Birthday fever doesn't fall far from the tree

Posted August 4

I love birthdays.

Or, more specifically, I should say that I love my birthday. I love that there is one day of the year when I have an excuse to sleep in or go shopping or take a nice, long yoga class. I love that it’s something I can look forward to as the tail end of winter slowly evaporates into spring. I love that it’s special for me, even if it’s just another day to everyone else.

And so, I should not be surprised that my daughter has been counting down her birthday since Jan. 1, calculating how many months remain, counting down how many weeks she had to endure, adding up the days. Earlier this week, she said she was going to pretend it was already Thursday because the next day would be her birthday. Two days ago, she warned me she probably wouldn’t sleep at night because she could hardly sleep on Christmas Eve, and this was even better, and she wanted me to wake her up at midnight so she could celebrate every minute. And last night, at about 6 p.m., she started asking if she could go to bed yet, because then she’d hurry the process on to waking up at midnight and it being her birthday.

And now, here it is. She is 8 years old today.

All of those years I couldn’t wait for my birthday to come, all of those years when I spent my birthdays asking my mom for presents or pressuring her to make my day special, I didn’t think about her. That thought didn’t occur to me until eight years ago yesterday, when I drove to the hospital at 9 p.m. and stopped three times in the parking lot to breathe through contractions before I could walk through those sliding doors into the unknown.

I had prepared so much. I took a class, I read books, I practiced breathing, I collected things that would calm me down and keep me focused, such as a newborn’s hat, some cinnamon-scented room spray and Reese’s peanut butter cups. I’d been told that distraction sometimes works when you’re in the middle of a gripping contraction, the idea being that it’s best to just relax and ride through it.

It’s a little like jumping into a river rapid — gasping for air as the waves wash over your head, feeling the power of the current, relying on that part of your brain that speaks logic in times of trauma, pointing your nose and toes downstream and trying to let go.

I had a few of those rapids, each one taking me further and further from the doctor and nurses in my room, further from my husband, until I was completely removed, mentally. It was just her and I, racing the river.

I felt an equal power from her, cheering me on, and an unknown empathy from me, understanding just exactly how difficult it would be for her to enter this world. And then, we made eye contact.

I jokingly told her one of these last few days as she begged for carbonara for her birthday dinner, eclairs for her birthday dessert, and waffles, eggs, sausage and juice for her birthday breakfast that I was the one who did all of the work eight years ago, not her, but I know that’s not true.

I spent the days after her birth in bewilderment. For all of my reading and planning and research, I couldn’t figure out how to get dressed for days. I wasn’t entirely clear on how I should burp or feed her. I had no idea how far babies could vomit when they have reflux issues and full bellies.

It was then, right then, that I realized that I owe my daughter a lot. I owe her a hundred wonderful birthdays, as long as I’m around to celebrate. As my first-born, she taught me everything. She receives all of my mistakes and failures as a parent and marches on. She leads her siblings; she forges the path for all of us. She brought tears to my eyes and warmth to the deepest part of my body that never knew a love more powerful. She showers the world with her insatiable curiosity and care. As a tiny 8-year-old with arms I can fit between my fingers and legs that look like sticks, she is convinced she can shoulder the world’s ills and make them better.

So this sunny day in July will never be just another day for me. And it will always be special for her.

Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother Fleeta.


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