Thirteen years ago my baby boy was born. Thirteen years.
My other four children have each passed, at three year intervals, into their teens. But each of them had younger siblings who were coming up behind them. Isaac is the youngest of my children, the last of our crew to accomplish each milestone, the baby with whom each passage is a last for me. Along the way with the rest of the kids some milestones were lost in the flurry of activity which was our life. Pausing momentarily to celebrate each child's accomplishments was the most we could muster for many occasions. Every child is equally precious, but not every child has had equal time when it came to their day in the sun.
Nathaniel's thirteenth birthday was a day shared with all of his siblings around him; Isaac had Erin at home, and phone calls from the brother and sisters who are living away, (Rebekah's call was on Skype). I'm struggling at the moment to remember what Nathaniel's party might have been like, but all I can accomplish, by doing the math, is figuring that we must have been in Florida- only 9 months into our time there, and therefore couldn't have yet known many kids well enough to have over for a party. (Fill me in on the details if you can, First Son.) I'm pretty sure that we wouldn't have been quite as comfortable allowing the kids the free-ish rein to do their own thing and then watch a movie as we did for Isaac and his friends last night. The guys began with games in the basement, moved quickly to pizza when I brought it home, then cake, stories about Isaac, and a movie. (Isaac ran the remote during the movie and fast-forwarded through the scene which he had deemed- on his own judgment- too racy for the guys to watch.)
I had assumed that by this stage in the game of rearing five children, I'd have more of what resembles an "act" together and be better at the celebrations which predictably come around year after year. Yet, I don't. I had hoped that with the decrease in craziness, I might have more time to plan for parties and birthdays and simple focus on each of my priceless children. And here I find myself, days before the birthday, scrambling to figure out what we are going to do. These days which are the same date each year, focused on those dearest to my heart, still seem to sneak up on me and surprise me from a blind corner of the calendar. Time is flying by and I am a poorly organized person, a combination loaded for defeat in birthday party planning.
We had a friend in Grove City who would decorate the whole house the week before the birthday of one of her children, in anticipation of the day, with signs and banners, balloons and gifts. In Florida, many birthdays were closer in resemblance to carnivals, with the rental of giant bounce houses and inflatable slides, huge party games, a magician or another sort of live entertainment, and enough food to feed a small village in Ethiopia for a month. I have neither the forethought for the first, nor the finances for the second kind of festivity.
There was one family tradition about which we learned while living in Florida that we have been able to incorporate into our birthday celebrations for our children and has been a blessing for us, and, I hope, them as well. Once everyone is around the table, or at least in the room, and focused on the birthday boy or girl, we ask everyone to share a memory or something special that they appreciate about him or her. While this is fun and even enlightening at times, there has come a deeper blessing from it than I originally anticipated. We have always tried to emphasize character over stuff; love and fellowship over gadgets and things. While many gifts which have been unwrapped at the birthday parties have gone on to be played with for a time, and then broken, lost, or simply fallen out of use, the gift of loving and kind words will never fade. As my children have grown more autonomous in their friendships and the time they spend with friends isn't always in my presence, it is neat to hear the stories and memories that are shared. To hear what their friends remember most fondly about them, or what is seen in their character, is a gift to my children which they will cherish long after the candles are blown out and the wrapping paper is gone.
This year will be sparse on wrapped gifts, birthday and Christmas alike. I pray that the gifts of love and words of blessing will fill our hearts and the time which we spend together will build special memories for each of us. I cherish each of my children and hope that their memories will be as thin as mine on the details and the stuff, and full instead of the love which we share.