Every year, my daughter has her birthday exactly 1 week after my mother’s birthday. 1 week. To the day. Every year. It’s still weird.
And every year, my daughter’s birthday falls on Dr. Seuss’s birthday. This, too, is a surprise each year as if this is supposed to be an occasional alignment of planets, solar systems and comets and TA DA! the birthdays align again this year! Go figure!
And every year, her birthday comes as a complete shock – though I distinctly recall her urgent need to be born, arriving as she did with a list of things to do clutched in her hand.
Actually, every birthday surprises me. Birthdays have this way of quietly sneaking up on me somehow and, like birthdays are wont to do, they each jump out at me with the in-my-face, wild-eyed, high-pitched, soundless questions: What have you bought as a gift? What are you planning for the birthday breakfast? dinner? cake? decorations? Are you READY? ARE YOU READY??
No, I’m never ready.
But this year, I was prepping for it. Honest. I was on my game. A few weeks ago, I quizzed my daughter on possible gifts. (She had no ideas. I was on my own. And every idea I had was summarily dismissed. Not a good sign.) We talked about a possible party. (As an old-enough teen, she can basically plan her own party now and just review date and food choices with me - which she did. All quite reasonable and all approved. I don’t even get to send out the invitations with the fun rhymes and creative themes anymore; she’s got that covered, too.)
It’s just that this year – though I say every day and every year is significant – it’s just that this year, she turns 16. She’s already ‘sweet’ but, in this culture, she gets to be ‘sweet’ and 16 at the same time and this becomes more significant. More pressure on me.
So, we talk some more, she and I – face-to-face because I want to read her face. I want to be sure that her words match her body language and that her eyes match her tone. No text message can do this. I want to be sure I’ve got this birthday covered.
And this is what my cleverly cool daughter confirms with me: she’s not into big deals. Keep it simple. Recognize the day with her meal choice (challah bread french toast), her cake (homemade chocolate peanut butter), the decorations from when she was little (because it is always fun to be a child at heart on your birthday – no matter what your age is). Oh, and no balloons for her. Thank you. She’s fine now without them; they make her grandmother giggle but not so much for her because the cats eat the ribbons and … well, it gets, umm, messy.
Turns out that she is her mother’s daughter and not a product of the marketing hype. Huh. Who knew? Well, I guess I did, but it never hurts to make sure.
I love talking to my daughter. She’s smart. She’s engaging. I learn a lot about who she is and what she is thinking and where her head is at and where she might be going next. I can’t get all that in a text message. Her eyes twinkle and dance when she is excited, when she has a new idea, when she is pleased with herself. I can actually watch and listen to her think at the same time. Her body still wiggles when she wants to share something particularly incredible. She may grab me in a quick hug. No text message can convey all this. And while that bear hug emoticon is cute, it really isn’t quite the same.
Likewise, her texts can include those sad emoticons but they can’t convey the tears and pain she feels that are so visible when we are together and she is wracked by sadness, frustration and anger. Those are the moments her body caves in on itself, that she folds into the hug, that she whispers, shouts, sobs. I can’t read that in messages and I can’t come close to a text reply that would even begin to help. I am clueless then and I tend to write the trivial stuff like most other people type that would make anybody gag and/or unintentionally cause more pain. And, there’s not a large enough bear emoticon in the world to cover her screen and hold her.
We talk. She and I. We text, too. But, we talk. Out loud. Without the technology. Mom to daughter. But, I try more for daughter to Mom. She’s a teen and has a lot to share. I don’t want to miss a word. Even as I realize that I might glaze over and go inside my head with my own list of things to tell her or ask her when she’s done – or worse, if I’m honest here, with my own list of things to do when she’s done talking… ARGH! – I try to apologize in the moment and ask for a do-over. I’m human. So is she.
We’ve been learning how to talk since she strung together her first words and asked for a PDA for her 2nd birthday. (She didn’t get the real one and yes, was woefully disappointed; no fooling this 2-year-old.) And I suspect we will always be learning how to talk to each other as we adjust for the changes in our respective lives.
So as she is now 16, I learn that she’s growing up and not needing a lot on this birthday to create what will be a special day for her no matter what. And I can see that her words match her body language, so I can be sure that I am not about to royally disappoint her because she didn’t want to tell me the absolute truth. I can see truth in her eyes.
And at 16, she’s fast approaching 18, then 20 and … YIKES!
I need to make the cake! Wrap the gift that I thought of just in time! Go give her a hug! Talk some more! (How did that test go today that her history teacher planned for her birthday – of all days!?!) Maybe we will re-remember that it’s Dr. Seuss’s birthday today and laugh at how the planets oddly aligned once more.
My other gift to her every year and every day: Tech Off. Talk On. It’s the best gift I can give her – time together.
16? So many changes in life. (Just consider that PDA she asked for!) She’s so sweet. And that will never change.
“Today you are you! That is truer than true!”* For sure.
* from Dr. Seuss, "Happy Birthday to You", ©1959