The Birthday Blues
Posted by Mishi Methven on Apr 03, 2012
The Birthday Blues
Sometimes I feel as though, recently, every time I want to feel sad and cry, Stella won't let me. I refuse to show sadness in front of her because I want her to know how happy she makes me, and I want her to feel safe and as though everything is under control, even though day by day she is losing her abilities and her body is betraying her in the worst way possible. When I feel my eyes filling with tears that threaten to spill over, I give Stella funny belly kisses to give myself a minute to compose, then (often with a shaking voice), I start to play with her and will do anything and everything it takes until I see a little smirk slowly appear on her face. By the time she is smiling, I am too. Once again, she is the one who is teaching me how to exist right now. I could easily be sinking---sometimes I want to--- but she won't let me. Every time I want to put my head down and sob, she shows me just how much life she still has in her and it forces me to move forward and keep growing and laughing with her, even when it hurts.
This past week, Stella agreed to go swimming for the first time since September---and she LOVED it. I was shocked at how well she did in the water. She has also been helping to feed Sam and Xavier their solids in the morning. She delights in sitting on the front porch and feeding the birds everyday (this morning she even gave them Timbits to try). She hosted her friend Flora for a play date, and the girls played together just as exuberantly as ever. She enjoyed a visit from our friend Catrina and her army of dogs. She came to Church with my sister and I on Sunday, and smiled at the music and whipped her palm at my head for Palm Sunday, smiling each time she connected with my forehead. I've mentioned it before, but it's just such a huge lesson for me--- Stella has no idea that she supposedly CAN'T do so many things, because she is too busy doing them to notice. Even today at the library, she was able to do all the things she used to do when she was able-bodied, just with a lot more help from Aimee and I. But the smile was the same as a year ago and the activities she wanted to do were also the same. She has always been fearless, but today I realized she is also boundless.
You'd think that having all these experiences with Stella recently would make me super excited to celebrate her birthday in a few weeks. You'd think that but...you'd be wrong.
As Winter in Toronto has turned to Spring, an eerie familiarity has been creeping up on me. The sun is out. The first flowers-- daffodils, tulips, iris'--- are popping out in peoples yards. The stragglers have finally taken the last of their Christmas decorations down (by stragglers, I mean Aimee and my dad). In my world, warm weather and rainy days means more than Spring. It means the start of "birthday season". This is when, one after another, several people celebrate birthdays. It starts with Gracie at the end of March. Then in mid-April it's my birthday, and Stella's. At the end of April comes Auntie Juju. Then Stella's friends. She is one of the oldest in our group, but one by one they will all celebrate birthdays. I've already gotten a couple of very respectful invitations to kid's parties--- Stella's friends will celebrate in March, April, May, July, September, October…
As these dates approach, I find myself living in a constant state of dread. I'm scared. I couldn't bring myself to go to Gracie's family birthday party at her house a couple of weeks ago, even though Aimee and Stella and Sam attended and had an incredible time. But I just couldn't do it. Aimee said that even though it would be hard and sad for her, she wanted to be there for Gracie. I wanted to be there too. Gracie is like another daughter to me, I completely adore her, but I felt like if I went I would just cry and cry and cry and didn't want to ruin the day for anyone. Cry because Stella and Gracie were supposed to be best friends for life and grow up together and be at one another's birthdays until they turned 100. Cry because my own daughter would never get to celebrate a fourth birthday. Cry because I was jealous. Cry because I was angry. So I stayed away and cried at home instead. And then when I found out what an amazing time Stella had at the party, I cried because I missed it.
And that is my current problem. I want so badly to give Stella a fun birthday, to see her smiling with a cake and friends, but if I do it I'm afraid my heart will break and I won't be able to contain myself. I'm afraid what should be a celebration will end up being another thing to mourn. And yet if we don't have a party for our girl, I'm afraid I'll miss out on a really incredible moment in Stella's life.
All of a sudden, birthdays feel impossibly hard. I wonder if they always will be.
What other day in the year than a birthday are you supposed to celebrate all the incredible and wonderful things that someone is, all the things that they mean to you? At what other day do you remember so clearly and vividly that initial incredible and magical moment when you first laid eyes on your child? The awe and shock and overwhelming feeling of love that washes over you like a warm bath. What other day can you recollect how time stood still the instant you looked into their eyes and said, "I'm your Mama" and smiled and had the realization that this tiny person was going to be in your life forever and forever and change you in ways you couldn't even fathom five minutes earlier. When else, but on a birthday, do you reflect on how far you've come, your goals and dreams for the future, your excitement for all that is to come. For me, my birthday comes with an extra complication because Stella and I share the same birthday. She was born on my 30th birthday and I know that it will forevermore be a special bond, and a special burden for me.
In the past, birthdays have been something I relish. I never understood people who moaned about getting older. I always thought that if you were happy with yourself and your life and what you'd accomplished there was no reason to be depressed. But this year…this year when I think about birthdays, I just feel sad and empty. It feels cruel. And though Stella's birthday is indeed something to celebrate, I can't help but feel upset that it is assumed by everyone---including myself---that what we are celebrating is simply the fact that Stella is still alive on a day they said she would never see. We are not celebrating her growth and looking ahead excitedly to the next year. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. And it makes me feel guilty, too. I wish I could put my own feelings aside and just embrace the day, celebrate Stella the way she deserves and give her back a fraction of the joy she has given me these last three years. But something is making it hard for me. Perhaps the idea that this is "the last" of something, just like it was "the last family holiday" at Sesame Street Land this past summer, "the last" Christmas four months ago, and now, "the last" birthday for Stella.
Maybe that's the problem--- birthdays are supposed to be about celebrating something beginning and something continuing, not something ending. Not "the last".
And maybe the reason I don't feel compelled to make a big deal about her birthday is that I feel like we have celebrated her every single day for the last 9 months. I don't need a day to honour her and tell her how special she is to me, because I do it all the time.
And maybe this isn't "the last", because I plan on continuing to celebrate her and think about her and honour her for the rest of my life.
Maybe I don't want to do a formal birthday celebration because I believe that the more I can celebrate her all the time, the more there will be to celebrate. She celebrates her life everyday, not just one day, and I want to learn to live that way too. Because Stella's life hasn't been about waiting for the storm to pass...it's been about learning to dance in the rain.
Stella and Sam share a couch cuddle:
Special times with Uncle Tristan:
Sam and Xavier enjoying their newfound solid foods:
Stella plays with Catrina and the dogs: