because wait, what? My child hit another child.
Oh god, is she a bully?