What I want you to know about letting go of tradition

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here.  Today’s guest post is by Jennifer C.

As the weekend approached, I found my self having mixed emotions about the upcoming birthday of my youngest child. Normally an exceptionally energetic and scrupulously organized celebrator of my children’s birthdays, graduations and the like, I had strong mixed emotions about celebrating a year where I felt as much a new mother as I did a new person. It brought to the forefront all the emotion of a year full of exposure and embarrassment, of seeing and accepting myself, flaws and all, of facing the fact that I nearly killed my child in utero by indulging in the bliss of a drug haze as opposed to facing the fears I was having about having another child at the age 42, a year full of facing complete vulnerability with nothing but faith to protect me after having lost control of the addictions that I relied upon for so long.

As a firm believer in tradition, I hid ceremoniously in the ritualistic pre-birthday cake baking session, accomplishing the task complete with cake coloring and frosting design, number candles from birthdays past and cake decorations that are meticulously matched to my collection of cherished party d├ęcor, possessions that long defined me and my ability to conduct a meaningful birthday celebration that would broadcast my splendid ability at parenting and organizing alike. But this year tradition seemed to be met squarely at the door by karma, a twist of fate that only seemed perfectly fitting for this child, who came into the world in anyway but traditional. An event that I would have historically perceived as so epic, it would have sent me reeling into crazed emotional chaos. Something would have disrupted my view of me and my value as a mother and a person. Something that would have traumatized me so deeply that I no doubt would have had to pacify that feeling of dread for weeks with Valium and Vicodin. My “Happy Birthday” headband, (hereunto be known as “the hat”) a party and photo staple for over 25 years, was nowhere to be found. The hat that met each of my children at their annual birthday photo op, the hat that welcomed my second husband into our family as we celebrated his first birthday with us, the hat that showed up every year no matter where we celebrated or what condition I was in, the one that always made my kids smile and pose…with no regard for their machismo or age. The hat that showed everyone that my family was well taken care of, that made me a good mom, the hat which was sure to keep us looking energetic and united as the pictures were viewed by family and friends both near and far. But on this particular birthday, for this particular child, it was gone. This baby, who was born an addict, has fought withdrawal to live, never spent one night in her own home, has been kept at arms distance by her brothers for their fear of falling in love with her and having her taken away again, was now not even going to have the traditional birthday portrait with the hat that, to me, always stood for so much.

So why was I handling it so well? Where was that feeling of failure that was supposed to be washing over me as the morning rolled on and no hat appeared? Why didn’t I care so much about the hat as I did about having all of my kids all together in one place? Why was I so happy when something that I had conceived to be so important, for so long, was gone? My husband was shocked, as was my daughter, that I didn’t break down in tears. They looked almost afraid when I called off the search and announced that we were off to Wal-Mart to find a new hat, and that a hat didn’t make a family, and it wasn’t going to make the baby any more a sister or a daughter or an amazing new member of our family that just loving her and sharing a beautiful day together would accomplish. And as the day progressed and the birthday banner fell to the ground, I appreciated the warm breeze that filled the park. As hot dogs went plain on the buns because the catsups and mustard were left behind, I was too busy enjoying my kids playing ball together in the field too obsesses about the food. And as the babies dress, originally her sister’s 1st birthday dress, and one which I had kept meticulously stored for over 13 years, became covered in hot pink icing (which will never come out) because her sister popped a cupcake gently into her face causing her to squeal in delight…I smiled at how much they enjoyed each other and how making the baby laugh is a true joy to my daughter and anyone else within earshot.

So am I really that much of a different mother today than I was years ago. I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s so much me that has changed as a mother, but what I perceive as defining and important that has changed. I have learned to be satisfied with being in the moment, enjoying me, my life and my family for what it is. Appreciating what I can do and staying focused on the love that is shared and not on the superficial trophies of perfect pictures and familial icons. So now when I look at the slightly blurry and off centered pictures of that day, I laugh at the everlasting memories that were created and I embraced a new peace as my daughter proclaimed that she had the best day ever and that BBQ birthdays with messy cupcakes were the new tradition in our family and that she was glad that the old hat was gone.



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