The night of her fifth birthday, my daughter and I were snuggled under the covers. I asked her what her favorite part of her day was. She thought for a moment and said, “When I held the globe and walked around the candle.” I was surprised. I thought for sure she would say seeing the “big kid bike” with training wheels and helmet at the front door that morning- something she had been wishing for for weeks, having completely mastered her tricycle. My next guess would have been having friends come over for her dinner party and opening up all the wonderful presents they brought in addition to those that came by mail. No, it was the walk.
She was referring to what we did after we cleared the dinner dishes, an activity from Tim Seldin’s book How to raise an amazing child the Montessori way. I put a candle in the middle of the table. “This is the sun,” I said. Then I handed my daughter an inflatable globe. “This is the Earth. Each time the Earth goes around the sun is one year. Today, Ruby turns five. How many times do you get to go around the sun?” “Five times,” she replied, excited to start walking. We set a start marker. I pulled out my laptop with a slideshow I had put together. I showed photos beginning with my pregnancy and her birth. For each year, I picked out about five photos that sum up that year of her life (a really difficult task since there was a lot to choose from). Ruby walked around the table slowly, keeping her head on the slideshow she is seeing for the first time. When she finished walking, she let her brother blow out the sun and we brought in her birthday cake.
I wondered why this made such an impression on her. Maybe because birthdays really are wonderful opportunities to carry out what Dr. John Gottman calls “rituals of connection” — moments to really focus attention on each other and connect with each other in a meaningful way. Maybe when my daughter walked the circle, surrounded by her family and friends and seeing the slideshow of her incredible growth, she felt most loved and cherished.
That same day, I received this letter from my husband.
How time flies. It was just five years ago you spent those 3 weeks days in labor. My God. We thought that baby would never come out! But then she made her appearance and my God… It was a pork chop that became a Boodle that will always be our Ruby.
It’s her birthday, but your day too. Without you there would be no Boo. And she is soooo lucky to have you for a mom. From full-on breastfeeding to whipping delights in the kitchen, that girl will never know how lucky she has it. And she shouldn’t know. To live in a home of love, laughter and wild emotions should be the right of any child. That she feels safe and secure with you is a testament to you and who you have become as a mother.
It is her day. But I never forget you on this day. You are great. You do well. She is lucky to have you. You will always be the greatest gift in her life.
My daughter’s birthday became a moment of connection between the two of us.
I thought about birthdays past and what is it that I wanted the most. I remember spending birthdays after having broken up with boyfriends eating all my favorite foods in single day. Not as fun as I thought it would be. Quoting Leslie Patricelli, author of the children’s book Yummy Yucky “Ice cream is yummy. Too much ice cream is yucky.” I have spent birthdays reveling in the all too brief attention of Facebook friends and birthdays in which I disappeared altogether from the register. I have spent birthdays crying when strangers sang happy birthday for me because my mom refused to break her silent treatment on my day.
The best birthday I have ever celebrated was not my own. It was my husband’s birthday this year. I wanted to bake him an angel food cake, something I have never attempted before and knew it would take a while for me to figure out how, but I knew this is one of his favorite cakes especially if accompanied by a chocolate fudge sauce. I asked him what he wanted to do on his birthday. He said, scrap the cake – it would mean my spending time in the kitchen. He wanted to climb the mountain and have a picnic at the top with me. I abandoned the cake plan and packed a picnic lunch of his favorite southern fried chicken instead. We talked about a lot of things but also about birthdays and what we wanted. My husband said that my wanting to bake him a cake was nice but it reminded him of his mom busy doing things for him or buying him things when all he really wanted was for them to spend time together.
When we got to the picnic spot at the top with a breathtaking view of the mountain ridges meeting clouds, he pulled out a card for me that began,
“Dear Sherilyn, What a gift you are in my life. I like how our life together continues to unfold one step at a time. I rest in the comfort of you in my life.”
He printed out two of his favorite essays from my blog and we took turns reading aloud, laughing and crying as we remembered our journey.
We don’t always get birthdays right but by being more intentional about these celebrations we are learning to create shared meaning and connect deeply with each other.