happy birthday

Happy Birthday, Grandpa

It was a Saturday afternoon, right when the Camarillo breeze started to creep its way through the trees, when my dad pulled up in front of my grandpa’s house. We made sure not to park in front of the mailbox—that was one of grandma’s biggest rules—and then we open and shut our doors, carrying in some groceries, the mail and most importantly, lunch, up the pathway to the front door.

I stood on the porch, peeking through the black mesh of the screen at my grandpa sitting in his chair, as I waited for my dad, who was a few steps and a free hand behind me, to open the door. That’s when I saw a sign taped to the wall.

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“Ding dong!” I yelled.

“Well, hello there,” my grandpa said with a laugh. “I see you like my new doorbell.”

“I love it,” I said as we walked in.

He smiled.

Growing up, I was told by many people—frequently—how much they loved my grandpa.

Howard is the best.

Howard is my favorite.

Your grandpa is truly one of the best men I’ve ever known.

As I got older, these compliments were passed down to my dad.

Your dad is the best.

Your dad is my favorite.

Your dad is truly one of the best men I’ve ever known.  

And then to my brother.

Troy is just the best.

Troy is my favorite.

Troy is one of the best guys I know.

While nice to hear—albeit annoying at times because, like, don’t you know how great I am?!—it wasn’t new information for me. It was no secret I was growing up surrounded by incredibly strong, kind and caring men. To be honest, it kind of ruined me. Because if I know there are men like them around, why waste my time with anything less, you know?

My grandpa taught my dad who taught me (and my sister and my brother) how to love. How to care for people and make them feel like they matter. He taught us by reminding us that we matter.

In college, when I studied abroad in Australia, my grandpa sent me postcards and letters, giving me a sense of home when I was scared and needed it most. And to this day, whenever we get together as a family, my grandpa always goes out of his way to ask each and every one of his grandchildren (and children and great-grandchildren), “What’s new?”

When I think of my grandpa, I think of love. Of joy and fun and safety. I think of the mini donut holes he always had out on the kitchen table when my family moved in with him and my grandma.

I think of going to Dodger games, of eating hot dogs and singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, and of the time my cousin Spenser was wildly booed for popping a beach ball that was being passed around, because my grandparents knew the usher and didn’t want her to have to chase it—which he never did again, by the way.

I think of sitting around in he and my grandma’s living room with one arm leaning on a cousin, the other on an aunt or an uncle, and my legs propped up on my brother’s shoulders as we all sat close and opened presents on Christmas Day.

I think of going to the mall during the summer to walk around, just so we weren’t cooped up in the house, and how occasionally we would convince grandpa to buy us a blizzard from Dairy Queen.

I think of bowling on Thursdays, watching golf on Sundays, and eating pizza on Friday nights after sitting in the bleachers at my parents’ softball game, learning how to keep score next to my grandma. (When someone would ask who was winning, my grandpa would either say “good guys” or “bad guys”—monikers I still use to this day.)

When I think about these things, it’s no wonder why people go out of their way to tell me how great my grandpa is. But oftentimes I wonder if they really know how great.

It takes a special kind of man (and a badass lady partner in crime) to raise the kind of family I grew up in. And it would be one of the greatest successes of my life to find a partner worthy of our traditions and to raise children with as much kindness and compassion as was given to me.

I can only hope that one day I have grandchildren looking at me the way we all look at you, grandpa—and I hope I’ll stick my tongue out and make them laugh the way you’ve done my whole life.

We’re so very lucky to have you by our sides—and there are a lot of us, so that’s a lot of sides, but you still manage to make each one of us feel just as important and cared for, and I pray we make you feel that way too.

Happy (one day early) birthday, Grandpa.

.

P.S.- Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone I’m your favorite.

Why You Should Always Say Happy Birthday Early

From everything I’ve read, it seems it’s very bad luck to wish someone happy birthday before their actual birthday. Apparently it’s too wishful of thinking, or something. A “don’t catch your chickens before they hatch” type of deal.

I get it.

A birthday wish, if it were to be defined, is essentially a two-word celebration of the anniversary someone was born, right? It’s you saying, “hey, congrats on surviving another year. I hope this day that specifically signifies the anniversary of your aliveness is joyful, yo.”

So technically if you offer this congratulations before it is appropriate, you’re lying to the would-be birthday boy or girl, because technically they haven’t yet accomplished what you’re congratulating them for. And since lying is not typically a good basis of friendship, love, or whichever noun best describes your relationship to the would-be birthday boy or girl, it probably is better/more polite/overall less dangerous to wish them happy birthday on their actual birthday, rather than say it early and ignore all the aforementioned risk.

