For me, May inspires more of a creeping melancholia alongside the mirth. May brings Mother’s Day and Rachel’s birthday (May 4), and though both days are wonderful, they are also bittersweet.
John Milton’s “Song on a May Morning” suggests the month “dost inspire mirth, and youth, and warm desire.” Truthfully, for me, May inspires more of a creeping melancholia alongside the mirth. May brings Mother’s Day and Rachel’s birthday (May 4), and though both days are wonderful, they are also bittersweet.
After the death of my mom, Mother’s Day became a trigger for sadness, reminding me of her absence and my loss, both in the consumer world and in church. When I became a mother, it was a day to be surprised by the handmade cards and burnt toast for breakfast. After the births of Rachel and Janneke, the day became complicated again, and I now prefer it to pass quietly.
Rachel’s birthday is also complicated. Suffice to say, it is a day that holds both sadness and joy. In fact, I find both Rachel and Janneke’s birthdays emotionally challenging. The day reminds me of their birth and the incredible changes we tearfully had to accept immediately. The day reminds me of the gaps that exist between my girls and their peers, between my family and our families and friends, and the gaps that exist in my heart; I do not profess to wear a perfect and seamless faith.
Rachel and Janneke’s first birthdays were celebrated with cake, a few friends and some family; we were thrilled the girls survived one year. In those first years, we also knew Emily and Sophia were watching. As youngsters, the big sisters were intent on planning a party and making sure other children were invited to celebrate. Now that Emily and Sophia are less dialed into birthday parties (ah, adolescence), we feel less pressure to make the girls’ birthdays a big deal. We still try to plan something special and hope that others can celebrate with us, bringing the necessary cheer.
However, now that Rachel is in the double digits, there is a new sense of trepidation that threatens the joy of birthdays. She’s growing older, and we are growing older.
When I step into the parenting circles of typically developing kids such as Emily and Sophia, I often hear comments from parents of older children that allude to the joy that comes with sharing adulthood with their children. No longer fighting over bedtime routines, they are planning lunch dates and coffee chats.
Sadly, looking ahead for Rachel and Janneke, most of the advice and wisdom I get is framed with frustration. Make sure you get your child on those waitlists because you lose so many services when the children age into the adult system. You will lose your pediatric hospital service privileges and will have to navigate through an entire different hospital and team for adults. These words are not encouraging and generate a new sense of uneasiness for the future.
I remember craving a familiar routine when Rachel was first born, but I soon realized that our new normal meant the routine would always be changing. We had to be okay with embracing uncertainty. Cautiously optimistic, we still plan and dream, and I want to believe the aging stages for Rachel and Janneke won’t be as difficult as others say. I want (desperately) to be surprised by the joy that comes as all my children age. I want to hold on to the truth that life is always bigger than what we plan.
Speaking of plans, we intend to go bowling for Rachel’s birthday this year. Recently, Rachel went cosmic bowling with her classmates, and she demonstrated attention and excitement the entire time. Her eye contact was focused, and when one of her classmates started to pass her up in bowling scores, Rachel’s furrowed brow was an proclamation of heated competition within her gentle nonverbal spirit.
Though I can’t say our family has been big with bowling previously, once again, we are reminded of how much Rachel (and Janneke) continue to teach us and stretch us. This month, we will acknowledge the prevailing sadness, but we will also celebrate the joy. We will put on classy bowling shoes and give thanks for Rachel’s incredible 11 years.