Yesterday, as I was looking through your old party invitations, I started thinking about your sixth birthday party. As soon as I saw those cards, everything about the process of making those specific cards came rushing back. We had a newborn at home, and I was still in the very thick of that fog. We had turned our studio space into a nursery for her, and so our bedroom was overflowing with extra desks and piles and piles of art supplies and various shelter magazines. Slowly but surely, we were working our way through the mess, but the piles seemed overwhelming.
Except to you. You saw the possibilities there, and decided that you’d like to throw an enormous art party – a “monster” art party – and bring all of those supplies to share with your friends. I was sold. I can remember those late summer afternoons, the way the sunlight would light up my bedroom, the way you would curl up on the bed with me and flip through page after page of those old magazines, looking for letters to cut out. We made tiny piles for each letter of the alphabet on my desk and then we sorted them out to make the invitations. Your dad would occasionally whisk you out of the house for an afternoon of swimming or biking, and I’d sit at that desk with the baby sleeping behind me, and glue tiny little letters onto those invitations. I can remember the sound of the blues band across the street, remember the muffled voices of deli visitors outside, remember the August heat just outside the window and the feel of the breeze from the ceiling fan above, the sleepy sighs of your sister in her cradle, the quiet rhythm of gluing paper pieces one by one.
I remember this so clearly because I was finally starting to feel normal again, and the only thing that I wanted in those early days of infancy – your sister’s and yours – was to feel like myself again. To feel like I could lose myself in something creative and produce something in the end that might make me smile. And there you were, my sweet girl, nudging me along in this journey, celebrating those little steps in the way that you always do. You have always been my biggest fan, perched at my elbow, watching quietly as I work, pitching in when I need you, or running away with an idea when I’m stuck.
A few weeks ago in church, our pastor told a story about her grandmother and the food that she would make. No matter what time of the day or night their visiting car would pull into her driveway, her grandmother would always fix them “a bite to eat”, and every meal would include flaky biscuits dropped into a hot skillet. She’d ease their middle of the night homesickness with toasted bread generously covered with cinnamon and sugar. There were so many familiar foods in the story, and so many objects in her grandmother’s kitchen that became a central part of her story – the cast iron skillet, the toaster, the glass cake stand that always, always had their favorite cake perched on it, waiting for their arrival. All of these things were offered to the grandchildren after her passing, but there was only one thing they all wanted, and it wasn’t the skillet or the toaster or the cake stand. They all wanted the yellow stool that sat in the kitchen, the one that their grandmother pulled up to the countertop, right next to her elbow, right in the middle of the action, where each child in turn would sit, never shooed out from under her feet.
Last week, after putting your sister to bed, you headed back downstairs with me. I had some cookies to bake, and you wanted to help. We divided up the ingredient list and started assembling the canisters on the table. I double checked the list, and then you smiled and said “Just one more thing, Mom. Don’t forget the yellow stool.”
You melt me with your words and your dimpled smile and your enthusiasm for all things created and crafted and cute. You can assess a situation and swoop in wherever you are needed, picking up fussy toddlers, settling kid disputes, rounding up children in organized and creative play. You’ve gotten a lot of practice this past year – volunteering after school at your sister’s school and working as a camp counselor this summer. When you walk into a room the place lights up. Everyone is glad to see you, and I understand why. You make everything better. You make everything more fun. You make everything lovelier, brighter, more delightful than it was before. Everyone wants you hanging out at their elbow.
I’m so grateful for your presence in my life and the many ways you magnify the joys within it. I’m looking forward to all of the projects we have in store – I can’t wait to work with you on each of them. Last night as I fell asleep, I thought about you as a newborn, as a six year old, as a twelve year old, and beyond. I thought about our next big project and pictured your long, lanky teenage body hanging out with me in the kitchen or spread out on the window seat next to me, book in your hand, coffee in mine. And then I promised myself that the first thing I’d buy for that new space was a yellow stool. Thanks for always reminding me that the best part of every single thing I do is having you right there beside me.
Happy birthday my sweet, sweet girl.