Ammu nuzzles my cheek with her nose, throws her arms around my neck, kisses me and flits off to do whatever it is she is occupied with at the moment. Today she is working on a school project. There are sticky notes all over the place. She painstakingly colors the first American flag and sketches Betsy Ross in pencil. Her brows are furrowed, her face is a picture of concentration.
“This is so easy!”
“I am having so much fun!”
“This book is awesome!”
Pattu is all superlatives as she writes carefully in between the lines. Fact 1, Fact 2… Her facts are labeled and they are a mix of block letters and cursive. She twirls a lock of her hair with her index finger as she leans back to admire her penmanship. Her picture of Pocahontas is a mix of princess and warrior. She is pleased with what she sees. Another picture is of a tiny figure swinging from a green vine. A blue strip, possibly a stream merrily gurgles as a backdrop.
I survey the scene as a wave of nostalgia and love sweeps over me. Birthdays have a way of making me emotional. They make me take stock. I go over the years in my head. The tiny crawling babies, the brightly dressed toddlers, the still chubby preschoolers, the lanky kindergarteners, the big girls as first graders and now proper little girls as second graders. The years have been good to them, defining features, drawing out peculiarities in each and giving me a peek into the young adults they will grow into.
We sit down as a family for dinner. We pass parathas, dole out rich, creamy home made yogurt and occasionally feed the child next to us. Mostly we are done before the kids and we watch as they lick their plates and fingers clean. This was unimaginable a year or two ago. Dinner time usually meant feeding the children before we sat to savor our meal in peace. The changes have crept up on us. Bath time has gone from fully involved to supervised ones. Occasionally one or both of the twins will help me unload the dishes. They take pride in setting the table. They love emptying the dryer when done. They often sweep crumbs from below the kitchen island. The chores are small. They don’t happen with any regularity. Yet, when they pitch in, it reminds me that they are growing.
On a whim, I look up appropriate age related milestones. This is something I stopped once they left preschool. I nod along as they check all the boxes. It is a sobering reality check especially considering their struggles with reading and math. It gives me perspective, this peek into what is expected of them at this age. It tempers my expectation and gives me reassurance that my children will forge their path at their own pace.
I tuck them in. I watch them lie next to each other in matching pillows, matching monogrammed fleece blankets and a single comforter thrown over them. In the second before I turn the light out, I watch them turn toward each other, hands interlinked and joy lighting up their faces at just being together. My heart swells with feelings. Love, Joy, Gratitude.
My mud room is full of empty boxes. I worked on their birthday invite at the beginning of the month, checking every other day to see if I have all the RSVPs. I ordered stuff off Amazon. I have gifts hidden away. I debate if I should make birthday cards. I have been browsing for ideas on birthday cakes. The day will arrive and depart without a trace. It is the anticipation. The build up toward the day that I savor. I collate and cherry pick pictures of them. I linger on each going back in time to that day and time. I remember the cake or the lack of one. I remember the dresses they were wearing and the people at the parties. Most of all I remember the gap toothed smiles and the joy of them turning a year older. If the years until now I have reveled in them growing, this year I am torn between wanting them to be bigger, conversational, confrontational and staying the same clueless little children they are. It strikes me that each birthday is a count down to the time they will strike out on their own.
Most of all, each birthday is a week of reminiscing, of keeping score, of measuring how far they have come and how much longer they have to traverse. It is about dresses with ruffles, cakes with magenta and mustard icing and larger gift wrapped packages. It is a day of wishes, make believe and unbridled joy. It is the ultimate celebration of my children, of who they are and who they will be.