I watch from the front door, the stoop damp from all the snow melt as my children trudge through slushy piles of melting snow and ice. Their backpack hangs heavy from their shoulders. They carry a huge unwieldy trifold board in their hands struggling to keep it off the ground.
“I love you.”
My voice rings out in the cold air suspended in the tiny drops of moisture between them and I. They appear not to notice until Ammu turns back, the cap of her neon pink winter jacket obscuring her face. She pauses and says the words, clear as ringing bells. They travel to me in waves. I smile as I close the door behind me and hurry to the hot stove.
Last night as Ammu and Pattu bounded up the stairs, I called out “You go up as seven year olds and will come down in the morning as eight year olds.” They disappeared into their rooms before I could figure out if they got the import of my words. I followed them, kissing and tucking them in, lingering in each room as it to savor the last moments before a huge change.
Long past bedtime, with everyone cozy under their sheets, I crept down, dug out the gifts that came in brown boxes over the past week. I set them up on the island, scribbled sticky notes and stuck them on top. I took pictures and turned the lights out on the day.
Birthdays are happy days. I wake up smiling. I love watching their faces as they rip open gifts. I pack treats in their lunch boxes. I dress them up and take a million pictures. Most of all I mutter prayers under my breath, crack my knuckles to ward off the evil eye and when the house is silent, sit for a moment in front of my puja shelf thanking the powers that be for the blessings they have showered on us.
Later in the day, I will boil milk on simmer, add sugar and cardamom, let it thicken to make a payasam Ammu and Pattu love. This evening when they are back from school, I will ask to look at their birthday books. I will sit between them on the sofa, my fingers running through their hair. I will kiss them on impulse and hug them each time I pass them. I will celebrate my children all day long.
Isn’t that what birthdays are all about, serenading people we love, overwhelming them with attention and making them feel like they matter?