But I’m going to do it anyways.

You see, tomorrow is my sister’s birthday. Not today, tomorrow. And while I would like to follow protocol because I don’t enjoy lying to my sister and I would, in fact, like the day that specifically signifies the anniversary of her aliveness to be joyful, yo, I would also like to take a moment to be selfish. Because while wishing someone happy birthday is primarily for their benefit—to give congratulations and yo and all of that—it’s also a way to celebrate your enjoyment of the existence of the congratulations and the yo and all of that. So when it comes down to it, the anniversary of their birth is joyful for you because it means that you have had the opportunity to enjoy another year of their alive-ness.

So really, a premature birthday wish is a just selfish birthday wish. It doesn’t care about the formalities. All it cares about is the truth. And the truth is, I’m happy you were born, Natalee. I’m happy you were brought into this world and I’m happy you continue to live in it alongside me. And even though I can’t technically celebrate another year of your aliveness for another 24 hours, I basically celebrate your aliveness all the time, so the formalities don’t really matter that much, you see?

Happy birthday, today and everyday! May they all be joyful, yo.

Sometimes They Just Know (feat. My Sister)

My sister has always been good with kids. She has the patience and the kindness and the key voice change required to get them to both listen and understand you. When she was 16, she started working at a summer camp where she quickly became highly and widely adored by all. They called her, “Miss Natalee” and the name fit.

A few years later, after she graduated high school, she entered college as a Child Development major and got a job as a Preschool Teacher’s Assistant while she finished her degree. It was hard. She worked hard. But even though some days at the preschool were exhausting and some night classes were worse, she still managed to get up every morning and put a smile on her face, because she knew those kids deserved it and that she loved them with all her heart.

When my sister got out of school, she started to specialize her zone of work to kids with special needs. She wanted them to be known rather than just sympathized for and nervously looked at. About a year ago, she took a job as a shadow for a little girl named Tess who was born with sensory processing disorder and apraxia as a result of being born extremely premature. Many people might have been intimidated by a case like this, but my sister took in stride, understanding that no matter how hard a day was for her, it was 10 times harder for Tess.

Last fall, my church hosted a Harvest Festival for Halloween and invited families to come out in their costumes to play games, exchange candy, etc. My sister and I signed up to run a face painting booth where we spent the evening creating subpar masterpieces on children’s cheeks.

One 6-year-old reviewer of my work called it, “Okay.” Another said, “Thanks, I guess.”

After we were done, when the last kid walked away with an average amount of satisfaction, we made our way to the buffet to overeat. With our plates stacked high and our hands still cramping, we took a seat around one of the tables and ate and shared stories of our failed face paintings with our fellow churchgoers. Once the meal was finished, the MC announced it was time to reveal the winners of the pumpkin carving competition. My sister and I turned our chairs forward and as we awaited the winners, we saw a little boy turn around in his chair. He glanced at me briefly, then looked at my sister and smiled. A few seconds later, the MC announced the winner to be none other than this little boy. He went up on stage and collected his prize, then walked back to his table to hug his mom, all the while glancing over at my sister with a smile.

My mom made a comment about how cute all of the pumpkins had come out and was about to suggest we start cleaning up, when suddenly a little voice interrupted her. The little boy walked up to the table with caution, his eyes on the ground, and my sister immediately greeted him with a smile and congratulations. He blushed and said thank you and then immediately looked back down at his feet. The group of us exchanged a smile, then we all watched in amazement as the boy slowly walked towards my sister and climbed up on her lap. We were stunned. Had she met him in the preschool room where she volunteers on Sundays?  Had he been in her group for Vacation Bible School in the summer?

“No,” my sister said after he left, “I’ve never talked to him before.”

Later that week, when we were back at church on Sunday morning, a woman came up to my mom and I to talk about the Harvest Festival and what a success she thought it was.

“Not to mention I saw little Aaron sitting on Natalee’s lap at the end of the night.”

“Yeah, he really latched on to her out of nowhere, it was so cute!”

“He’s not usually like that, but sometimes they just know.”

“What do you mean?”

She went on to explain that Aaron had a few different learning disabilities and was often very shy and slow to take to other people. But there must have been something about my sister, some sort of undeniable goodness that made him trust her instantly.

“Sometimes they just know.”

They know, I know, & I hope you know.

Happy birthday!