My deeds, my hands, this mess
in guilt we silence our questions
I say my prayers nevertheless
did I do it right, don’t you leave me yet…
—Tanya Davis, Please Bless
I am reading Meghan Daum’s book The Unspeakable, which makes me painfully aware of the sentimentality in my writing. I can’t turpentine my way free of it. You’d have to douse me with methylene chloride to peel back this stubborn layer of woefulness. And, then I’d be standing in a puddle of toxic sludge. It wouldn’t be pretty, and no one would forgive me, but it would be honest.
And, it would indict and it would convict — the powerful and the dead — but for now we’re all safe in my sentimentality.
Another summer has come and gone and I am sad. Very sad. I’ve spent the entire summer in a caged Ferris Wheel. Every second of every day spinning through miracles and disappointments; gratitude and bitterness. My life is in equal measure rejoicing and cussing. And, all my prayers are desperate: Please bless my children, God. Please.
So, about this bones birthday party for my son Sullivan. A mother must be a particular kind of hopeful to throw her son a birthday party at a museum full of bones. It was so Gen X of me making his birthday educational and all. But, seriously, we had such a great time! The museum staff was really helpful and entertaining. Besides, have you heard? For Generation Z, smart is the new cool.
We went to the Osteology Museum where Sully got to touch a bunch of animal pelts and play with skulls. This was slightly disgusting to the teenage vegan in our family, otherwise known as Juliette. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that her frozen matcha green tea smoothie with the dark blue tapioca pearls reminds me of the frog my BFF dissected in 10th grade biology. When Melanie cut it open its insides were full of eggs.
Sullivan’s birthday always marks the passage from summer vacation to the start of a new school year. It’s a busy time, and I’m nothing short of amazed that any mother would burn down the highway on a 102 degree day to bring their son to honor mine. No sane mother actually wants to go to another child’s birthday party. These are the soft obligations of modern life, also known as obscene transactions.
You come to my kid’s, I’ll come to your kid’s…
This, of course, is not how we want it to be. It’s not how I want it to be. I want birthday parties in frolicky green pastures, lime and sweet. The men and the boys will play rugby while the women sip lemonade and the girls play hopscotch. Clearly, I’m the quintessential Gen-Xer longing for Plum Creek while worrying about getting shot in a movie theater or masaquered by some lunatic during Sunday mass.
Over the last 18 years I’ve thrown so many birthday parties for my kids and as far as I’m concerned, it’s been money well spent. The desire line in my story has always been happy children in a happy family.
When I was 11, we lived in a dilapidated farm house — a parsonage — in East Texas. In winter, the occasional brown rat terrified me. In summer, the fleas were torture. I spent most days outside, riding my bike through beautiful neighborhoods. I stole flowers from old ladies’ gardens and carried them home to my mother. One hand gripped the handlebars and one hand gripped the tulips. I repeated to myself, Thou Shalt Not Steal.
I arrived home at dusk as the last sunlight shattered through the heavy gold curtains. I handed the flowers to my mother and said, “These tulips were growing wild.”
I stood in front of the dusty air conditioner and dried the sweat clean away. The white noise muted the narrative of my life and I rejoiced for another day had come and gone. Another day during which I examined the happy lives of the people who lived on streets with names like Madelaine.
Another summer has come and gone. My son is a year older and fast becoming a young man. This makes me sad. In one of her essays Daum suggests (and I’m paraphrasing) that people have children so they themselves can stay younger longer. I think she’s on to something. But, I have something to add. I am sad my children are growing older because making them happy is what I do in life to make myself happy. Whey they are grown and gone who will I make happy then?
Giving myself an E for Effort on these bones cupcakes. I love you, Sullivan. Happy 10th Birthday. I treasure you and look forward to many more years being your mom. I can’t believe you are 10! The day you were born my life began anew. Read this someday and know that you were a gift from God. He made you and designed you for me for children are a gift from the Lord.