Your fifth birthday was not unlike the day of your birth five years ago.
Five years ago, as the contractions came with the momentum of a runaway train, I puked. This year, it was your stomach revolting. You were brave, but really, it is a terrible way to spend a birthday.
That night, when you arrived in the quiet intensity of a cold December labor, I didn’t sleep a wink. That one day stood still in time, breath upon breath adding up to make a day that seemed endless and holy. The days that followed were hardly days but a series of naps and nursings. In fact, the whole month of December came and went, and somewhere in there was Advent, with it’s waiting, and Christmas, with it it’s celebrating, but we were still high on the smell of new flesh and fresh love.
The eve of your fifth birthday was sleepless, too. But without the hormonal charge to keep my eyes wide open, and now with two other children to care for, the fall-out from this sleeplessness felt more like falling on concrete and less like rolling topsy turvy through clouds.
Your due date was scheduled for December 1st, and we did what everyone had suggested that we do: make plans. We never expected to see you on this day and so we were going to get our Christmas tree, busy ourselves with a different kind of waiting. But you were punctual, to a T, and instead of a tree, we brought you home instead. And this day, five years later? That was part of our plan, too, for the day. One of things to do on your birthday was to show the Littlest how we go to the farm and stick our noses in these evergreens until we find one to take home with us. We should’ve known better. Our traditions are often fuzzy in the making, and this one is no different. Your body was still recovering from your long night of sickness, so instead we stayed home in pajamas, sipping ginger ale. Five years ago, the month of December marched on but that tree never appeared, subsumed as it was by that first month of your baby life. This year, though, we adjusted plans. A few days later than planned, but we now have a tree – though it may be unadorned for an untold time, and we see the glory in it’s plainness.
There are other themes that string the distance of five years: the awesomeness of the human body – strength and resilience beyond my mind’s capability to comprehend, whether in sickness and recovery or the hard work of bringing a baby to life in this world. And yet within that strength, the particular delicateness of it, too – how intricate this system is, how just-right everything needs to be.
As your birthday drew to a close, you began feeling better. Mark and I decided to at least give you your gift. Of course you were happy to see your new bike, but your body was still so tired, all of your reserve having been spent, that you could do little more than sit on the seat and play with the handlebars. The next day, once your body was done reworking itself, you were ready to celebrate your birthday properly. You wanted to take your bike out for a spin, then be with those who love you, a circle bigger than just this family of five. Only by then, you were watching the rest of us, one by one, fall to the same sickness that had just prevailed in your body. Instead of lifting our glasses and our voices to celebrate you, we each hovered through the worst until we landed days later out the other side. We cancelled plans. In some ways, it feels as though this milestone has skittered in without a blink of notice.
It has been a terrible birthday, really. You are now a whole hand – all four fingers and a thumb. There is much to recognize, so much to notice of who you are becoming. Yet, this milestone has barely been noted, let alone lauded and honored. Your birth five years ago was life-changing for me in the very deepest sense of the phrase, and every minute since I’ve been catching up to you, dear Eldest. I have not missed a single moment of it, I have not been absent from a breath of your being. Each word that you learn to read, each drawing that you create, more detailed than the last. Each worry that you’ve confided, each nonsensical sentence that bursts from your mouth in moments of silly. Each skinned knee, each try, and try, and try again. I’ve held these moments, for you, with you. I’ve turned them around in my hands, felt them on all sides. You are five, now, and then some.
Hear me now: we will celebrate you, taking you out to dinner, as you’ve requested. We will light candles and sing to you. And one by one, we will gather with those who love you. Just like the December five years ago, this one will stretch out with time only lightly glancing off of these harsh boundaries.
Happy fifth birthday, Grant.