Category: Birthdays

Bright Star

Kevin and I watched Bright Star last night. It’s a recent movie that had been recommended by several friends, and my friend D’s review finally pushed me over the top: I was ready to rent it. The movie is by Jane Campion, based on the doomed love story of John Keats and a young woman named Fanny Brawne; his sonnet to her, “Bright Star,” may or may not have been the last poem he ever wrote. The movie is beautifully composed, and though I’m not sure how entirely accurate it is (apparently there was another woman, in real life, to whom Keats was somewhat attached during the same time period, and for whom he wrote a poem), the plot is distilled into a story of young love. This shows my age, but I was very sympathetic to the dilemma Fanny’s mother faced: she recognized that her daughter was falling in love, and her warnings were gentle and compassionate, and her silent presence was so deeply loving as she watched her daughter suffering the heartbreak of an impossible connection. Because, of course, the pairing was impossible. Keats was already ill with tuberculosis (and considering how contagious the disease, I cringed every time he coughed while embracing healthy, young Fanny). But just as imposing was Keats’s lack of a living. His poetry was admired by some influential friends, but scorned by critics. (Not that at the best of times poets ever make much of a living). When Keats died, at age 25, he believed he’d left nothing immortal behind. I can still remember writing an essay on “Ode to a Grecian Urn” in the last exam I ever sat in undergrad. Nothing is immortal; but that poem–and its beautiful concluding lines: ” ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ that is all / Ye know on Earth and all ye need to know”–have lasted a century and a half, more immortal than most earthly things.
Ultimately, for me the movie was a true and unabashed recognition of young love, and of the passion experienced in a first romantic pairing. And it was also about artists and the making of art, and how painful the process (“I am writing again,” Keats says at one point; and I understood so well, how the writing comes and goes), how little it can be relied upon yet how impossible not to pursue if it’s what one must do. It’s no way to make a living. Never has been. Never will be. It exists unconnected from worldly success. There is no way to predict what will last; yet that sense of grasping at the immortal is probably what drives most artists to create. A strange paradox. There’s no point in making art if you’re only making it to attempt to make yourself immortal; yet you probably wouldn’t make it if you weren’t tapping into the threads of human experience that are essentially immortal: death, birth, love, creation, beauty.
:::
On another subject altogether … my baby. My baby is two years old today. He was born around 7 o’clock in the morning, so when we woke, Kevin and I reminisced about that vivid and intense hour of labour that preceded his arrival. It was a panicked hour, our midwives got lost, and about forty-five minutes into the wait Kevin called a neighbour (luckily a midwife!) to come and help. She arrived almost exactly at the same moment as our midwives. I still remember Kevin saying, his hands gently on me, “Please, don’t push. Don’t push. Don’t push.” He was more panicked than I was, because I was entirely focused on what was happening in my body. And we both remember the midwives taking the stairs two at a time, arrived just in time to rescue Kevin from having to catch our baby. Albus remembers that we called at 7:05 to report the arrival of their new baby brother (the kids and Kevin’s mom were all spending the night at my mom’s). AppleApple remembers that they asked what colour the new baby’s hair was, and we said, “Red.” Ha! Honestly, we couldn’t imagine having any child without red hair, and spent the next few months examining his locks for signs of colour. Now, I can’t imagine him as anything but what and who he is. Happy birthday, son.
(Bottom two photos by AppleApple!).

Why?

