A child's birthday party is a celebration on so many levels. For the child himself, of course, it involves a whirlwind of wrapping paper and a conflagration of lit candles. It features a cake that he gets to choose colors and flavors for, and earns him the privilege of wearing those on his face and clothes for the rest of the day. It is the one day of the year when the world breaks out of its normal orbit to revolve solely around him.
Our sweet baby grandson, Heero, had just such a party yesterday to observe the occurrence of his third birthday two days ago. His mama's parents, Nana and Gramps, offered their home as the party venue and helped out with the chili and trimmings. Somehow, Heero maintained patience until the end of our "Happy Birthday" song before he made his (very short) wish and blew out the candles on his mama's delicious Minion-themed cake ("chocolate with chocolate icing").
The fact that I had no real "jobs" to execute during Heero's party gave me the chance to contemplate birthday parties in general. Their focus changes, it seems, with the various life stages, beginning with this level of delicious anticipation you see here on Heero's face. As a kid, you get to claim your birthday as something belonging just to you. You can be totally self-indulgent without guilt and without even knowing what that word means.
As parents of the honoree, you get to recreate the excitement of your own childhood birthdays. You pick out presents you would have liked yourself, as well as those you think you might have liked if you had been a boy instead of a girl, or vice versa. You put a lot of energy into staging the perfect party that brings delight for your child and deja vu for you. You love seeing your child happy, and share his excitement vicariously.
I remember very well these first two levels in Googie's Hierarchy (Did Maslow ever think about birthdays, I wonder?) of birthday party celebration. They had their time and place, and they were wonderful. But after a couple hours of watching toy assembly amid a flurry of gift bags, tissue paper and bows, I am convinced that grandparents enjoy the best level of all--and I would call this the level of gratitude.
I feel so fortunate to have gotten to celebrate, over the last eight and a half years, the thirty-three birthdays of my six grandkids. Each one shines in my life like a wonderful, unique candle that never goes out. Each perfect little life is a cause for celebration, for laughter, for hope.
We may bring presents to our grandkids on their birthdays, but they are the ones who, without trying or even knowing, are givers of the best gifts--like the chance to snuggle into a blanket with The Night Before Christmas, to dust off classic folk-rock songs at bedtime ("Puff the Magic Dragon,"anyone?), to scoop the seeds out of a pumpkin with your bare hands.
To make snowmen out of old socks, to blow soap bubbles into the backyard trees, to watch ducks swimming on a pond--in other words, to experience one more round of this world's sights and sounds and textures at a life stage when you have the time and temperament to really appreciate them. Sometimes it takes a grandkid's birthday party to remind you that these simple things are the real stuff of life.
And so, little Heero, my big three-year-old, forgive me this diversion, these random thoughts that seem to be hijacking your birthday blog. In five or six years you may read this and wonder what your Googie was smoking on Nov. 6, 2016--or if, in retrospect, this seemed to be the first sign of the dementia.
But in the years that follow, you may come to understand these ramblings and even experience similar sentiments as you become a parent, and then a grandparent, yourself. Then, little guy with a new phone and new walkie-talkies and a new farm set and those new (and very loud) drums, then you will know what I tried to say here--and maybe you, too, will know a gratitude beyond what you ever imagined possible.