I think it was a good sign that I didn't give my birthday much thought this year. Allyson was the one to ask what we would do to celebrate.
"We'll go out for a free birthday dinner," I said. Ethan's friend Donald had invited us to a training event at the new Chili's where he works. Not cooking sounded like a pretty good birthday plan to me, though I did feel a little blue about not having a birthday cake.
When I coaxed her out of sleep on Friday morning, Allyson's face lit up with a sleepy grin. "It's your birthday, Mommy!"
"Yes, I'd forgotten! Scoot over. I need a birthday snuggle before you get up."
"And then will you open your present?" she asked.
Bill had taken her shopping the night before, and 12 hours had never seemed so long to her. She'd chosen a big candle, blood orange scented. There was also a sculpture she'd made in art class--really beautiful.
What a glorious morning it was, after several days of unseasonably chilly temps. The gentle sun on my upturned face felt like a birthday kiss from my Father.
I met my dear friend Michelle for a brunch of pancakes and the crispiest hash browns ever--plus a whole lot of yacking while her sweet four-year-old, McKinley, waited patiently.
Despite the longish lunch break, I planned to knock off a bit early because I'd already worked more than a full week's hours trying to finish my current project before the deadline. (Missed it.) I had just a teeny bit more work to finish the course and get it out for review. I figured a long bike ride in the park would be just the way to celebrate both my birthday and finishing my project.
But that last bit was much harder than I'd expected, and there were phone meetings, and I didn't finish until 2:59, just in time to walk to school to pick up Allyson. Oh well. There was still the free dinner to look forward to.
As you may have guessed, that didn't pan out either. We weren't able to hook up with Donald to get our invitations. Boo. I had nothing planned for dinner and hadn't budgeted for dinner out. But it was my birthday, and I was determined not to cook.
By now it was 6:00, and our stomachs were rumbling. As I racked my brains for someplace both cheap and good, preferably with vegetarian options, Allyson played with the phone. Somehow she played the messages, including an automated reminder from our church about the Good Friday service that evening... with an egg hunt.
"Ooh! Can we go to church? Please?"
I hesitated, eyeing the clock. Service was starting in just under an hour. "I don't know, baby. We still have to get something to eat."
"Please, Mama? Don't we have some macaroni?"
I sighed. Kraft macaroni for my birthday dinner? Still, it warmed my heart to hear my daughter begging to go to church (egg hunt notwithstanding).
"I guess we can go," I said. "Want to invite Ellie?"
To my rather sheepish texted invitation, Ellie's mom replied, "Sure!"
Ethan started on the boxed macaroni while I drove to a nearby cupcake shop, my mouth watering for the inch-high swirls of frosting. Turns out, the cupcake shop was long gone. Darn it!
Just then, I saw a text from my new friend Nicole. "I'm making you a cake," she said. I told her we'd be by after church.
About halfway through the service, I decided this was way better than a free birthday dinner at Chili's--even if I did have to eat two-day old mahi mahi that I didn't like all that well on day one. (I couldn't bring myself to eat processed cheese, even on my birthday. Ethan and Allyson were happy to have bigger portions.)
I'd never taken communion on my birthday before, and that was a gift to be sure.
Around 8:45, we swung by Nicole's and picked up a beautiful layer cake, still warm and swathed in fudgy frosting. I cut out a large wedge for her family, gave her a quick hug, and loaded the girls back in the car.
A few minutes later I had a crazy idea. Why not invite all my neighborhood girlfriends to eat cake with us? At the next two stop lights, I sent out texts to four friends that basically said, "Wanna come eat cake?... In about 10 minutes?"
To my surprise, two of them said they'd be right over. Ellie's mom, Ana, came over with her son Conrad and a lovely bouquet of daisies. Kim brought her adorable three-year-old, Claire (already in her pajamas). And that's how I ended up laughing with new friends at 9:00 in my messy kitchen, in plain view of a sink overflowing with dishes dating back to breakfast.
|Sweet Claire, Age 3|
My eyes got misty while they sang happy birthday by candle light. It felt like a hug from God, who lovingly picked out this house and these neighbors just for us. How could I have guessed I'd have so many friends here in just seven months? This is nothing short of miraculous, considering that just a few years ago I felt nearly incapable of making friends.
