I was invited to a birthday party yesterday. I never pass up a birthday party. I would not have missed this one for the world. The grandmother of the little Sweet Pea, who was turning one, is an old friend of mine. Although I have to say that she and I might have different time scales for old friends. Her roots are deep, and she was surrounded by people she has known most of her life. I have been more of a nomad throughout my life. She is a vivacious, generous woman who made a life and filled it with the love and laughter of four generations. It is clear she is passing that tradition down.
I arrived uncharacteristically late and the party was in full swing when my daughter and I pulled up. The house was packed and yet I knew by her welcome that there would always be room for one more. She walked us through the house introducing us to a sea of sisters, aunts, uncle, grandparents, friends and classmates. The backyard was filled with young parents deftly wrangling toddlers with one hand while catching up with old friends. Babies crawled or teetered on new legs. A small pup followed one curly-haired child around looking ready to lick his face clean or snatch a falling chip. Dads were patiently tossing balls to children who clasped their hands together catching nothing but air yet shrieking with glee nonetheless. Many of the young adults had been students of mine. It was so amazing to see them all. I used to think the best part of being a high school teacher or principal was getting to watch kids grow into adults. They entered high school as gangly, tentative freshmen unsure of their gifts and strengths. They left adults. They might not have had it all figured out by graduation, but they were on their way. I could see what was possible. Decades of experience told me everyone grows up. I was wrong- not that everyone grows up. I was right about that. I was wrong about the best thing – it’s not watching them grow up and graduate. The best part is seeing them with a family of their own. A young dad rocking his baby with that look of awe and pride. A young mom staying close but letting her child take those first tentative steps away from her- ready to sweep that child up in a hug, dust her off and set her on her way to try again knowing she will be always be there. A young couple exhausted from late night feedings but so in love with each other and the family they are building. Hearing about their jobs, their old dreams and all of the new ones. Those are all the best things. That and seeing them here in this house with friends they have had for a lifetime. Grandparents close- the ones they were born to and the ones who took them in. Aunties they have picked up along the way. Doting uncles vying to give the favorite toy.
Don’t get me wrong, education is absolutely important. Everyone needs a good education. Having a job or career that fits your life is important. But a life is so much more than that. And what is important in life is so much more than that. Knowing you are part of a family – biological or created – who know you well and open their hearts to you. Raising children in a community that will love and support them. Giving your children the roots and the wings that they will need to grow into strong adults. Creating a place where they can try and fail knowing you will be there cheering them on as they try again. Celebrating every single birthday together- especially the first one.
(1/60 sec., f/4.5, 100 ISO, 100 mm)