Today my stepdad Walter celebrated a milestone birthday. He crossed the 90th Mile Marker, on his life journey. My mom hosted a party at their church and my sisters and I joined in the merriment.
As Walter enjoyed greeting friends and family in attendance, we three girls served up cake and ice cream and oversaw guests as they moved through a buffet that featured fresh fruits and nuts. I watched my stepdad chatting and smiling or sitting quietly listening with a half smile on his face, and I thought of the Ian McKellen documentary that I saw last weekend.
Ian, who is eleven years younger than my stepfather, has already planned out his memorial service. Rather than finding the experience morbid, Ian proclaimed the evening of planning one of the most fun in his life. He wistfully added that it was the kind of celebration he would enjoy attending and he wondered if he should have a trial run of the memorial so he could be there while he still lived and see everyone’s reactions.
Don’t we all long to hear the stories our friends and family have to share, and see our loved ones gathered together in our honor? One of the great tragedies is that we don’t get to hear how much we are loved and appreciated while we are here to be encouraged and delighted by it.
Tonight’s gathering in no way resembled a funeral, however it was a gathering of people who care about Walter Kane. I’m grateful he got to enjoy being celebrated and that he had the opportunity to receive love and recognition, congratulations and birthday blessings.
My take away from the evening? Celebrate the people in my life…old and young, those who have traveled far and those whose journeys have just begun. How precious it is for us to know that we are valued and appreciated.
Happy 90th birthday, Walter. I love you. How extraordinary to witness your life and learn from your journey. May you enjoy continued good health and the warm companionship of family and friends. Nine decades look good on you!
My sisters and my Lauderdale cousins began a tradition five years ago of celebrating our elders on their birthdays, both honoring them and enjoying them while they were still with us. During that time, our family has dwindled as we said goodbyes to aunts and an uncle. The last surviving member among my father’s siblings is my aunt June. We gathered today to celebrate her 83rd birthday.
Aunt June shared a meal with the family, and shared blowing out candles on her chocolate wacky cake with her granddaughter Callie, whose birthday is a couple of days beyond her own. Her face lit up, with sweet and sincere delight and a hint of mischief, as we all sang Happy Birthday.
The birthday girls.
This gentle woman with the shining soul lost her husband a couple of years ago, the man she had spent a lifetime with as they loved, worked, and raised a family together. Her world shifted dramatically the day she lost him, and it continues to shift. Memories are swaddled in foggy grayness and some of them are difficult to access. She trusts her children to tell her what she needs to know and to take care of what needs doing. Her faith in them and her ability to live in the present, moment by moment, imbue her with a peaceful, child-like joy that is so beautiful.
My aunt’s birth name is Bonnie June, although she has gone by her middle name for most of her life. I looked up her first name.
Bonnie is a Scottish word meaning “pretty”, and was itself derived from the Middle French word bonne “good” as a way to describe a fair, good and beautiful girl. Bonne was in turn derived from the Latin word “bonus” meaning good.
Bonnie is an apt name for this dear woman. My aunt possesses a good and generous heart and her beauty shines forth from a seasoned soul, a reflection of a life well lived. I’m grateful for the opportunity to celebrate her and love on her and show her how much she means to the family.
We all hope that we get to gather many more times, to sing happy birthday and share a meal with Bonnie June Lauderdale Aaron. My sisters, my cousins and I desire to live with grace and gratitude, and without regrets. We are doing that by rejoicing in life’s celebrations, as often as we can.
Continuing a new tradition that I began with my daughters’ birthdays last summer, today, on the birthdate of my son, I am sharing lessons I have learned from my middle child.
I’ve spent the day thinking about Nathanael as I sorted through photos and created a sketch for him. These times are precious to me, for the memories they stir and the joy that they bring. This is part of Nate’s story.
I found out I was expecting my second child while having a pre-surgery consultation. Nausea, tiredness and a lack of appetite had sent me to my doctor, who suspected gallbladder issues. Before doing x-rays, he asked if there was any possibility that I might be pregnant.