Ana had to leave after a few minutes, but Kim stayed for a while longer.
For the second time in a day, I flapped my jaw with a girlfriend. Meanwhile, the three girls ran around cluttering my already cluttered house, shrieking with laughter. When Ellie's brother Carter came to collect her, I was shocked to discover it was 10:45! Kim and Claire departed then, after a round or two of hugs.
Then it was some quality family time washing dishes. Not only did Ethan help, but even his friend Christian lent a hand. Who would have guessed that that late-night chore would bring more peals of laughter?
After pulling open a utensil drawer, Ethan jumped back and cried, "There's a giant cockroach!"
[Can you believe I'm telling you this? If you can't, you haven't been reading this blog very long. I just can't resist a good story.]
"Ethan!" I groaned. Did he really have to announce it like that?
"I know, I saw it a minute ago," Christian said quietly. [So polite. I just love that kid.]
I leaned over for a look and jumped back myself. It wasn't a common house roach, but one of those horrible palmetto bugs--over an inch long! I've been seeing one about every month or so. I don't think they actually live here full time because they're so huge there's no way we wouldn't see them. But they do wander in from our wooded yard now and then, and it's always very traumatic.
"You guys need to take care of that for me," I said. "You're the men."
Now if Christian hadn't been here, Ethan would have long since fled the kitchen. As it was, he reluctantly agreed but said that Christian had to help.
I brought in the vacuum and attached the crevice tool to the hose.
"I think it's too big to fit in there," Ethan said.
"No, I think it'll fit," Christian said.
"Okay, just hurry before it runs away," I said, holding out the hose.
After a long pause, Ethan took it from me. "You lift up the spatula," he told Christian, "and I'll suck it up."
I hovered nearby, while Allyson watched from atop the kitchen island.
We all jumped and shrieked when the giant bug seemed to leap into mid-air as the suction caught it. Ka-klunk! [Even now, I shudder at the recollection.]
"You guys are officially my heroes!" I said. And everyone but Allyson--who may need therapy--laughed in amazement and relief.
"I'll call an exterminator," I promised.
The next part of my amazing birthday actually did go as planned. Allyson and I read our latest library book in my bed. She managed to keep her eyes open for just one chapter; by now it was near midnight. A quick kiss and a murmured prayer, and she was out. I wasn't far behind her.
But that wasn't the end!
After just a few minutes, I woke with a jerk. This happens to me most nights, and I've learned to relax and wait for sleep again. But on this night, I had chocolate-cake belly, and sleep just wouldn't come. As I lay there reveling in birthday memories (except for the roach part), I remembered what I'd meant to do: make a list of blessings from the past year of my life.
So I disentangled myself from Allyson's legs and crept to my closet, where I knelt in the darkness. I thanked God for every bit of my day, and for all of the new friends I've made in the past year, and for all the joys I wasn't expecting, and for the sadness that made the joy all the sweeter, and most of all for the spiritual growth that came through leaning close to Him through all of it. I thanked him for my crazy, unpredictable life and for how the best moments in life are the ones that happen when I've planned to be doing something else.
And then I dedicated my next year to God. I told him He could have all of my days, and He could lead me wherever He wanted me. I thanked him for the joys that will come, and the struggles, and the doors He will open as He reveals his purpose for my life.
"Thank you for waking me up to spend time with you," I whispered as I hauled myself up off my numb knees.
I crawled back into bed, my cheeks wet with happy tears. My sweet girl immediately snuggled into the crook of my knees. And though my belly was still heavy with cake, I drifted right off to sleep. It was the perfect end to an unpredictably delightful day.
P.S. I found one more belated birthday present this morning. I'm pretty sure when I went to bed last night, there was only a handful of roses. Look at them now!