Monday, August 20, 2012

On birthdays

Birthdays are strange creatures.

For many years I was perpetually disappointed by my birthday.  There was so much hype about the day, likely created in my own mind, that it could never live up to my expectations.  The presents were never quite right.  The person I wanted to call didn't.  The day got swept away by some other more pressing need.  I understood my birthday to be the one day when it was okay to embrace the conceit of wanting others to celebrate me.  Pre-social media, it was more difficult to navigate that celebration.  Walk around announcing the day?  Hope others would somehow just know?

I've had a very contemplative last month, touched off by the 5 year anniversary of the murder of my colleague's family.  I had stashed that grief away in self preservation, stuffing the suitcase full and taking off at a moment's notice.  This summer, it decided to unpack itself and land on me like a tidal wave.  It was a long time coming, but it felt like I'd been sucker punched.  There are some things in life that are beyond explanation, that challenge my scientific-leaning understanding of the world.  Trying to make sense of it is about as fruitful as a dog chasing its tail.  Normally organized into predictable and controlled parcels, I was suddenly scattered.  It was as if someone grasped the string at the end of a knot I thought was impenetrable, and suddenly there were marbles all over the floor.  It was dizzying.  Tucked in that insistent wall of tears, though, was an opportunity to gather my wits and dig back in to life.

I spent the first several hours of this birthday holding a screaming child as he seemed to have night terrors (but what turned out to be a full bladder).  It made me laugh, because somewhere in those hours 35 years ago I was causing a similar ruckus.  It seemed to solidify for me that parenthood is at least one part payback.  Tracy and I spent almost an hour on iChat last night with some of our closest friends, Kate and Adam, who are exactly 2 years behind us in the parenthood game.  Between us we have a 5 year old, two 3 year olds, and a newborn.  We spent a good deal of time acknowledging the strangeness of feeling overwhelming love and crushing frustration all in the same moment, over and over and over.  Before we had Jake, people used to try and explain to us things about parenthood: how tired we'd be, how happy he'd make us, how much we'd worry, how much small children vomit, how hard it would be once he was mobile.  You can't warn would-be parents.  There are chemicals that prevent people attempting pregnancy or who are pregnant from hearing any of it.  It doesn't register.  It blows past them like a wisp of hot air barely noticed.  It's a good thing, too, because no one would choose this kind of insanity without those blinders.  I left the conversation overwhelmingly thankful for our friends.  There is a comfort in knowing you're not the only one who can't stand their own kid some of the time.  There is also a simple elegance in being able to share in that sweet love for the heart that walks around outside of your body.  This morning, the aforementioned screaming child came down the stairs, stood on his tippy toes, gave me a two-handed kiss, and said "Happy Birthday to you, Mama".  Turns out parenthood is also at least one part sweetness.

Despite my determined efforts, there are things I cannot control or change.  Timing that cannot be reset to fit my own version of daylight savings.  Events that cannot be prevented, and a similar number that cannot be forced into existence.  I feel a physical discomfort in the severity of that understanding.  I get it, but I don't like it.  And sitting with those two realities is a constant battle.  I continue on the learning curve roller coaster, though, sometimes eyes open, sometimes hands up.

In recent years I have had a much more Zen approach to my birthday.  Turns out, when you stop plotting out every minute, every minute starts feeling like a gift rather than a disappointment.  Say what you will about Facebook, but the near constant stream of "Happy Birthday!"s feels like points of light carrying me through the day.  Messages flow in from people who I may never see in person again, and from friends who will sing to me later today, and from people I only know because I kicked their ass in Fantasy Football, and people who know me as Katy, KT, or (smile) Tierney.  At worst, someone steals my identity.  At best, on my worst day I'll be able to see that light shining a path in front of me.

Birthdays are, indeed, beautifully strange creatures.

Poem list:
cruel, cruel summer (D.A. Powell)
Difference (Mark Doty)
Sublunary (AE Stallings)

Exile Vilify (The National)
All This and Heaven Too (Florence and the Machine)
To Just Grow Away (The Tallest Man On Earth)
Lorraine (Lori McKenna)
Helplessness Blues (Fleet Foxes)
Sticks and Stones (The Wheels)
Kiss It Away (Kris Delmhorst)
Gentle Hands (Thieving Irons)


Tracy said...

My eyes are broken!!!
(Tear-streaked face.)
How I love you!
For your depth and honesty,
heart and soul.

How lucky I am to walk right beside you in this life...

I'm proud of the crack in your armor that you've noticed and nurtured this last few weeks.

I'm sorry for your discomfort, but I'm impressed by your process...

You should post on this blog more-
I think you're a much better writter than that other mommy!

Happy Birthday, Sweet Boo!

June said...

you're the sweetest grown up little girl I know. I love how you always find your way back to innocent (informed innocent?) wonder about the world. love you lots and happy happy birthday. your momma.

Adam Hirsch said...

What a gift it was to talk so long and so well with you last night, and then to hear such an artful reflection today. Happy Birthday, you marvelous thing!

Anonymous said...

I agree with your wife. Post more! But, make sure Tracy posts in between. I need the laughter to interrupt all these hallmark tears.

Happy birthday my friend. J