My answer was no. I was still nursing my one year daughter. I didn’t think I could get pregnant while nursing. I am grateful the doctor decided to do a pregnancy test, just to be sure. I’ll never forget the mischievous smile on his face when he brought the results of the test back into the exam room. Not only was I pregnant…I was already three months along!
What a short pregnancy it seemed to be. And this baby appeared to be in a hurry to get started on his life journey. Six months later, on an icy day much like today, Nathanael Gregory Moore was born, after a brief labor that resulted in me barely making it to the hospital, and his attending doctor not making it at all. A young intern, who had never delivered a baby before, literally caught my son as he rushed into the world.
The things this child, this boy, has taught me. He was wiry and strong as an infant. And he decided what he wanted to do and when he wanted to do it. Nate showed amazing coordination. He sat up and walked early, and climbed everything. Ever curious, ever studying people and situations from every angle, he expressed his unique perspectives about life from an early age.
My son became interested in music and art while still a toddler. A toy trumpet and a small keyboard satisfied him for a while. By age four he could pick out tunes on his keyboard, accurately reproducing songs he had just heard. We bought a full sized piano so Nathanael could begin formal music lessons at age eight. He taught me that ability is a gift, but practice and determination expands that gift into something more. For years he played the piano, performing in recitals with college students, scared sometimes to be before an audience, but always willing to give his best efforts.
Through his sketches and artwork he taught me about fresh perspectives. Nate often drew pictures from unusual angles, or created clever drawings of people in costumes. His sketching ability increased until he could draw anything he saw. He’s a gifted artist today.
Nathanael learned best by doing. When I decided to homeschool my children, my son taught me valuable lessons about how children learn differently, and that it was more important that the curriculum fit the child rather than making the child fit the curriculum. Because of my son, I tossed all our textbooks, six weeks into our first school year, and started over. I realized my first grade son didn’t learn in the same way as his visual learner older sister or his younger sister who was more auditory. He needed a hands on approach.
I switched to a way of teaching known as unit studies and Nate and his sisters flourished. He used his musical and artistic abilities as part of his learning style. When he studied Beethoven, he dressed up as the composer and learned to play his music. He stood beside his desk to read, or circled the room, instead of sitting for hours. And when he heard the wail of a siren, he would run outside to watch the police car rush by. For by age eight, this child of mine already knew what his career path was.
Nathanael wanted to be a police officer. And in making this choice, he has taught me some of my greatest life lessons. Many children want to be police officers or fire fighters. They outgrow those early desires and move on to other careers. Not my son. His early tendency to know what he wanted and go after it played out in full force here. He never wavered from that desire. He moved from playing cops, and building the front half of a police car in his room, to becoming a Police Explorer at age 14, to graduating from the university and the police academy with degrees in criminal justice and law enforcement. He has been serving his community for years now, first as a patrolman, then as a trainer, and now as a sergeant. By his example, Nate has taught me about determination, about following your path and your heart, and about perseverance.
As I’ve thought about my son today, and the extraordinary man he has become, I considered what symbol would represent his life. He is a police officer, as he intended to be. He is also a musician, an artist, a wonderful husband and a fun and attentive dad. He loves his family, his career and his community.
If I got a tattoo that represented my son and his life, what would I choose? The symbol that immediately came to mind was the super hero’s cape. Nate’s daughter used to introduce herself to people, when she was three years old, in this way: “I’m Aubrey. I’m a princess. That’s my dad. He’s a hero.” Wise words from a toddler.
I looked up the symbolism for the cape. It represents a noble heart, helping others, rescuing others, and having gifts and abilities on display. The cape signifies virtue, being set apart, mysteriousness and yes, heroism. A blue cape in particular symbolizes empowered protection.
