A Birthday with a Message

Yesterday was my birthday.
The day got me thinking about my birthdays over the years and the emotions that have accompanied them.
As a young cub, birthdays are highly anticipated, big, blissful, and full of goodness- One of my favorite childhood photos is one of me with a bright yellow crown, eyes wide open as I am about to dive into a massive chocolate cake, complete with “COCO is 3” emblazoned in green icing.  I now see the excitement so clearly from the vantage point of a mother to two young boys. “Mama, when is my birthday? Mama, I want a police helicopter for my birthday. Mama, I will be five on my birthday and Oliver will be three on his birthday…but Mama, my birthday comes first. Mama, I think on my next birthday I will be big….” Birthdays of youth are bursting with all things good: cake(s), friends, songs, parties, a nap-free day, a breaking-the-rules day…joy! Birthdays can’t come quick enough…and they can’t last long enough for most lucky kiddos.
As the years continued and adolescence dawned, some fears crept into my birthday process. I remember the school year starting and feeling a slight pressure to ensure that I could rally a crowd by mid September. (“What if no one comes to my party? What if no one acknowledges my birthday? What if everyone does, and it’s embarrassing?”) Somehow, more questions became a part of the birthday: Am I too old to have a party?  Why am I developing so slowly? So quickly?  No doubt these birthdays remained a source of excitement, but some intimidation and self-judgement joined the annual event.
Early adulthood and the years that follow brought a range of feelings and emotions. There were the milestone birthdays… (I can drive! I can vote! I can drink! Should I be more settled? What about relationships and family? Baby? Work?) There was plenty of fun and celebration, but birthdays also became a check-point and sometimes a source of anxiety if some part of life was deemed lacking or troublesome.  Some years I avoided the actual number, fearing I was “too old” in certain environments but might be penalized for being “too young” in others. No need to always state the year of birth, right?
This year I turned 37. No big milestone…and a day in a year that has been challenging on many levels. Yet somehow this birthday probably taught me more than any other has to date. This year my birthday delivered a message: don’t take this day for granted.
The seemingly simple ability to track and contemplate birthdays over decades of life is a sign of incredible good fortune. I can only imagine what my father would have done to celebrate just one more birthday here on Earth with his loved ones — or what we would do to have him here for just one more day.  And on a global level – a single birthday is a goal that is out of reach for far too many people, infants, children, parents. I have witnessed this first-hand in my work with communities struggling with health epidemics, drought, and poverty…yet at times I still drift and can be consumed by much less important concerns and fears.
This year reminded me that birthdays are a true privilege – and I hope my 37th year will be guided by the joy and the call to service that they inspire…as well as the gratitude to everyone who has supported my birthdays along the way!
A very cool way to celebrate birthdays by giving children around the world a shot at life:  http://shotatlife.org/act/

Trapper Keepers, First Days, and Walking through the Doorway

Today is the first day “back to school” for my two boys, Felix and Oliver.  Though they are only 4 and 2, their “First Day of School” conjured up powerful emotions in me – and also taught me a lesson by experiencing the day through the lens of a parent.

During grade school years, I remember vividly the annual trip with my mom to K-Mart or one of the big stores to purchase pencils, notebooks, folders…and if I was lucky: a Trapper Keeper! There was something so magical about choosing bright-colored papers, perfectly sharpened pencils, and unblemished erasers…. almost anything seemed possible for the year ahead with fresh school supplies.

Every year there was also the anticipation of sharing the adventures and the “news” of the summer with friends. Today Oliver’s big news was “no more pacifier!” and Felix’s was “I got my first real haircut!” (Certainly over the years these news items will change dramatically.) But along with excitement there is also some anxiety around what changes might occur in the coming year – from new faces to new activities and subjects.

Felix and Oliver both woke up eager to get to school – quickly packing bags with their snacks, racing to get dressed, and running to the tram to reunite with their friends, teachers, and beloved classroom toys.  As we approached the school however– the excitement turned quickly (and visibly) to fear.  Sure, the classroom was appealing with fun toys and crafts and friendly faces; but it was also scary to enter a new stage…even at the age of 2. Or 4. New lesson plans and announcements welcoming new students were hung outside the various doors – all signs of the changes ahead for the boys. Summer had been fun, free, and comfortable – and while today was exciting – change is not easy.

Now we were heading to a new beginning – time to take the next step into an unknown.

Both boys cried, both boys needed extra hugs and kisses, and both boys reluctantly – and fearfully entered their respective classrooms.  They walked through the doorways and after a few minutes, forgot the fears that had grounded them on the other side of the door.  I could hear them both engaged in play and music before I had left the building – fully present and in the moment. Hours later at pick-up time, both boys ran into my arms bursting with “news” and reports on the day and questions about what was for dinner tonight.

I learned something in the short span of hours today…the lessons of the “first day of school” still have resonance.  It’s time for me to walk through a doorway. I admire Felix and Oliver’s steps and their ability to dive into these new environments, even after short-lived moments of crying.   Watching Felix, Oliver and their classmates this morning, and even more so this afternoon – I realized that I have allowed my own self-doubt and anxiety to keep me from leaping into a new stage of life in this new city of Berlin.

