Birthday Girl

At the store today, I asked the checkout clerk if they had any girl birthday balloons.

“I’m looking for one that is a non-princessy type,” I explained. After saying that, I spotted a balloon wedged in with a collection of Disney character balloons, a shiny blue number with flowers on it. The young man was kind enough to walk over and grab it for me.

When he came back, the balloon was actually another Disney character, a wee little fairy that was plenty cute, just not what I had in mind.

“Rats,” I said. “I think I’ll wait. Thanks for grabbing it for me though.”

“You don’t like this one,” he said.

“I just was hoping for something without cartoon characters on it,” I (sheepishly?) explained.

“Oh,” he said, a little confused. “She don’t like cartoons?”

I didn’t really want to launch into the whole “commercialism/I’m a snob” discussion, so I just told the guy that I tended toward the simpler options. Which is true.

When we walked over the the pharmacy a minute later to pick up Isa’s prescription (ear infection! so sad!), we found this shimmery little bauble that’s actually for a new baby but you know what? To us, she will always be Baby Girl. Perfect.

Hi There!

Learning to Honor

Our son Augie turned ten last week and as part of his birthday celebrations, we had a family breakfast featuring items from one of his favorite food group: donuts.

We had several non-birthday related activities that evening, so Paul and I opted to have that breakfast be our main (non-party) birthday observance. We put candles in a donut, sang happy birthday to the birthday boy and then took some time to tell Augie what we love about him.

This “birthday honoring” as we call it, is something I grew up doing. Each time we celebrated a birthday in our family, my mom and dad would have us take a few minutes to go around the table and share about the birthday boy or girl (or parent). In the earlier years, sharings would be brief and practical. “He’s nice,” was common, or “he’s good at kickball.”

As we got older the sharings got more personal and these days whenever we get the chance, our whole big clan gets all emotional and deep. We love saying what we love about each other.

I went through a phase in my early and mid teen years when I was paranoid about the public tears. The weepiness always came, thanks in part to that complicated mix of just enough nerves and just enough sentiment, and I’d be left feeling embarrassed and wimpy.

But one year it just hit me and I realized, my goodness how wonderful to love people so much that you get choked up by that love. So my voice warbles a bit when I tell my dad he’s great. Better that than miss the opportunity to tell him he’s great!

I won’t lie — for many years I absolutely hated this family tradition. My siblings felt the same. My parents knew we felt this way and to their credit — and my tremendous gratitude — they basically said “so sad you don’t like it. Get over it.” They said it much nicer than that but basically they acknowledged that while we might feel awkward as pre-teens and teens to say how we feel about others, there would come a day when we’d appreciate this skill.

And it really is a skill. Honoring people, learning to analyze what it is you love about someone, well that takes training. It might take work to figure out exactly what it is we love about the people around us. Or maybe we know, but then it takes the training of learning to verbalize those feelings.

As we went around the table last week honoring Augie, I loved hearing my sons honor their brother. I saw the work of honor-in-training, as each boy articulated what they appreciated about their partner-in-crime, their comrade-in-arms.

“He’s a great roommate,” said one brother. “Whenever I’m too tired to turn out the light, he’s always willing to reach up and pull the string.

In other words, he’s a good servant.

“He’s good with Isabel,” said another boy. “He does a good job of taking care of her.”

In other words, he’s kind and considerate.

Whether the sharings be profound or perfunctory, they serve the purpose of recognizing the person we celebrate. We honor them not just with a party, but with really showing our love, by speaking our love in a way that makes it abundantly clear what this person means to us.

Too often kind words go unsaid. We miss opportunities to tell someone we love them because we feel embarrassed or shy. It’s easier to smile — and sometimes that speaks volumes.

But to learn how to articulate love and admiration is so important, especially in a world that can be petty and cruel. Knowing you are loved — knowing what people love about you — it can take a person very far indeed.

 This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.

On Having A Girl

Isabel turns two next week. Can you believe it? I can’t. A little girl, right here in our midst. It’s very different from having a baby girl. I’m stumped for words; funny but it’s true.

I know I’ve written about having a daughter a lot, but thoughts still swirl and the mystery remains and there are a few things, now that enough time has passed, that I want to share with you. Things I didn’t want to say right off the bat and maybe I’ve already said them so bear with me if I have.

When Isabel was born I was obviously overcome. (I am searching for the awesome picture of the moment I saw it was a girl. Haven’t found it yet… UPDATE: Thank you Colleen!)

Obviously. Ugly cries ensued and my sister got it on film. I’m glad she ignored me when I said to her during transition, “don’t take any more pictures.” I actually hissed it more than stated it and Jojo was like “sounds good okay smile for the camera.” She knew I’d regret not having a picture and I’m so glad she just kept right on. Sisters are awesome that way.

So a few days after Isabel was born, I was in the doctor’s office for her three-day check up and I admitted something to my doctor, he who has a slew of his own boys (followed by a girl).

“I feel like I’ve betrayed my readers.”

The minute I said this, I felt silly. But it was true. I was head-over-heels in love with my girl, but also feeling a strange mix of guilt and confusion. For so long, I had identified myself as that “Mom of Boys,” the one who embraced wholeheartedly the lack of daughter in her life, who had made peace with the fact that God did not send her a daughter and that was okay.

It was okay — I was actually terribly happy with all these boys. I loved my persona as Queen of Testosterhome. I loved everything about having five boys (well, you know, most everything).

And then along came a girl and I was overcome. But also out-of-sorts, just a bit, because just like that, my old self was gone.

It’s true we can say that of any new baby. When baby no. three comes along, there goes the old you, the one with two kids. Same for moving from three kids to four.

But when you add that new gender to the mix, it’s a big deal. And it took some getting used to.

It was also interesting because for a long time, I worried that there was a crucial flaw within me that made God wary of sending me a daughter. I sometimes, deep down, wondered if He knew I didn’t have what it would take to raise a girl right. What was the inner-brokeness that made me unfit to have a daughter? Was it fixable? Even if I never had a girl, could God fix whatever this was about me.

And then Isabel came along and I realized there was nothing wrong in that regard. But I didn’t realize that because I had a girl — I realized that nothing about me had changed (and also, everything about me had changed) and that I hope other women with just sons aren’t out there struggling with those same feelings of inadequacy. I hope those mom’s of boys understand it’s really luck of the draw. Yes God is in charge and he has a plan, but also free will and genetics and you know human reproductive details, etc. That it isn’t some deep spiritual issue that must be fixed in order to be worthy.

Those are my thoughts for today. A tad random and now I have to leave and go get the dog from getting some surgery. As Paul explained to the boys, “he’s getting the gusto taken out of him.” The boys pleaded and begged that we not go into further details on that.