A few weeks ago I celebrated my birthday. Those of you who know me know I love my birthday. I am a firm believer in the importance of celebrating the miracle that is each year we are given. I once read a card that stated “Do not complain of growing old. Age is a gift denied to many.” For many people another year may seem that simple, it is “just” another year. For me, it is a time to reflect on both the challenges and lessons I have learned over the year.
On my birthday morning, Emma and I ate breakfast with party hats on. It was a nice morning together. I noted in my last post that I am trying to shift my mindset from what I want to instead what I have. I kept a list as I went through the day to help me be more aware of moments and things that I am thankful for. I resisted the urge to tell the story of each item. As my aunt recently reminded me, “that is for another poem.”
1. Mom and Dad’s long night 37 years ago listening to my heartbeat on the machines
2. Marco Polos from Emily at midnight
3. Sunshine through the bathroom skylight
4. Being needed
5. Breakfast party hats
6. Phone call from Court on his run in Helena
7. Sunshine and sunglasses on our drive to work
8. Emma spelling “S-U-N” and singing “Mr. Sun” on our drive
9. Childcare centers that care
10. Birthday calls and texts from friends and family
11. Auto generated birthday wishes: City Brew, Target, work, dentist
13. Building secretary
14. Hall monitor
15. Students who get it
16. Mom and Dad singing happy birthday as I drive home
17. Good thermometer and children’s Tylenol
18. Cozy blankets, a noise machine, and a baby monitor
20. A tech job I can do from home
21. Kitchen table with back-porch sunshine
23. Disco party ceiling courtesy of Emma’s sequined turtle
24. “You are My Sunshine”
25. Kids that get well
26. Husbands who come home
27. Sunshine through the kitchen skylight
28. Children’s Pedialyte, chicken noodle soup, sushi, and birthday tiramisu
29. Birthday cards from Em & Lee
30. Montana sunsets
31. My memory
34. Hot tub
35. Outdoor lights over the hot tub
Partway through my workday, the school secretary knocked on my classroom door to tell me “daycare called. Your kid is sick. You need to go, now. I will take your class.” She said it with care and compassion, but I am not sure if she knows my story, or how much her words sent me into an emotional tailspin. I was instantly returned to my memory of running out of the building to make it to Courtney and Josh across town at our pediatrician’s office.
Currently in education, we are recognizing the need to be trauma informed. So many of our students have emotional triggers that can transport them back to moments of crisis. I try to be aware of this as I am working with students. One of the most challenging aspects of it is as outsiders, we may never know what can trigger a traumatic memory. Unfortunately, I think often we forget staff members also have these triggers. We take for granted our age and our education for learning how to manage our responses. When she told me my kid was sick, my stomach dropped, my eyes welled and my first reaction was to bolt for the door. However, I was able to manage my reaction and instead return to my classroom, outline the rest of the class period for my students, leave a sub note for the remaining classes, and then run from the building (all in 10 minutes flat).
When I picked Emma up, she had a fever. I brought her home and spent the rest of the day honoring her sweet requests of “Momma, will you sit by me.” “Momma, will you read me a book.” “Momma, will you rub my back.” As I snuggled with her on the couch, I was worried about her health, but I was also thankful for the peace of knowing she would recover. I am still learning how to parent a healthy child. The balance of how not to overreact, but how to also take the time to react and cherish the moments we are given to hold our children.
My birthday didn’t play out exactly as I had planned – many days don’t. Overall, at the end of the day, it was a good day – as most days are. Thirty-six was good to me, and I am hopeful thirty-seven will be as well. Looking back on my list, even when there were dark moments, light found its way in through the cracks. Today, as I tried to find a photo to share in this post, I noticed in many of my favorite photos the sun is shinning. True, I am not as likely to take a photo on a dreary day, but there is something about the warmth of sunlight that can make even tough moments lighter.
Photos are what hold my memories steadfast. We are almost nine years from the day Josh was born. It was one of the most wonderful and most frightening days in my life. As I look through our photos, I am put back into each moment we captured. Emma looks at photos and knows Josh as “baby Josh.” He will remain in our memory as our handsome man. He will not age. His childhood innocence forever intact. Photos are what I can hold I hold onto when my heart is heavy.
In January, my cousin Carmen @carmski posted the following on her Instagram page. Her words are as real and honest as her hashtag #thisiswhatgrieflookslike
My cousin is strong for sharing her vulnerability and grief. She is beautifully courageous. I took her advice to capture a moment. A snapshot to be able to archive a day when in years, it will only be that – a glimpse. Each of the items on my birthday list tells a piece of my story even if I am the only one who knows the story. Each provides a snapshot into my life, my grief, and my search for balance.
Now, almost a month after my birthday, our schools and communities are shut down state-(and almost nation)-wide. People are sick. People are afraid. We are practicing social distancing as we hold onto moments of warmth and light. Yesterday, it was almost sixty degrees. I sat on the porch in a tank top, running pants, and my snow boots drafting this post. Today, it is a snowstorm. Tomorrow, the forecast calls for sunshine.
This week, amidst the storm of COVID-19, Emma turned three. She doesn’t know that three years ago we had not met. She doesn’t know I am home with her on her birthday because all the schools in the state are closed. One day I will share these darker snapshots with her, but for now, Emma knows simply that we love her and that birthdays are a big deal.
Here is to another year of weathering the storms and enjoying the moments of sunshine together.