Raucous Bollywood celebrations aside, Child One’s actual birthday is today. And notwithstanding her deeply held belief that the 4th of July is a national holiday held in anticipation of her date of birth, this is the day, eighteen years ago when the little rosy cheeked, tow-headed girl entered the world. I wasn’t there that day. I didn’t come into her life for many years after. I feel weirdly guilty about that - an irrational guilt to be sure. But I take joy in her 18th birthday nonetheless.
Sig Other, however, is inconsolable. He moves from stoic lamentation to breast-beating sorrow with hummingbird-wing rapidity and desires only to stay at home and mope. No celebration is appropriate, no declaration great enough, no gift big enough to express his feelings about his first born coming of age. To watch him suffer, one would assume there was something terribly, terribly wrong.
In fact, there is nothing terribly wrong at all. Child One has done exactly as asked. She has grown up quite beautifully. She has, with the greatest of both hesitation and grace, transformed from scared little girl to forthcoming young woman. If you asked her, four years ago, about future plans, she would not have known how to answer. She could not imagine leaving home, couldn’t imagine going to school out of town much less across the country and would never have thought of traveling the world on her own in search of adventure, education and justice. Sig Other used to sit at the dinner table and repeat over and over again that it was her great fortune, not to mention her responsibility and obligation, to take advantage of the opportunity in front of her – to grasp at what had eluded us and strive for the possibility of better education, greater horizons, deeper experience. Tears would stream down her face as he would look deep in her eyes and say, “you will graduate and leave us – you will go to a great school on the east coast and get an amazing education and meet interesting people and form deep relationships that will stay with you for the rest of your life.” And she would say no – she would never leave home, would never go far away, would never want to be a grown up. Yet here she is, 18 years old, about to leave for a summer volunteering at a school in Israel before starting her future at a fancy east coast school. She has become all Sig Other ever hoped. And all he can do is lament.
“This is what you raised her for,” I say to him. “This is what you insisted she do. You’ve done an amazing job. She is fulfilling every dream you had for her.” “I know,” he says, “but I didn’t really mean it. I didn’t really want her to leave.” He says this as we drive home from her birthday dinner and I imagine the evening before us – Sig Other sitting on the floor going through albums of baby pictures and listening to a mix-tape of Rafi and Paul Simon. He doesn’t do this, of course. He tucks his pain away and rather stoically goes to his office to fiddle with a faulty computer program. But I know he is suffering. I know he is in pain. I feel guilty that we can’t sit on the floor with a bottle of wine and reminisce about her colicky infancy and adorable toddlerhood. I wasn’t there for those moments. I missed her first words and first steps and first taste of delicious rice cereal. I’ve been there for my share of tears and vomiting and runny noses and pain – been there enough for lots of anxiety and some pain, a few hurt feelings and a few misunderstandings. And of course for lots of cuddling and laughs and more joy than I could ever have imagined before she or Child Two or Sig Other entered my life. But now I must go and console Sig Other and pet his head as he mourns the loss of his job well done.