Those words ring true for my son. He doesn’t wear a cape, but he embodies those characteristics. And he does have super powers. He can’t laser through solid doors with his eyes. But he has a laser sharp focus that sees far ahead and guides his determined steps. He knows what he wants…and he goes the distance to reach his goals.
I sketched out a cape, and colored it in with my pencils…blue of course, police officer blue. As I considered which quote to use with my drawing, two came to mind. One was from Christopher Reeve, the actor who played Superman, which seemed appropriate. The other one that snagged my heart was from the animated film, Hercules. Both characters wore a cape. Which quote to use? These choices are important to me. I asked the Divine. Listen to I Can Go the Distance, the Divine whispered back.
This song is from the Hercules movie. I listened. I knew which quote to use. Part of the lyrics say, “This is where I am meant to be. I will find my way, I can go the distance. I’ll be there someday, if I can be strong. I know every mile will be worth my while. When I go the distance I’ll be right where I belong.”
That’s Nate. He’s been on this journey since the day he was born. When he was a toddler, sitting in his highchair one morning, he listened intently as I explained to Elissa how our family members were all connected. After I finished detailing how everyone was related…grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, parents and siblings…he piped up, “And me’s Nathanael, right?” He was figuring out who he was and where he belonged. He has gone the distance. He is right where he belongs, which is exactly where he wants to be.
Nathanael, my middle child, my son, the one who set his course and followed it, the hero who serves and protects, happy birthday. I love you!
In the middle of the Yaya and Grandchild Christmas shopping trips, I hit “pause” today for a birthday dinner and shopping experience. Grandson Oliver celebrates his 10th birthday Monday. He will get to go Christmas shopping for his family next Wednesday. We spent the day together on this gorgeous Saturday, focusing on him rather than others.
This grandchild waits very patiently for his birthday excursion at the end of the year. He knows his turn is coming. And he doesn’t mind that his birthday and Christmas are exactly one week apart. A birthday is a birthday, after all. No combined celebrations for him.
As with my other grandkids, Oliver got to choose where he ate his birthday meal and where and how he wanted to spend the birthday money I gave him. We had such a fun day together.
Where the other grandchildren have chosen to spend their money of things that they wanted, or in my oldest grandson’s case, things he needed, Oliver continued down a different path that he initially embarked on last year.
Oliver prefers to do things, rather than purchase things. He chooses to experience fun and create memories over buying more stuff. He selected the mall as his destination, and his birthday celebration began in earnest.
With his birthday cash, he bought a small amount of candy at the mall sweet shop, and an inexpensive remote control helicopter. The rest of his afternoon was spent being an active participant in his own celebration.
Oliver experienced the Spider Jump, a favorite activity for him, where he bounds high into the air and flips forwards and backwards. He tried out the newly set up Virtual Reality pods, selecting a dinosaur park to explore. This boy talked me into joining him. Although the experience was interesting, we both felt it could have been better.
We spent the bulk of our time together at TILT, the arcade located at the mall. Oliver loaded a card there with cash, which he could then easily scan at the various games he played. He joined other kids a couple of times in the laser tag area, drove race cars, went on dangerous virtual missions requiring skill with weapons and beat me several times at air hockey.
I tagged along, cheering him on, watching him play, listening to his lively chatter. This is what I love about these one on one times with the kids, seeing them shine as their unique selves and hearing what’s on their minds.
These was incredibly cool, a mission impossible style crawl across a room full of laser beams. Oliver selected the hardest level…and in 74 seconds was slapping the check point button on the opposite wall, all without breaking a single beam.
We concluded Oliver’s birthday experience at his restaurant of choice, Cracker Barrel. There he enjoyed a hearty breakfast for dinner and a decadent piece of chocolate cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. As we dined, we talked.
Oliver is a great conversationalist. He always asks me about my work and what I am currently enjoying in my journey. He asks great questions, like this one that he posed tonight: Yaya, what has been your favorite age? And he followed up with a Tell me why… when I answered.
