My worst birthday yet

A word of wisdom amid the mess.

It might have been my worst birthday yet: a four a.m. wake-up call from a child who hasn’t slept well since we uprooted years ago. A child with a stomach bug. Another’s meltdown that involved screams so deep they felt existential (and maybe like mourning). A job that has always felt beyond my grasp, which sometimes feels exhilarating, but this week (month? year?) has felt like drowning.

We tried to keep it together for an evening of pizza and presents and then a dispute erupted over markers and who signed their name where on the presents. Sigh. Just like that, the whole celebration exploded and ended prematurely. Each of us went off to bed early, falling asleep in our own pool of tears.

But I woke up early with a clear word and a sense of relief in the remembering. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.

A reminder to myself – as time slips and the lines around my eyes deepen. A word of wisdom as I settle into new and unfamiliar curves.

A reminder in these post-pandemic years – as upheaval, indecision and loss set the tone. Of course, we’ve lost sight of beauty as the world tilted and shrank. We stayed at arm’s length, covered our smiles and hoped to hold off the roaming angel of death.

A reminder in the midst of this job – one that aims at the roots of injustice and poverty. Where so often the expectations of leadership run far ahead of my nature, personality, wisdom, and desire for stillness. Daily I tread waters steeped in colonial harms, evils and legacies. Within and without.

Amanda Talstra’s kids at their home in Lusaka, Zambia.

And a reminder most especially as I parent these kids – whose struggles hold mirrors, portraits whose gaze cannot be averted. They hold gifts whose broken reflections grip at my neck. Whose delight refracts in colours, as it slips through my fingers.

The sun comes up and we start again.

There was sweetness in the second try – in the early morning celebration with coffee, gifts and handmade cards.

It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.


  • Amanda Talstra

    Amanda is a joyful wanderer who works in humanitarian relief and development, along with her husband and three kids.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *