The alarm went off. The kids had to be fed. The socks are never where they’re supposed to be. The dog wants out. The dog wants in. I wasn’t expecting much, but dang. G was the only one who had acknowledged my birthday in any way.
Finally, from the kitchen, he asked the kids if they had wished me a happy birthday. From the dining room, Victoria spoke in that perfectly flat teenage voice, “happy. birthday.” Vivi didn’t even look over from the couch as she echoed the sentiment with the same enthusiasm.
OK, it’s early. But dang.
Then Carlos, sitting beside me on the couch, looked me straight in the eye. “Hap-py Birfday, Mommy!” The kid who gets speech therapy. The kid who wasn’t connecting with people.
What color pony do you want, little boy? Because right now? Mommy wants to give you anything you want. I made such a fuss over him and he giggled and wiggled.
Three little words. The gift of those three tiny words carried me on through the business of the morning.
A while later, I met a man who looked familiar on the sidewalk outside my office. His son and Carlos are in class together. We introduced ourselves and started talking about our kids. We got deeper into the Spectrum Talk, about how our ideas of who our kids will be have to shift as we learn more about how they live in this world. This dad said, “I used to hope for throwing the football with my son. That’s OK if that doesn’t happen. But I would like to hear him call me ‘Dad,’ just once.” This beautiful son, who holds his father’s hand as they walk into school, has never called either of his parents “Mom” or “Dad.” Those words aren’t gifts that he can give just yet.
My boy’s birthday gift to me grew even more precious after that chance meeting on the sidewalk.
It was a lovely day, filled with kind messages, lunch with friends, sweet gifts and so much laughter. G had offered to fetch all three kids after school so I could take my time. I drove home with the windows down and the sun patting the top of my head. Simply happy and feeling loved.
Then the strangest thing happened.
I turned onto a little street where Richard and I once looked at a house that was for sale. It belonged to an older couple who were eager to sell so they could move closer to their daughter. The father had become ill and the mother needed her daughter’s help. The small, tired woman had told us this as we stood under a kiwi vine in the backyard. I remember it so vividly because I knew already that we didn’t want this house, but neither Richard or I was going to leave while she still had things to show us. She was enjoying having someone to talk to. We admired her yard and promised that we would call the realtor for more information. Then we left and went on with our lives.
So today, as I was driving past that same house, I caught a glimpse into that yard through the patchy hedge. Tables and folding chairs sat scattered across the grass. Pink tablecloths and bunches of balloons shifted in the breeze. Paper plates and ketchup bottles, bright bags and wrapped boxes. A birthday party.
I got this odd feeling, it being my birthday and all, and me having once thought of living in that house with the person I loved then–I got the strange idea in my head that it WAS a birthday party for me, for the me in a parallel life who bought that house and made a life there.
I drove right by that other me, having a party, and it was strange but OK. Maybe I don’t know how to explain this, but my life has taken such drastic turns that I sometimes cross paths with a ghost or a memory or a maybe of what might have been my life. Like that time I got the letter from the retirement company that listed Richard’s age as 46. He died when he was 38. But for a second, looking at that letter, I had the feeling that he was off somewhere on one of those parallel tracks. Maybe throwing a football with his son. Even that was strange but OK.
Every one of us who has made any choice or survived any kind of change or gotten any surprises along the way has felt that shadow of the other life that might have been. We’re going about our day, but out of the corner of the eye, just a glimpse through a gap in the hedge.
My car kept going and it wound up at home, in this life with the three kids and G and the house that Richard gave to us.
When I walked in the door, Carlos pointed to the fruit snacks G had given him and said, “I ate red AND blue!” (Mean old Mommy makes him choose one or the other, but Daddy…Daddy has his own ways.)
Then that son–the one I got and not the ones that I imagined–my son looked at me and said, “Happy Birfday, Mommy.” Unprompted.
What a gift. May I always treasure it.