I love watching this boy as he shifts into a young man. Oliver is thoughtful, polite to the people assisting him, and very curious about the world and the way things work. I am fascinated with his desire to experience his birthday by doing rather than buying items, and I look forward to seeing where this trend of his goes. It is wonderful to see Oliver, younger brother to Joey, older brother to Aubrey, becoming more and more his own person, sure about who he is and what he wants to do.
Happiest of birthdays, Oliver. I appreciate who you are, and who you are becoming. Thank you for spending time with me, sharing your thoughts and your heart and your unique perspectives. I love you!
What a beautiful day, spent with a few members of my family. We enjoyed a casual meal together and celebrated my son-in-law Nate, whose birthday was today. And we tried out a new game, a birthday gift to Nate from his sweet wife.
Today’s gratitude overflowed…and included celebration and rowdy family fun.
I love the ease of meals where everyone contributes. We kept it easy, picking up smoked turkey and brisket from the Billy Sims restaurant yesterday. And we tried new recipes. Elissa supplied apple pie and pumpkin pie and drinks. Dayan made his first batch of brownies. I was told they were very good!
Adriel had dinner rolls on hand and prepared a hash brown casserole, deviled eggs, and a relish tray. She roasted asparagus for the first time, and it was excellent! She also made Nate’s favorite spice cake for his birthday. And I carried in the food I prepared last night: raw cranberry relish, mixed veggies and brown rice, and sweet potato casserole.
Everyone had plenty to eat!
My Thanksgiving meal. Good food! I am grateful.
Today was my son-in-law’s 36th birthday. We celebrated by singing to him and spending a good part of the day with him. Lucky Nate! I am so grateful for this young man. He and Adriel are such a sweet couple. Nate is a kind, good hearted man. We are privileged to have him as a member of our family.
Adriel and Nate have fur babies, and they love attention. Watching how Nate cares for these pets, I know he will be an excellent daddy someday.
Adriel bought Nate this game as a birthday present. Our family enjoys playing board games. This one, which is definitely for adults only, uses cards with photos from memes on them. Each player looks through the seven cards he or she is holding, and selects a phrase that seems most appropriate for the meme. They are handed to a judge, face down, who shuffles the cards and then reads them aloud and chooses a winner. The person whose phrase is selected wins the meme card. The person with the most meme cards at the end of the game wins.
We played this game all afternoon, until well after sunset, and I laughed until my face hurt. Desserts were sampled, and stories told, while we played round after round. Elissa was the ultimate winner!
I appreciated the opportunity to spend time with family today, share a meal, laugh and chat, and play a game together. The holiday season is officially launched, and in the past five days I have expressed gratitude and celebrated with all of my children and their families. I will begin unboxing Christmas decorations tomorrow and spread joy and merriment throughout my home…an outer reflection of my joyful heart.
This evening it was Aubrey’s turn to be treated to a birthday dinner and a shopping trip. She will be nine years old on Halloween day. I began this tradition several years ago, of taking each of my five grandchildren out for a special evening to celebrate their birth. It has become a wonderful time of sharing and listening and being together, one that the kids anticipate and that I do as well.
Aubrey selected Chicken Mary’s, in Pittsburg Kansas, as her dinner destination. Normally these outings just include the grandchild and me. Because of my knee slipping out of place yesterday, Greg volunteered to join us and drive. Aubrey was delighted.
I’ve never seen this child eat as much as she did at our early dinner. Chicken Mary’s was a good choice for her, with their home style meals and plenty of food. I was able to enjoy a salad with the chicken on the side, so that Aubrey could take it home for her lunch tomorrow.
Back in Joplin, Greg dropped Aubrey and me off at the mall for the birthday shopping, promising to pick us up when we were finished. This is the part of the celebration that the kids most look forward to. I give them a specific amount to spend, and they can use the cash to purchase what they want or they can save it. They typically spend most of it, and that is perfectly fine.
