My husband and I paused everyday life last night to mark the birthday of my first-born. I’ve been a mother thirty-one years now; if you’re wondering, it seems every bit of thirty-one years, as I think on all the intervening events that have marked the passage of time.
We enjoyed a fine dinner in a nostalgic red leather booth at Cattleman’s Steakhouse, Oklahoma’s only claim to fame in the travel book, 1000 Places to See Before you Die. Life does have a way of coming fast and furious, especially in your thirty-something years. By day Kate is a full-time nurse. By night and day, Kate juggles the competing demands of wants and needs that come with a family of six.
As I listened to her talk, I was struck by how similar Kate’s life was to mine at her age. Newly married for the second time, her challenging career, her challenging home life with all the children’s activities — well, it’s enough to lose sleep over. And Kate does. She mentioned at dinner that she was unable to sleep the night before; ironically, Kate was watching a television show on travel destinations in the middle of the night.
Though I suffer my fair share of sleepless nights, it’s worse to imagine your children fighting the same battle. Usually, after an hour of tossing and turning, I get up to read a little. Or like tonight, when my head is so full of thoughts of Mom’s storage shed and Kate’s birth night, I find it best just to release the spinning thoughts and anchor them to a line of words. It’s an act of discipline, as if to write is to mutter sleepily….”Now stop your whining.”
I always lost sleep towards the end of a pregnancy. My mother was living six hours south when I went into labor on a Wednesday night thirty-one years ago. Kate was born early Thursday morning — 1:28 am to be precise — and I recall being so tired and sore after it was all over, all I wanted to do was sleep. Had it not been for the nurses who came in to check on this or that, I would have.
My parents and sister arrived soon after Kate’s birth. And Mom stayed behind a week to help me ease into my motherhood groove. I’ll never forget those first days with Mom and Kate; even now, I can see Mom busy working in the kitchen, helping me with all the laundry — how can one little baby cause so much dirty laundry? — and when all the work was done, Mom kept her hands busy by making a few crafts, including a nice big Christmas stocking for Kate.
I take out the memory of those days again and hold it up to the light. How young my mother was then — both of us really, though it didn’t seem so with Mom now a grandmother and me now a mother. Why is it that we never quite see life as it really is, while we are in the midst of living it? Why does the passage of time and hindsight make the past more clear and even more precious?
These thoughts remind me of a few words from a Carly Simon tune where she continues to refrain that these are the good old days. These are words I need to hear and bear in mind as I continue to live my everyday life. These are the good old days.
Yet, as good as the message is, it’s not a ‘just right’ fit for Kate’s 31st birthday and where she is in life. Instead, I offer a variation on the same theme, from another Carly tune that I think she’ll recognize. The words of this song, published in my 31st year, remind that if we’re willing to play the game of LIFE, that second and third chances happen; that the best kind of travel is our own time travel though life; and that seasons and reason to celebrate are always coming around again. Just like a string of birthdays.
But in the meantime, I hope Kate relishes this one. Because from where I sat, this birthday is already a good old day.