I believe parenting involves steadily letting go of one’s children so they can dive in and become the people they are meant to be in the world. Today as a parent I again loosened my grip ever so slightly on these two little boys.  They need to grow, they need to make mistakes, they need to fall down and keep on going – and so do I.  It’s time to let go of my own fears – and walk through a new doorway.


How to Mark the Day…

Tomorrow is July 21, 2012. My dear sweet dad’s 70th birthday.

A day to celebrate…a day to toast him…and if the past is any guide, a day for a good laugh and some poking fun of his many notable and comical attributes.

A day for laughs and smiles for the man who is the rock of our family and who has never missed being present for a moment of our lives – the highs, the lows and the in betweens.  Not a nano-second.

But this birthday won’t be the one that I envisioned, or the one that my mom and sister and friends would have ever planned.

My father died suddenly last November.

As I write, I realize that November to July makes 8 months that have passed – which is surreal. I have in no way accepted the loss, nor have I found a way to make sense of it.

His phone numbers are all still programmed into my phone. Every time I land at a new destination, I reach to call him.

Every time I witness a marvel on a sports field, my instinct is to call.

At points of indecision, lows and highs – he’s the one I want to hear.

I want to share my news – the exciting stuff and the daily reports, from the growth of his grandchildren to what’s playing on tv.

“Hey Dad – did you see Felix wearing his Cardinal gear?”

“Hi papa…could you believe that column in the Post?”

“Hi Dad, do you have a sec?”

I have 8 months of news to share – I have 8 months of lessons to learn from him – 8 months of love to give and also that I desperately need to receive.  8 months of wisdom that I need to pass along to my little boys from their beloved “G-Daddy.”

I don’t know how to mark this day tomorrow – a milestone so different now than the one that we had hoped to celebrate.

As a grieving daughter, I don’t have many answers….but as a mother, I know that I want my boys to know their g-daddy. I want smiles to spread instantly across their faces when his name is mentioned.

And so tomorrow we will bake a cake, and have a family gathering in the kitchen, and I will tell stories and show photos and do my best to pass along the spirit, the values, the selflessness and the humor that my father inspired in me.

That’s the way he would have wanted it.

Returning to the sunny side…

The sun is shining in Berlin!

It’s been a while…indeed several months since my last post. There have been busy times and slow times…work and play… travel and rest. I have read articles that sparked my interest, been inspired by forums and art, and struggled with a range of emotions. Somehow the idea of writing became intimidating to me and so I walked away from it.

And now I am back…on a sunny day in July.

This week we celebrated the 4th of July here in Berlin. Hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream…and German beer. A nice combo I must say.  I gave the boys donuts and we sang “Happy Birthday dear America” at breakfast and sported the red, white and blue all day. (the following day, both boys were back into their Deutschland fussball gear!)

Now attention turns to the main event of the weekend: Felix the fireman (Feuerwehrman) 4th birthday party! More to come…

Welcome Summer!

Old Friends

I had the chance to travel to London for two days for a business meeting, where one of my closest friends from college is living now with her family.  As true luck would have it – another college roommate was also passing through London and so somehow we had the great fortune of a rare reunion. It was brief, but it was sunshine for my soul. Both of my roomies have toddler boys, and both are currently pregnant…so the house was full of happy feet, busy boys, bubbles, bottles, familiar maternity clothing, unpacked baby cribs and other gear. A sign of the times…
After my friends put their boys to bed, on both nights the three of us enjoyed peaceful dinner together in the kitchen – the baby monitors were blissfully quiet and so we launched into hours of nonstop conversation. What a gift.  We caught up on the months since we had last been together, filled each other in on family events, talked parenthood, shared what we knew on the college gossip scene (sadly not much), and talked about the friendships that we have developed both pre and post motherhood.At the end of the meal, one of my friends said something I found to be profound, “It’s nice to be with friends who knew me before I was Cullen’s mom.” It really struck me – so simple yet so true.
I love being a mom, and so do my friends – I know we all feel absolutely blessed and fortunate to be mothers. But I do often struggle with what “motherhood” means for my identity – the box I select when filling out forms, the way I describe myself in bios and introductions.  I often feel guilty if I talk about my career first, and then discuss my children.  I feel unsettled if motherhood is the top headline when I am being introduced. Sometimes when I think about “hobbies or other interests”, I realize that those categories don’t currently involve the diverse activities and passions I once pursued, even if these things still matter and appeal to me.
This struggle is not rare or new, and in fact “struggle” is not even a proper term, because it is born from good fortune and the arrival of beautiful boys whom I love, a career that brings me joy and a full days and nights — but I do often wonder if I will ever resolve the dance of the different “boxes” and identities and how to embrace (or is it “balance?”) them all.
Life involves so many twists and turns and complications – some sunny, some messy and some major. There are certainly cloudy days when I feel overwhelmed with anxieties and other sunny ones when I find myself energized by all of the possibilities.
But one thing I am grateful for every single day – is the unconditional love of friends who knew me when my boxes were full of different activities and ambitions – and continue to know and love and see that younger woman as well as the person who checks different boxes today.

London calling...