This weekend we celebrating JQ’s birthday. We themed the party with his favorite things–BBQ ribs, dirt and bouncing. I even got a little bounce house and my friends all told me, very kindly, but firmly that I had become that person. That person who goes over the top for birthdays. I know this is true. I can’t help it. We all have our crazy. Mine is a birthday. When Ellis turned one, I spent the week prior, planning the perfect balloon arch and mapping out how I wanted the tables laid out in the church. It had to be the church, I’d invited too many people for our house. When she turned two, I spent the week prior creating the perfect Curious George-themed labels for the the water bottles. I’ve learned a few things about birthdays–No one cares about labels. Make sure the kids can go crazy.
Kids did go crazy. The pool outside got filled with mud several times. At one point, a little boy walked over and flipped off the switch to the bounce house while four kids where inside, prompting me to scream out his name and for him to stare at me in fear and immediately flip the switch back on.
Celebrating little JQ has been so special this year in a different way than it was with Ellis. Not because we love them any differently, but because of what a year it has been. Only a month after JQ was born, I saw a lovely woman lose her newborn son. In February, another friend of mine lost hers 11 month old son. Right now, someone I know is gearing up to fight for her own son, a fight that seems life and death, but is taking place in a courtroom and not a hospital. In February, on a particularly brutal day, as I recounted to my dad all the heartache that I’ve felt this year, I suddenly realized how much more they had endured. They’ve had friends lose children as well this past year, tragically and senselessly. They too have been to funerals. They have watched their own children experience pain unending. “Why children?” I asked. “It’s all such heartbreak.”
He just hugged me. It’s no sort of answer, but every sort of assurance.
I never really planned on having children. When I married Dave I told him he had to be okay with the possibility of never having children. He said he was, although, I’m sure he knew better. He claims he doesn’t remember this. But I have it documented in a journal. Anyway, he’s always been more level-headed. I think, in some way, children for me have been an unexpected adventure. They were never something I envisioned for my life and nothing I ever felt really prepared for. So, I often find myself at the end of everyday thinking, how am I here? How am I in this moment of Cheerios on my feet and a three-year-old shouting at the top of the stairs that “creepy aliens” are coming in through the windows?
Sometimes, I mean those questions in a kind of terrified way. But more often than not, I mean them in an amazed sort of way. I remember hearing an interview with David Rakoff (who was dying of cancer), where he quoted another writer, Melissa Bank: “‘The only proper answer to ‘Why me?’ is ‘Why not you?’…You can’t win all the contests and then lose at one contest and say, ‘Why am I not winning this contest as well?’ It’s random. So truthfully, again, do I wish it weren’t me? Absolutely. I still can’t make that logistic jump to thinking there’s a reason why it shouldn’t be me.”
And this seemed like a reasonable sort of logic. So, whenever I see myself in place of good or ill, I always ask “Why?” but then, I ask, “Why not?” Why not a blessing? Why not pain? Why not this little person, with a wide grin toothy grin and hands that want the world? Why not this curve of a pink cheek? Why not this mashed banana on my floor and a little girl in a princess dress shaking her booty to the fox song? Why not this breaking heart?
I think I feel all of this so much more acutely because I had a miscarriage right before I had JQ. I always feel like I need to apologize for saying that. Because I wouldn’t have even known I was pregnant if I hadn’t felt weird while running one day and peed on a stick. And I was pregnant and then I wasn’t. And then, I was again. And it was such a weird yo-yo. But it’s the contrast to this bright, active little life I’m now raising. I don’t think about it always. But then again, there will always be that part of me there flushing away blood.
Sometimes, I feel like life is just breaking yourself into pieces. There are parts of me that have been broken off and left behind always in those moment of greatest joy and greatest pain. I will always be in that moment of a cold November night, when Dave spun me around underneath the stars and asked me to marry him. I’m also always in that dorm room, holding the phone, trying not to smash it against the wall, hearing what that man did to my sister. So much of life is just breaking and leaving pieces of you behind in your wake. But maybe it’s also finding parts of you. There is this legend found in Jewish mysticism that I’ve always loved. I forget how it goes precisely, but the gist is this: In the beginning, God’s light was shattered into an infinite number of pieces and spread all over the world. It is our job to gather the fallen sparks, the little trails of God that we see everywhere. I used to think that gathering the light meant doing BIG things. Digging a well. Saving a life. But lately, I feel like the pieces of God in my life are small. Very small. They are lying on the floor while Ellis builds a castle around me. They are my 5am’s with JQ, while he whisper’s “Dadada” and falls asleep. It’s Dave making a ridiculous joke and then waiting for me to laugh with his eyebrows raised.
So, this year has been one of breaking and putting back together. Of course, that’s dramatic to say, when all I’ve been actually doing, is not sleeping, writing for the internet, trying to figure out if that spot is poop or dried banana, and wiping dirt out of my baby’s mouth. But maybe that’s why I like birthdays. I can indulge the drama in me a little and drape the house in tulle for my princess and get a bounce house for my crazy baby. We can eat cake and mark the passing of another year of breaking and another year of finding light.
And I really love cake.
So, we celebrated a little life this weekend. A little life that is so insatiable. His hands are always reaching. His fingers always pointing. He is always needing–to be picked up, to eat, to sleep, to have precisely what his sister has, to bite an electrical cord, to climb into a dishwasher, to open the fridge, to cry when he shuts the fridge on himself. His needs exhaust me. His needs break me apart and put me back together. So, we celebrated that, but mostly we just bounced and ate ribs and cleaned dirt out of everything.