The day after the birthday

Selam had a lovely birthday. She was celebrated at school with singing and every child drawing a cupcake for her.  She got many lovely gifts. She spoke on the phone with her grandparents and cousin. She picked out her very own birthday balloon at the store. She had pizza to eat–and cake and ice cream, and candles to blow out.  She got to share her dinner with her buddy W and his mama. Before bed, we read her new books and snuggled, and she fell asleep while I whispered in the dark to her.  “A you are awesome, B you are beautiful, C you’re courageous and D a great dancer….” It’s our alphabet of awesomeness.

But she was a little “off” all day–not sick, not tired, not anything I could put my finger on. Just off.

I wasn’t sure what it was.

But always, always, she tells me in her good time.

She woke up crying this morning. At first she couldn’t tell me why, and then she said, “why didn’t you tell my class about the day that I was born?”  In her class, a parent can come to morning meeting on a birthday and tell about the day the child was born or read a story. The teacher made it sound like something only a few parents did, mostly those that had wanted to bring cupcakes.  I did not know that this year, all the other kids who had birthdays so far had had a “mommy tells the birth story” experience.

“Is it because you had to go to work, or because I was adopted?” she said.

“I wasn’t there on the day that you were born, Selam.  M was. I bet you were beautiful.  What I know is this: you were born after the rainy season. You were born during the pretty time of year, when there are Meskel daisies everywhere.  Your mama probably felt you kicking and squirming around inside her belly during the New Year’s celebrations and during Meskel day.  You were swimming around there while they lit off bon fires and sang and danced and ate the yummiest food.  You were born right after all the wonderful parties when everyone is really happy and hopeful.”

She smiled a little bit and then said.

“Why did M die after I was born? Why didn’t she stay alive to be with me?”

“Nobody knows why sad things happen.  I bet she wanted to stay with you.  How could she not? You’re awesome.”

“I want two mommies. Like P (her friend).

“You have two mommies, Selam. Just because M is not alive doesn’t mean that she’s not your mommy still”

“I want you to be there when I’m born.”

“I know you do.”

“I love you.”

“More than ice cream.”

“More than coca”

“More than the moon”

“More than birthday cake.”

I wish I could make this all go away, honestly.  But that’s not what I signed on for.  Birthdays are hard when the one who gave you life is no longer here. This is true if you are 75 or if you are 5.  Though I love her more than I can begin to say, I would give anything for her mother to be alive, for this precious soul to have had the gift of a relationship that began in utero.  I tear up just writing those words, because my heart would split in two if I had to give her up, but if it were possible, I would do it.  Because I love her more than ice cream.

I would like to think that after a while birthdays won’t be tinged with this memory void, with this empty spot where a connection should be. But I would be wrong. That can’t happen. To lose the hurt is to dishonor the memory.

I hope heaven is like Our Town.  I hope M is up there somehow hearing all the stories, seeing her baby grow up, and knowing that I am not filling that hole up with something new and better, but rather maybe stretching the heart out, packing it full of extra love, so that the hole that is there is supported by a stronger, wider piece of wood. I think I just mixed about 20 metaphors. I think that’s probably the best I can do.

It’s the morning after her birthday.  I am grateful for her life, and for the one who gave it to her, and doing the best I can to hear the hard worries and hold her tight while she gives them voice.

I love her so much.


8 thoughts on “The day after the birthday

  1. In my heart the fear of letting go that M had is coupled with such gratitude for where the child landed – hard to understand for me – never mind a child. But the world is a better place because of your willingness to put your heart in this rocky boat.

  2. ((( susan )))

    ((( M )))

    ((((((((((((( selam ))))))))))))))))

    i think you are telling selam just the right things. and that they are true — her birth mom could not be there for her, but loved her. and you love her more than anything, and are there for her always.

    that is a weird ritual in her K class, at least the way it has turned out. it might be better to ask parents to just deliver cupcakes and cheers.

    i remember another mother telling the K teacher in daughter’s class that ye olde family tree project would be problematic for her son, because “his father is not in the picture.” this was 17 years ago. there are all kinds of families, and a kindergartener doesn’t need to be put on the spot for not fitting some kind of mold.

    my stories about first meeting my kids are not kindergarten material, either, even though i’m their birth mom. will spare you the gory details, but i’d be at a loss if expected to do more than delivering cupcakes and cheer at the K celebrations.

  3. Pingback: Friday Link Love « The Blue Room

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