I can tell my granddaughter is getting older. This is the first time she has chosen the mall for her birthday shopping trip, rather than the toy store. She wanted girl stuff…jewelry, a billfold, a unicorn, small items for her school backpack. And an experienced shopper she is. I loved watching her examine items she was interested in, looking for the wow factor, weighing the cost of the item against the gratification. She kept up an amusing chatter the whole time.
This girl loves her fake fashion glasses!
What an almost nine year old girl’s shopping basket contains.
Aubrey settled on Claire’s Boutique, and struck gold here. A big sale meant her birthday cash went further. We visited several other stores in the mall, but this one drew her back. The young female clerk did an amazing job of assisting Aubrey, and every other customer who walked into the shop, with genuine warmth and obvious joy. She and Aubrey connected well over their discussion of animals.
This child, who is rapidly approaching her teens, has a big heart and such profound insights. In her I see echoes of myself, and Aubrey likes to discuss all the ways we are alike. In her I see a boldness and a fearlessness that has taken me years to cultivate. In me she sees a woman who tries new things and makes her dreams come true. She believes anything is possible, and that she can become whatever she wants to become. I agree with her.
At the girls’ clothing store, Justice, Aubrey discovered a writing table set up, with the question posted, What makes your family special? She carefully wrote her answer on the star shaped note and stuck it to the display.
LOVE she wrote. Love makes her family special. Love fills Aubrey’s heart and overflows to touch her family members and her friends and even the kind clerk she just met at Claire’s. Love is woven into her very soul. Aubrey receives it, accepts it and just as easily offers it to others.
Happy birthday, a few days early, sweet child. I appreciate the love that you so freely bestow upon me. Someday I hope you can understand how much healing you have brought into my heart and soul, just by being you. I love you!
I haven’t shared many birthday posts this year. Last year I did celebratory posts for every member of my family, both immediate and extended, on their actual birthdays. I’ve given the tradition a bit of a rest this year.
Today is my mom’s birthday. And rather than sharing what her name means or how she has influenced my life, as I have done in the past, I want to express how proud I am of my mom, for making some big changes in her life.
Mom has had some health challenges the last few years. Nothing was life threatening, however a host of ailments has greatly affected how she felt and necessitated several surgeries. Some might simply accept that as we get older, our health naturally declines. While this can appear to be true, my mom decided to shift that belief and take responsibility for her health.
Exactly a year ago, I accompanied my mom on all of her doctors’ appointments. I had recently switched to a plant based diet, taking charge of my own health and desiring to heal from chronic pain. Seeing my improvements, Mom was interested in embracing a plant based lifestyle as well. During that week of doctor visits, I got their hearty approvals for her to eliminate meat, eggs, dairy and gluten from her diet and consume instead fruits, vegetables, brown rice, gluten free oats, nuts and legumes.
Because here was the incentive…we were planning a trip. In twelve months my sisters, niece, mom and I intended to visit Ireland, Scotland and England. Mom and I both wanted to enjoy that trip in good health.
Six months later, when she returned for check ups, Mom was excited to learn that her health was indeed shifting. Inflammation was greatly reduced. Other health conditions had improved. Her doctors were impressed and encouraged her to continue with a plant based lifestyle. Even though she ended up having to have a knee replacement at that time, due to breaking a bone in that joint, she recovered remarkably well.
Her surgeon approved travel…and our dream trip became a reality.
I am so incredibly proud of my mom. We spent 12 days traveling. During that time we walked, a lot. We climbed stairs, toured landmarks and castles, and spent hours in planes, trains, automobiles and buses. We hopped on and off the London Tube. Did we slow our pace a bit? Yes. But only because she had knee surgery, just six months ago. Did we ever leave her behind at a hotel? Not once.
Mom and I are continuing in our plant based lifestyle. It is too important to my health, and to hers, to ever go back to the way we used to eat. I am thrilled. Mom inspires me every day, and now she is showing me how to live life to the fullest, as a “senior”.