Had a long conversation yesterday morning with Albus. He wanted to talk about two things: one, when can we get a Wii and why don’t we have one when everyone else does? and two, why can’t he have a friend birthday party with presents?
Well.
On one, at least there are still a few friends in the neighbourhood whom I could point to as being similarly Wii-less. But that’s not really the point. The point is that we don’t choose to do things just because our friends are doing it too. And the reason we haven’t gotten a Wii yet (though we may, eventually) is because Kevin and I prefer to encourage creative, active, cooperative play–and we see our children playing in these ways when they are given the freedom and time to do so. The best moments in my life, right now, are watching my children playing together–all four of them. In this play, they learn how to solve problems, how to compromise, and how to find ways to include everyone. It doesn’t always run smoothly, and there are plenty of moments which cannot be romanticized. I don’t think a Wii would ruin this. But I also don’t think it would enhance it. What I explained to Albus was that if/when we decide as a family to get a Wii, it will only be after we’ve come to an agreement about how often it should be played, and when, and under what circumstances (ie. special rules for holidays? after school? once a week? weekends only?). It would become like the television is for us, and the DVD player: something we have, but choose not to use without considering others activities first.
Did Albus hear what I was saying? Debatable. “So I can get one for my birthday?” “No, I don’t think so.” “So I can get one for Christmas?” “I don’t know.” “When can I get one? Could I get a DS instead?”
Onto question two … Albus is already planning his birthday party (which won’t be till May, on his birthday). “Could my friends bring presents this time?” “No, we don’t do friend parties with presents.” “But why? I would get so many toys!”
Since we started hosting friend parties for the kids’ birthdays (around age six), we chose to request no gifts. Cards welcome. We got a few phone calls from baffled parents who really really really wanted to bring a gift, but everyone has so far respected the request; the way I see it, the gift is the presence of friends. We also don’t hand out giant loot bags afterward, but like to send every kid home with something they’ve made at the party, or a related but inexpensive prop used at the party: ie. one year I found pretty little china tea cups and saucers at a thrift shop for a tea party; another year, Kevin designed and made personalized t-shirts that all the kids wore to a “bike rally.” Nothing fancy. The birthday child gets to the choose the party theme, what to eat, who to invite, what the cake should look like, etc. It’s a fair bit of work for us, and held in the child’s honour, and adding ten gifts into the mix never made sense to Kevin and me. Like over-salting the soup. We also always host a family party for the birthday child, to which aunts and uncles and grandparents are invited–and gifts are brought. They don’t need to mine their friends for extra treasure. There are already gifts in abundance.
Does this sound like an odd, puritanical rule? I appreciate that giving gifts is something that many people want to do.
But we’re trying to live a less wasteful life, less packaging, less of what we don’t really need.
And we live in a country that is enormously privileged and we sometimes forget that and want more and more and more, without recognizing how much we already have. (I’ve observed this phenomenon at other moments with the kids: If I put out a big buffet of a snack, everyone goes greedy, grabbing and hoarding, even though there’s more than enough. If I put out a small and simple snack, the greed disappears.)
By the end of the conversation (which wasn’t the lecture that appears above; sorry to be so dull today), Albus seemed reconciled to the basic principles of doing with a bit less. Somewhat reconciled might be more accurate.
This is just the beginning, right? Of my children testing our family’s principles and choices against what their friends are doing? I recently wrote a review of Craig and Marc Keilburger’s The World Needs Your Kid, and highlighted from the book ten suggestions for encouraging compassion in one’s children. Number two was to know and identify your own beliefs, as parents. It felt in the conversation with Albus that I did know, and I was grateful. But I also want to remain open and flexible to their changing needs, so that kids don’t feel like their living in a totalitarian regime, but in a living and growing ecosystem.
Which is why we might get the Wii, eventually. Maybe this Christmas. Maybe. We’re still thinking about it.

We Got Silkworm Spinning / We Got Birthday Singing …

Want to write, if hurriedly, about our party last night to celebrate Kevin’s fortieth birthday–his “friend party,” as we explained to the kids, who had their own ideas about who should be invited (ie. their friends). It wasn’t till the kids were in bed that the party really started for me–the eddying and flowing, whirling and skirling of shallow waters and deeps that makes for a really fine gathering. I took no photographs. Not one. It felt like the camera would remove me from what was happening, and I really just wanted to sink right in and enjoy.
Highlights include the late-night tidying insisted upon by the Three Vodkateers (ever may they outwit, outplay, and outlast).
I also cannot fail to mention Ryan’s can of conversational magic, aka edible silkworm pupa, which guests braver than I threw back and managed to keep down (Survivor comes to Uptown; no prizes for this one, but aren’t you glad to be alive?); there were few takers for seconds. The children put the leftovers into jars this morning and by evening I’d collected and spun our first silk scarf, which seems entirely improbable, nay, downright incredible, given the infamously finicky nature of the silkworm and that the little slugs had been marinating, potentially for months, in monosodium glutomate. Guess we just got lucky. Ryan, that was a well-invested $1.50.
But seriously. The best moment of the evening? A full house singing lyrics especially written for Kevin’s birthday by Chris L., with Sean on wailing acoustic guitar. Was I dry of eye? I was not. Later, a friend told me that they’d been mulling what to get Kevin for his birthday, and suddenly someone said: We shouldn’t get him something–we should DO something! Thus, the surprise song. A better gift for a man of action, there could not be. Thanks to everyone.
And suddenly it was three thirty in the morning, and the house was quiet. And then it was seven, and the house was not.

And Then He Was …

Kevin had a birthday on Saturday. One of those BIG birthdays that, rumour has it, comes paired with crisis and denial. Thirty-nine again? Not my husband. Here he is the night before, still thirty-nine, and then the next morning, forty. (Since I’ve been doing this before/after documentation for the kids, why not for him? Except please don’t comment to say that he looks older in the morning).
On his birthday, he slept in, ate waffles, watched the Celtics play live on the internet, received a surprise delivery of a birthday gift worthy of the changing of the decades (a new guitar!), was serenaded at a specially prepared birthday concert starring his children, went out for a family sushi lunch, spent the afternoon playing guitar and watching a movie with the kids, and went out for dinner with me.
But the cake had to wait one more day because I hadn’t read the recipe thoroughly enough to discover that it required chilling in the fridge for a minimum of six hours post-baking. (It was a somewhat laborious-to-make New York Cheesecake; my first ever attempt). So we blew out candles (four plus zero) last night instead.
The wish still counts, I’m sure of it.

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