It’s my birthday. I’m 49 today.
I’m also in the midst of recovering from shoulder surgery, in a semi-diminished state that has left me feeling grateful for many things on this day of taking stock.
Last week, Byron and I were standing in the bathroom, with him waiting to assist me in some small act, perhaps applying deodorant. He was waiting because I needed a minute to blow my nose. With my right arm in a sling system, I was blowing my nose using one hand. I am as good at this task as I am at running a six-minute mile. Just as I was starting to feel proud of myself for getting the Kleenex around both nostrils and for managing to emit some snot into the tissue, a bad thing happened.
A Kix-sized booger flew out of my nostril, dodged the tissue, jettisoned upwards, and landed with an audible splat upon my glasses lens.
It was a marvel, that thing. Bright neon yellow. Perfectly gunky. A rogue with great character.
Because Byron and I have been through childbirth together, a lively, glowing booger is hardly worth an eyebrow twitch between the two of us.
“Sorry about that,” I said. “I’ll just…”
“Yeah,” Byron agreed. “You’re going to need to deal with the actual booger, but once you get it off, I’ll be happy to clean your glasses for you.”
And he did.
Paco is usually very tired by the time he gets home from his school day. He needs a snack, something to drink, and a few gentle touches to remind him that he’s with us now — that the tiring world is locked away outside our doors. Often, this means I play with his hair or scratch his back for a little while.
A few days ago, he leaned in for a forehead-to-forehead hug. Although I have not been engaging in many hugs since the surgery, I enjoyed the feel of his arms around my shoulders. Quickly, though, he retracted one arm and apologized, saying, “Oh, no, that must have hurt you! I’m sorry, Mom.” Telling him I appreciated his solicitousness, I assured him that no one’s touch is more gentle than his.
“I’m just really glad it didn’t hurt you,” he almost whispered, looking relieved.
By the end of each day, my shoulder is aching, and I’m forced to admit that my energy is still on the rebound. At that point, there is nothing more welcome and comforting than sliding into the castle of pillows on my bed.
Last night, as I lay there, messing around with my phone and reading a few pages from a new book, Allegra got up from her chair at the computer where she had been plugging away at her homework and came over for a good night kiss. Before I pecked her cheek, however, she settled onto the edge of the bed to tell me about some of the career presentations her classmates have been giving in English class.
For the past several weeks, all the sophomores have been working on research projects focusing on potential future professions; this research culminates in a video that is then shown to the class. For Allegra, choosing a possible future career required a lot of thought and discussion — because the beauty of being a sophomore in high school is that everything is still possible. After talking through her interests and passions, she narrowed it down: she is genuinely excited when it comes to travel, cultures, and various countries around the world. Thus, I suggested she consider researching the profession of a Foreign Service Officer, someone who works and lives abroad, helping with visas, finances, tourists, expatriates, all the associated issues of an embassy. This suggestion and her decision were bolstered by the fact that she was required to do an interview with someone who currently works in the chosen job, and I have a high school friend who is a Foreign Service Officer.
Once I knew what my own girl was doing, I started asking what her friends were researching and what careers they were contemplating. Also, I warned her I would be eagerly anticipating updates about all the presentations given in her class.
So there she sat last night, telling me about the first couple days of presentations. A few of her classmates wanted to be teachers, and there were also presentations about being a meteorologist, and animator, a veterinarian, a physician’s assistant, a pilot, and all sorts of other options that made me want to go back and be young again.
As I leaned against the pillows, feeling the ache in my back relax, I watched her lovely face in the dim light, that lovely face that came into my life out of my own body 16 years ago, and I forgot about the phone in my hand, the book by my elbow, the painkillers on my side table, the plate of chocolate cake awaiting me as soon as midnight struck. All I thought about was how much life there was in her big, blue eyes, and how she was sitting next to me when I was aching, telling me about her day — because she knew it mattered to me.
A few days before my surgery, I received an email gift certificate from my best friend, Colleen. To help distract me from my anticipatory worry about the surgery, she had sent me an early birthday present: a hefty amount towards a pair of Fluevogs— shoes that are quirky, whimsical, well-made, and expensive. After tearing around the house to find Byron — to tell him of my excitement — I was surprised when his face only looked semi-happy at the news.
“At the risk of blowing my birthday present to you,” he said, “I’m just going to tell you now that I was planning to give you the exact same thing, right down to the same dollar amount.”
His disclosure in no way ruined my birthday present. Rather, it provided a delicious delight: to have both a best friend and husband who are so attuned to even my smallest desires, who are so thoughtful about who I am, is the very definition of a perfect gift.
Just as good: when I buy a pair of those shoes, I will smile with every step, thinking about how Colleen sponsored the left foot while Byron sponsored the right.
On this special day of taking stock and feeling gratitude, then, I am thinking many things.
I’m thinking about how my glasses are clean.
Because I am loved and supported.
I’m thinking about how good a hug can feel.
Because the people in my life are gentle and respectful.
I’m thinking about how I am not lonely, and I have company in the dark hours when pain creeps in.
Because someone lovely takes a minute to sit on the edge of my bed.
I’m thinking about feeling seen and acknowledged and beloved.
Because those who have known me over the years show me that they understand exactly who I am.
When I was young, I would not have known how to ask for this life.
But here it is.
And it is so good, so full, that I can’t even have candles on my cake.
Because I wouldn’t know what to wish for.