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Birthdays, piñatas and making time to celebrate

by CAROL SHIRK KNAPP / Contributing Writer
| September 13, 2023 1:00 AM

"I'm going to miss my birthday," she said. It was a big day turning eight last weekend. I wouldn't normally have had such an inside track — probably would have shown up for some cake and ice cream, and then her grandpa and I would drive an hour home.

This time I was actually camped out on a cot in the living room. Sarai's mom — our daughter-in-law — was in the hospital on emergency dialysis because lupus was attacking her kidneys. Now it appeared her heart was inflamed.

Autoimmune diseases remind me of Jesus' words about the devil — a thief out only to "steal, kill, and destroy." Our daughter-in-law is female, Black and her mother had lupus — each is a risk factor.

This household celebrates birthdays with Fourth of July zest. The entire day is all about the child. Several delivery boxes had arrived the previous week, which Sarai was allowed to shake. She wasn't cutting herself any slack, however. She came downstairs with one and informed me, "I'm hiding this from myself." She proceeded to put it in a closet.

I got to thinking about that. Maybe there are a few things I ought to hide from myself.

Her dad and siblings were up late on the birthday eve, wrapping gifts and blowing up balloons. To keep her distracted, I read from a book of Shel Silverstein poems we'd found in a Little Free Library box down the street. What a sight the birthday table was when we finally saw it.

In the morning, I did my best to make her a sunny side-up egg with her French toast — I'm more of a scrambled egg cook. The present opening was supposed to happen at the hospital, but there was some concern that Sarai might not want to leave her mom. We used FaceTime — not as good as really being together, but close. Her sister styled her hair, and she wore her new dress.

The whole day was just the family — and she was the star. Her dad took her through Walmart, where she carefully selected treasures with the birthday cash she'd received. In the evening, there was chocolate cake and ice cream in the park. And the annual piñata — our son a spectacle in a green cone party hat standing on the end of the picnic table holding out the unicorn on a pole. Her big brother and sister let her have all the Milky Ways, her favorite.

So we arrive at the beginning — that end-of-day observation, "I'm going to miss my birthday." It wasn't just the gifts or the delicious chocolate cake; it wasn't the pretty dress or the scrambling for piñata candy. These made it fun, but there was that intangible flowing above and through, wrapping its streamers around the day — around the heart of a little girl.

She felt celebrated, she felt valuable, and she felt loved. Doesn't everyone — secretly or not — hope for this? A birthday is one occasion to make it happen, but truthfully, there are 365 squares on my calendar where I can don a party hat and hold out the piñata.