Mom and Walter at dinner tonight.
During our recent trip, I often thought how precious it was to see Ireland, Scotland and England with my family, and especially with my mom. Travel has been an important part of her life, and her desire to explore the world has been passed on to me.
I also thought that this trip might be Mom’s last overseas adventure. And if it is, we have absolutely no regrets. However, my sisters and I are already talking about taking another girls’ trip together in 2019. And guess who wants to go with us?
Happy birthday Mom. I love you. I am so grateful for you and your desire to be the best version of yourself, at every age. Long may you have new adventures. And yes, you are always welcome to travel with us!
I started something new last month, when my daughter Elissa had a birthday. Although my son’s birthday occurs earliest in the year, Elissa is my oldest, my firstborn. I seem to reset on her birthday and then continue the new tradition as my other children’s birthdays come up.
Today is my youngest child’s birthday. And as I did last month, this is not a birthday post as much as it is a reflection on my younger daughter, Adriel, and the lessons I’ve learned from her.
I have enjoyed this rainy Sunday, and a day of rest and self care. Last night I had the opportunity to see my daughter and share a meal with her. During this peace filled day, I’ve reflected on Adriel’s life and smiled over the joy she has brought to me…and teared up multiple times as I’ve sorted through family photos and pondered the lessons this beautiful soul has taught me.
Adriel has always surprised me. Discovering I was pregnant with baby number three was a big surprise…more of a shock really. With two toddlers already, a girl and a boy, our little family felt complete. However, it obviously was not! My pregnancy with Adriel was challenging, for two reasons. A minor heart condition that I have became a major problem during this pregnancy. And I felt very alone during those nine months of weekly doctors’ visits. Greg was busy with work and a new hobby…golf. His parents and mine all lived in other towns and/or states. I struggled to care for two active kids and a house.
Before she was even born, Adriel taught me to keep going, no matter what, and to find the joy in every situation. The day I heard her tiny heart beating for the first time, was the day I fully embraced this new life growing within me and opened my heart to her. I went home and sat quietly on the bed, holding infant clothes in my hands, imagining who she would be…and who she would become. I loved her fiercely.
And fierce she turned out to be! Adriel was the game changer in our family. The girls now outnumbered the boys. She was the youngest, but that never stopped her from doing her best to keep up with her older sister and brother. She was ornery…expressive…vocal…and tender hearted. She could love on her sister and then turn around and pinch her. She laughed when her daddy teased her brother, but cried when the teasing included her. She liked to tattle on me to her dad, if a male stranger smiled or winked at me while we were out shopping.
Adriel has always been her own person, and a force to reckon with, then and now.
One of the things that Adriel taught me, that had a great impact on me, was the beauty of tears. She cried easily as a child…because she was angry, because she was sad, because her feelings were hurt. Adriel felt no shame in crying. She would grab a handful of tissues and dab at her beautiful little eyes as the tears rolled out of them.
I envied her ability to cry like that. I struggled with showing emotion, and yet this precious child simply allowed the tears to flow. How her tears always melted my heart. I never shushed her. Adriel’s tears tried to open my own heart to the beauty of releasing pent up energy by crying. I wish now I had held her close and joined her by allowing my tears to flow with hers. I still think of young Adriel with her wadded up tissues, wiping her tears away. She is, unknowingly, still teaching me about crying.
The greatest lesson my youngest child has taught me is perseverance. Adriel has a “can do” attitude that has guided her through life. She decided at an early age that she wanted to be a nurse, and she has relentlessly followed that path. This was my child who gagged if someone said the word “snot” or sneezed in her presence. I never dreamed that she would enter the medical field.
But as I said, she surprises me. She started down her chosen path by volunteering at the hospital as a young teen. She allowed her fascination with the intricacies of the human body to overcome her tendency to react to certain unsavory things that the body is capable of. She taught me, by her example, to never give up…to follow your passion and your heart…and to get up every morning and keep going.
