We walked down the stairs, hand in hand, as we do most mornings. When we reached the kitchen, we parted. She shuffled into the dining room where her daddy, brother, and breakfast sat waiting. I wandered around the kitchen, sipping coffee, making my own breakfast. And I saw the two of them, huddled, whispering. And I smiled and turned away. Little girls love surprises, the giving and the getting. In this, we are the same.
Suddenly she turned and with huge, bright eyes, “Mommy! Come in here! You have to come in here!”
Part of me wanted to wait. Prolong the excitement for the both of us. But I walked in to find a candle sitting at my place at the table, a single red carnation laying next to it. As I sat, they broke into Happy Birthday. And I blew the candle out but forgot to make a wish (when birthdays happen before coffee) and we all agreed I should make a post-candle wish and I did.
I’ve been searching over the past several days for the nuggets of life and learning to take with me from thirty-two. What were those moments? What did I learn? How did I grow?
And I know I had moments. And I learned. I feel so very different now than I did when I bid farewell to thirty-one so I know I grew. And I can find words to match these feelings. Love. Genuine and authentic and real. Friends and family. Support. But I’ve struggled to string them together into a coherent summary.
In the days leading up to my special day, the love started to flow in and it kept flowing until I closed my eyes last night, officially thirty-three. Gifts and cards and wishes and thoughts. Each one so thoughtfully prepared, so very perfectly reflecting me and my relationship with the giver.
And it feels superficial at first, to reflect on my life at this moment and my year through the lens of gifts. Like I’m a child for whom birthdays are about nothing but shiny paper just itching to be torn.
But it’s not about that at all.
It’s not about the gifts themselves, of course. Though the gifts themselves were lovely.
It’s about the people behind the gifts. And, more importantly, my relationships with those people. Our history. Conversations had or moments shared or passing comments caught and tucked away.
It hasn’t always been this way, for me. I haven’t always had this history or this deepness of relationship with the people in my life.
I haven’t always opened up. I haven’t always shared my real self, my best parts and my flaws, my loves and my dreams, the moments that made me want to laugh out loud and the things that drew tears from my heart. I had tucked all of that so deep that my friends and family and the people in my life hardly knew me. Relationships were not as deep as I wanted them to be. I wasn’t known.
I never made it a mission to change this. But somehow, along the way, I did. And I began to feel this even before my birthday approached. I know, very well now, the fear of opening up. Being vulnerable. Saying what’s on my heart even when, especially when, I have no idea how the other person will react. I know better now the freedom that comes with not holding back. Asking the question because the worst that can happen is ‘no.’ Sharing the confession because I trust that those I love will meet me with love and not judgement. And reaping all of the many rewards of real, human connection.
And so, my inner circle now knows me. We have relationships that are unique and lovely and loving. I have people I can call in tears, be they tears of joy or tears of struggle. I have people that know that simple things will touch my heart and I have people who help me nourish my soul.
And the most lovely thing about all of this is that it doesn’t end as I continue to age. I can continue to open myself up. Share the real me, even as the real me grows and changes and lives. And that is a gift.
No birthday post would be complete without a little list.
Thirty-two taught me that…
… if you’re gonna go to the fast-food place, go for the unhealthy. Don’t try to make it something it’s not.
… summer requires planning when kids are in school. As in registering for summer camp in January. Don’t be late.
… parenting one child to a certain age, does not an expert make.
… tea is lovely.
… sometimes you gotta splurge on yourself without calculating how many ice cream cones your child could have devoured for the cost of that shirt.
… bakers twine is the key to all party decorations, impromptu crafts, lovely gift-wrapping, and many home decorating challenges.
… it’s ok to ask for help (every age will need to teach me this one, for sure).
… going back is not always the same as going backwards; sometimes it’s a huge leap forward.
… an empty email inbox does not create calm; nor does a full one create chaos.
… be yourself.