When you do it, not the way you've done it before

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Blake turned four yesterday. And it was the first time since being a mom-- a total of seven years, three kids and 12 birthdays--that I didn't plan a party. 

We did, however, celebrate. We went to Great Wolf Lodge in Charlotte, a kid and grown-up friendly indoor water park, with Shawn's mom, his sister and his nephew. My mother-in-law wanted to take the kids, the resort offered discounted rates to go on select days, and those select days conveniently fell on Blake's birthday.

So, Blake was thrilled. And I was thrilled, because Yay! I don't have to plan a party!

The whole affair started Friday morning, when the kids and I rolled out of the driveway (the car packed for the long weekend) at 7:30. Blake and Cate had appointments with the allergist at 8:00. After that, we went to Target: 

1) to let Blake pick out his own present.  In all of the packing and non-party planning, I had forgotten about a gift. And he's the Power Ranger expert, not me.

2) to kill time until 10:30, so we could swing through McDonald's to get Happy Meals.

I was on a roll.

Then, we drove 40 minutes to the beach to spend the night with friends. Shawn met us there when he got off work. Saturday morning, we loaded Shawn's car and drove back home to drop off MY car (another detail we had not considered). Then we left for Charlotte.  

We spent Saturday night at my sister-in-law's house, and she presented Blake with an Oreo cake... a plate of Oreos shaped like the number 4. Blake is allergic to eggs and can't eat a real cake, and all he ever wants is Oreos. He is not allergic to sugar, you see.  

Sunday, we loaded the car again and drove to the Great Wolf Lodge, spent the night there, and then yesterday, we drove back to Charleston. So, to say the whole thing was easy would not be accurate. But there were moments during the weekend that I was able to soak up the fact that my middle child was turning four, in a way that I'm never able to do when I'm in the midst of hosting a party.

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I said Happy Birthday and you're going to rock being four years old and I love you a lot. When he was tired from swimming, I wrapped him in a towel and we snuggled in a lounge chair by the pool, and I consciously thought back to when he was swaddled in hospital blankets and wearing the tiny blue hat. I compared the moments, noting how they felt so different and so similar.

I enjoy planning parties and honoring my children's birthdays in that way, because when I'm cooking and decorating and addressing invitations, I'm reflecting. But when party time arrives, the focus shifts to the guests... do they have what they need? is everyone ready to eat? should we cut the cake now? should we open presents now or after the party? because when you're the host, how can you not think about those things?  

But when we got home from a long weekend of packing and unpacking and driving and sleeping in different beds, it felt strange. Then I realized my children's birthdays always leave me feeling unsettled, no matter how we "do" it. I never get the satisfying feeling of closure. Perhaps it will always feel this way.

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My children are growing and changing and evolving into wonderful humans. But the growing and changing and evolving leaves me with an ongoing sense of loss, and it hovers. Thrusting myself into the present tense is the only way I'm able to shake it. I'm going to work hard to remember that this week, as we shift back into our regular routine.

This is the time, not to mourn the passing of time, but to watch my middle child rock being four years old.  

 

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