Yesterday was my birthday. I turned 39 years old at 5:07pm, amidst a dinner of leftovers with my family and discussion about what day of the week we were each born on. It turned into a search for the #1 song on each of our birthdays. (Should I be concerned that my husband’s was “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”? He was pretty disappointed, to say the least- no offense to the Paul Simon lovers out there.)
We were supposed to go out for the evening, but my two girls were unwell, so we had to cancel the babysitter. It ended up being such a fun evening, though. We laughed and danced at the table, ate the birthday cake I made (from scratch- first time), and just enjoyed being together. Way better than heading out into the bone-chilling, October rainy night.
Despite the dinner fun, I did have a few “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To” moments over the course of the day. One came from comparing my 9 1/2–year old self, who wanted to make her mom better (from alcoholism), to my 39-year old self, who wants to make her mom better (from alcoholism). On a trip to the attic the night before (in search of a mystery story I wrote as a 4th grader to share with my son who is about to write a mystery of his own), I also grabbed an All About Me booklet I completed at the same age.
It was amusing to discover that I actually did make spelling errors as a child (I have this strange idea that I was an impeccable speller from kindergarten on), that my favorite songs list included “When the Doves Cry” by Prince and “PYT” by Michael Jackson (among others), that my dream was to be a princess and turn into a queen, and that I really needed to learn chemistry.
What it pained me to see were repeated references to wanting to make my mom to better. She was in the initial stages of recovery at the time, and I was living with my grandparents. We had moved back to Wisconsin from Florida, because she was near death and wanted to get me back to our family. Instead, she chose sobriety and began the long journey to a life free from the clutches of alcohol.
She stayed sober for 20 years, before the pressures and cares of life overtook her again. She has been an active alcoholic for nearly 11 years now. This time, it is I who am journeying to a life free from dependence on my mother’s mental, physical and emotional health. Thirty years later, I am now trying not to try to make my mom better, but the thought of it plagues me everyday.
The other “Cry” moment came while reading birthday wishes on my Facebook page. It was one in particular, from my uncle Jim (you will see a post about him in the near future), that made my heart swell. He wrote “Happy Birthday to the sweetest person I know.”
You see, Jim has ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s disease). He is 50 years old and is a beloved friend, relative, and member of society. He serves as a spokesperson for ALS in our region. For him to think that I am the sweetest person he knows, when there are literally hundreds of people who love and care for him in different ways through his battle with this life-ending disease, is such an undeserved honor. I had no idea he felt that way about me, and it brought me to tears.
Finally, I cried tears of identification this morning (hey, I’m still in the 24-hour day of my birth) as I read through another timepiece from the attic: my 8th grade journal for English class. In it, we were to make personal journal entries to develop the habit of regular writing and self-expression. Our teacher would read through them periodically and make little responsive or prompting comments in the margins.
Oh, to read the thoughts of your uncensored 14-year old mind! My adult self was mortified at what my 14-year old self disclosed to her teacher (my time of the month!) and appalled at the brazenness of her speech toward him (I told him off a few times for things I thought were unjust or unacceptable to my young, impetuous mind).
However, the theme that ran throughout, besides my incessant boy-craziness, was my inner conflict of identity and self-worth. Was I good enough? Who was I, really? Did I measure up to others in my schoolwork or character?
I wept for that 14-year old girl, because I know her: she still lives inside me today, just with fancier words and more restrained expression (sometimes). I still struggle to understand who I really am, what is my true self expression? Do others really like me and accept me? Do I measure up to the world’s standards, or God’s? I still fluctuate between home-body and people-person, subdued yet spontaneous.
Here I am, on my way to 40. Can I take and accept my 9 1/2-year old self, my 14-year old self, and my 39-year old self for who they are- for who I am? How old do I have to be to just be okay with me? This year, before I reach that dreaded 4-0, I want to embrace all of me and love all of me, for that is who He created me to be. In loving myself, I can then look outward to love others and accept them as they are (including my mother).
Have you ever come across a memento from your childhood that enlightened or challenged who you are? I’d love to hear about it.