Forty-six years ago today, an American walked on the moon. I remember watching it unfold on the black-and-white TV in the little front room of the home where I grew up, and I remember standing on the back porch after it was dark and looking up at the moon, pondering how amazing it all was. And somewhere in the middle of all that, there was birthday cake and presents, because it was my eighth birthday. Yes, now you know that today is my birthday, and you know how old I am. I’ve never been one to try and hide my age or lie about it. I’ve earned every year, and however those years might show in my lumpy middle-aged self are just a part of who I am. I’m no longer thin and energetic, but my grandkids don’t care, so why should I?
I must confess that celebrating the day I came into this world is not holding any excitement for me at the moment. It’s not even six a.m. and I’ve already been awake for more than two hours with a migraine that is just beginning to calm down slightly with the help of three different medications. I’ve been fighting this health battle for years, and the migraines are the worst of my myriad of strange symptoms. I know what’s going on with my health because I have a great doctor, but the battle to undo the damage of years of disease is long and slow and painful. Pain has become a part of my everyday life for years now, so perhaps it’s needless to say that finding enthusiasm over life can also be an everyday challenge.
I’m well aware that I’m not the only person who is suffering in one way or another. It is, after all, a part of life—dang it. But here in my own little bubble of existence, it’s getting really old. I try every day to find joyful moments and to focus on gratitude. Prayer keeps me grounded, and knowing I have children who need me keeps me moving forward. However, the very idea of celebrating another year down and not feeling any better just feels like high treason. As I was reminded earlier this month on the Fourth of July, I am one of those traitorous colonists, but since I wasn’t actually present during the Revolutionary War, and I’m grateful to be an American, I feel rather pleased with myself for being labeled a treasonous colonist. I am rather fond of British television. And now you see how a brain on headache drugs can wander and regress. Bottom line: I don’t want to celebrate my birthday. What I want is to believe that by the time I celebrate the next one, I will be able to wake up without a headache.
As for now, I am trying to accept that this pain is a present part of my life, and I have no choice but to make the most of the parts of my life that are good—and they are many. So, I will publicly declare here and now that in spite of the challenges, life is worth celebrating. I count blessings every day, and if I get serious about it, I find it doesn’t take long to realize the list is too long to comprehend. But my greatest blessing is undoubtedly my family.
Yesterday my sons conspired to arrange a birthday dinner for both me and my husband, since he had been out of state working when his birthday happened a few weeks ago. The event was at the home of my oldest son, which was nice because I didn’t have to prepare for company or clean anything up. The kids took care of everything, and I can’t deny that it’s one of the gratifying experiences of having your children become adults—they actually are capable of taking care of me once in a while. The meal was great, and so was the gluten-free cake my son had made. But the truly great thing was just sitting around the table, and then in the backyard, with my children and grandchildren all gathered together. Three of my five children are married, so that’s eight children—because I certainly consider my daughters-in-law to be my babies too, even though I didn’t have to raise them. And I have four grandchildren and number five coming very soon.
My children who used to fight and sometimes hate each other now sit around a table together and talk and laugh and tease. And those grand kids are a hoot. I swear something biologically changes in a grandparent’s brain. All the things that stressed me out with my own kids are now like some kind of magical circus that my husband and I just sit back and laugh at. “Oh, look at that hysterical tantrum!” “Aren’t they just adorable when they’re fighting over who got who wet first?” “Isn’t it just precious the way that toddler is throwing grass and dirt in the wading pool?” “And look at that toddler who is so prone to stripping all her clothes off that her diaper is held on with duct tape!” “The very pregnant daughter-in-law looks so cute with that huge belly and swollen feet. I know she feels like crap and can’t wait to get that baby out, but doesn’t she look cute!” And on and on it goes. That was the best birthday gift. To have my children go to the trouble of getting us all together, of preparing a meal that was safe for all my food issues, and for just letting me sit back and take in the deep, unspeakable joy of seeing the evidence that the more than three decades I’ve invested in raising children has turned out relatively well.
So, today I can look at the pictures I took last night with my cell phone. Nothing worth framing, but enough of the memories captured that I can scan through them and smile—and I will probably do so a dozen times or so before the day is over. In conclusion, joy and gratitude are the ingredients that keep me going; sometimes I think they might literally keep me alive. Therefore I will add up as much of both as I possibly can and remind myself that I have much to celebrate.
Post Script: And I feel a strong need to watch some British television, which I’m certain will emotionally connect me to the gratifying reality of being a treasonous colonist.
Anita Stansfield aka Elizabeth D. Michaels (All of Anita Stansfield's books, and The Horstberg Saga by Elizabeth D. Michaels, are available at amazon.com)