You know all that partying that happens at birthdays? Well, I think it's a cover. It's the same kind of cover as bands playing when the soldiers are marching out to war. It's the same kind of cover as a party for the circumcision or the weaning of the child, and it's the same kind of cover as our very weird modern notion of "celebrating the life of" the deceased instead of mourning our own loss.
And today, on the twenty-third birthday of my oldest child, I want to cry. All day. Alone. I just want to feel my own feelings of grief and separation and the passage of time.
Okayokayokay. I know. I do. I know it's a cause for rejoicing too. And so are the successful and still living first eight days of the life of a new son and so is the fact of the childhood of survival into the preschool years. Most of the really scary diseases are past by then. The kid is still alive. The kid can safely be weaned. Yay. But at these parties, when the patriarchs rejoice, the mother whose child has outgrown her cries. She is comforted by other mothers and grandmothers. The children do not know why she cries. For a child, the fact of another birthday is good news. Pass that weeping woman a large cloth on which to wipe her tears.
The victories of soldiers and the heroism of the ones who struggle - I get it - I do celebrate it. I understand it, I tell you. "I have finished the course. I have fought the good fight." I get it. It's good. I know that. And I'm sure I'll feel it again.
But today, as far as I'm concerned, all the birthday candles in the whole world can just melt into a formless mass of the sum of the weak, unspecified pastel color they always come in, and all those insipid little white swirly stripes that go up their sides can just disappear into the blob. Put out the candles and trod on the cakes. Stop that horrid singing and for heavens sake please do not blow on even one grating, jarring, nasty little whistle or kazoo. I don't want to hear that stuff today. I just don't.
You know what has to happen for love to happen? Honest to goodness sacrifice - that's what. Death. Blood. The obliteration of something you have already loved - it has to die so that the living love can be there next. That's what has to happen. I hate this.
Today I just want to throw everyone else out of the house and have a good stormy fit of tears and sobs and a loud and adamant refusal. I want to throw things at the walls and lie down on the floor and beat it with my fists. I won't do it - I refuse to be happy that my baby is the soldier now. Okay? Hear that, Father Time? I refuse. I just won't do it. I can't. You can't make me.
Today I remember what she felt like in my arms as we left the clinic that day to take her home with us, and I remember how tiny she was in the hands of my husband, and I remember every pink ruffle and soft bedtime story and blanky and dolly and script. That's what she used to do. She used to give me a script. She'd say, "You say, '___________.' And then I'll say, '_________.'" This would go on for several dictated exchanges, and I could never remember all of them (in order) to her satisfaction, and she would become quite overtly "patient" with me, and repeat the whole thing again until I got it right. I remember all of that.
And I DON'T WANT to move on. I won't do it, I tell you. I won't.
Those were my BABIES, for cryin' out loud.
And the last time I could really take care of them was before they were born. From that time on, in increasing intensity, their safety and food and care, and the shelter of them has been further and further away from me.
During labor and delivery, there is a point at which the (unmedicated, not interfered with) mother says, with absolute and utter certainty, "I can't." In that moment, she knows for a fact that she simply cannot deliver this baby into the world. The baby is arriving, and everyone else in the room knows it. But in that moment, before she begins to bring forth that new person into its own life, and before that new person must begin to breathe and eat for itself, its mother knows this to be an insanity. She knows it to be an impossibility. She can't do it. She knows she can't. It is the first taste of this knowledge. There are more to come, but this is the first. She cannot do it.
And then she does.
And she does it over and over and over.
Today ... on the 23rd birthday of my firstborn child, I can't.
Somebody bring that weeping woman something to cry into, and take her from the room. She's really bringing down the party.