It was a long journey for this fiery girl, becoming a nurse. There were challenges as she worked full time and semester by semester completed her studies. Nursing school is difficult, even in the best possible circumstances. She didn’t have ideal conditions, as a tornado destroyed her home and a marriage came apart. Her life was upended. And yet…she persevered. She kept going. She didn’t stop trying. And she did it. My girl became a nurse.
Adriel bought another house. She married her sweetheart, Nate, last October. She has a career she enjoys, working as a RN for a neurologist. And still she keeps learning and growing and persevering, in pursuit of the life she desires.
As I did for Elissa last month on her birthday, I considered what symbol best represents my daughter Adriel. If I was going to get a tattoo for Adriel, in honor of her, her birthday, and her life, what would it look like? I asked for guidance, and I love how I was led.
My attention was first pulled to a pair of framed prints in my bedroom, vintage drawings of flowers. So, a flower for Adriel. The word that I associate with my daughter is “perseverance “. I googled to see which flower symbolizes that character quality. And I knew…before I saw the flower, I knew where I was being led.
Adriel’s middle name is Lauren. It’s a derivative of my own middle name, Lorene, and it is associated with laurel leaves which symbolize victory. That’s appropriate. However, I looked up the name Lauren. It literally means “from the place of the laurel leaves.” Is there a laurel flower? There is. And guess what the laurel flower symbolizes? Perseverance…steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.
I drew laurel flowers for Adriel. There are laurel leaves in the sketch too, representing victory. But the flowers are significant. They are beautiful, these clusters of delicate blossoms, and the plant thrives, in less than ideal conditions. Poor soil and deep shade (darkness), do not prevent this flower from blooming and offering its fragrance to the world.
And that’s Adriel. Less than ideal conditions in her life have not stopped her from blooming, from offering her gifts, her beauty and her heart to the world. I am so grateful for the many surprises and great joys that have flowed into my life, since the day I discovered I was expecting another child. I continue to learn from her.
Adriel, my youngest child, the one who perseveres and doesn’t give up, I am excited to see where your journey takes you. I’ll be watching, and cheering for you, and surrounding you with love.
Today my older daughter celebrated a birthday. This is my fourth year of blogging and although I wished Elissa a Happy Birthday through text, Facebook and in person, I wasn't going to do a birthday blog post this year, since I've done several in the years past.
So this is not a birthday post. This is a post about Elissa, that happens to be on her birthday.
As I left the house this morning to go show property, my thoughts were on my daughter, my firstborn. Memories flipped through my consciousness, like a movie of her life. She's always had a will and mind of her own, even as an infant. She hated to sleep, preferring instead to look around and study everything. Her petite size led people to believe she was younger than her actual age. They were shocked when she piped up in her high voice and spoke of things way beyond her years. She was, and still is, an old soul.
I have learned so much from Elissa. She taught me about being a mother and loving unconditionally. Because her personality is very different from mine, she expanded my perspectives, shattered old beliefs, and challenged me to grow. Elissa loves horses. Watching her as a teen, as she worked with yearlings, helped me to see that raising children was less about control and discipline and more about seeing the gifts a child is born with and creating an encouraging and supportive environment to develop in.
As my daughter entered adulthood, life presented both blessings and challenges, as it does for all of us. My bright, artistic, strong, empathic daughter feels the pains and griefs of the world keenly. She is a very real person in a very false society, to paraphrase a treasured children's story. My regret, as her mom, is that years ago, I didn't know how to listen deeply enough to the story Elissa was trying to tell me, through her words and her silences, her actions and her own pain.
She continued to grow and strive and seek. I learned to hear with different ears and a bigger perspective. I learned it was okay to struggle to find your place in the world. Elissa's survival skills turned into thriving and then peace and an acceptance of her own courageous heart. She is still learning how to offer out of that heart. I am proud to be a witness to her life.
Elissa has a good man who journeys with her and each of them brought a son into their blended family. My child has raised a child. And in watching my daughter be a parent, I have seen grace and deep love and openness and sacrifice. Next week my daughter will escort her son to a university several hours away, and drive home without him. Her tender tears and strong determination to launch him successfully onto his own path touches my own heart deeply.
Recently my 18 year grandson made public that he is bisexual. I am so proud of him for his openness and his desire to live authentically as the person he is. Elissa has raised her son to speak his mind and offer his heart. He is fearless. He is the future. As the time draws near for Dayan to leave for college, Elissa got a couple of tattoos, one on each of her forearms. One is the Italian phrase cogli l'attimo…pick up this moment…hold this moment. The other is a series of dots, rainbow dots, in honor of her son. She said if Dayan could be brave enough to live his story transparently, she could be courageous enough to wear the rainbow on her arm, for him. What love.
As I neared my destination this morning, I considered what tattoo I would get, in honor of my daughter and her story. I am not going to get an actual tattoo, not at this time, but I asked aloud, in the empty car, What symbol would be perfect for Elissa? Immediately the Velveteen Rabbit came to mind. Elissa loves this story of the stuffed rabbit who becomes real through the love of his boy. The rabbit becomes a bit tattered with the joys and pains of life and love. But he becomes Real. Authentic. He Becomes. He is. And he learns once you become Real, you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always.
Elissa has become Real. My love, her dad's love, her sister's and her brother's, her whole family's love, her husband's and stepson's love…all have contributed to her becoming. Like the Rabbit's boy and his fierce love, her boy's love, that full of trust, unconditional, straight from a child's heart kind of love, opened a space around her and within her, so that she could become Real…so she could become fully Elissa.
I drew the Velveteen Rabbit for Elissa, with his scruffy fur and his soulful eyes and his hint of a smile, on his way to becoming Real. I inked him in and colored him with my pencils. He reminds me of Elissa's courage and her great mind and greater heart. He reminds me of her love for her sons and her husband and her family. And the Velveteen Rabbit reminds me of Elissa's love for me.
"When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with but REALLY loves you, you become Real." The Velveteen Rabbit
Elissa, my child, my firstborn, the one whose birth on this date years ago made me a mom, has helped me to become Real too. My love overflows.
This afternoon, members on the Lauderdale side of my family gathered to celebrate my Aunt June. She recently turned 82 years old. For the past five years, today’s party has been a joint celebration for Aunt June and her older brother, Rex, who both had July birthdays. Sadly, my uncle passed away earlier this year, making this afternoon’s gathering more poignant and even more precious.
My aunt is, in fact, the last surviving sibling in her family that at one time included my father and her twin sister, Jean. They were the six Lauderdales, children of my grandparents Dennis and Grace. One sister died in a tragic accident, as a toddler. I don’t think the family ever quite recovered from little Margaret’s death. My grandmother could not speak of her youngest child and my uncle always referred to her as “poor little feller”. My father was deeply impacted by the loss of his baby sister and carried a misplaced sense of guilt over her death his entire life.
There was no sadness in my aunt today however, as we loved on her and sang happy birthday. This kind and sweet woman lives very much in the present moment. With age, her recent memories have begun to slip away or get tangled in her mind. And yet her spirit remains bright and pure, like a child’s. She is gracious and grateful, responding to affection with sweet hugs and kisses.
I appreciate her children, my cousins Pam and Alan, continuing what has become a treasured family tradition. We decided years ago, as we gathered at another family member’s funeral to say goodbye, that we needed to honor the living while they yet lived.
I am so glad that we put actions with that intention. Saying goodbye to Uncle Rex a few months ago, there were no regrets, no we should haves. I hope we have Aunt June here with us for many more years, to love and honor and celebrate. She is our beautiful Lauderdale matriarch. Her very presence inspires me to seize each moment and live it fully.