We celebrate our children's birthdays with family gatherings, gifts, and birthday cake. So it isn't surprising when the kids ask what we're going to do to celebrate my birthday or Glen's birthday. They equate birthdays with parties and presents - why should an adult's birthday be any different than a child's?
As much as the kids think we should celebrate, the adult birthdays in our family usually pass without much fanfare.
But as Glen's birthday approached last week, I felt like we needed to make it a little bit special - both for the kids' sake and for our sake.
For most of the past month, we haven't had a lot to smile about. Between a death in the family, a critically ill family member, and now our insta-winter, the prevailing adult emotions around here have been sorrow and worry and stress.
So, I made a birthday cake for Glen. A layer cake, because layer cakes seem to be the most festive, with layers of brownie and peanut butter creme topped with ganache.
As I brought the cake out after lunch on Sunday, the kids asked Glen how old he was now. Glen told them to guess. Instead of guessing, Dan said, "I know, we'll count the candles on the cake."
I pulled my bag of birthday candles out of the cupboard and started sticking them in the cake. Dan and Monika counted as I added each one. I ran out of candles when they got to 25.
"So, Dad, you're 25 years old," Dan said with triumph.
Glen and I just smiled.
We lit the candles and sang "Happy Birthday". The kids were so excited. Daphne, perched on Glen's lap, was mesmerized by the glow of all the candles. Glen blew out the candles and we all had a piece of cake.
Our little celebration was about as simple as birthday celebrations get. But it meant the world to the kids to celebrate their dad's birthday. And it was good for us adults to sit down for a couple minutes with our kids, soak up some of their joy and smile.
Maybe little kids are God's way of keeping us afloat when we feel like sinking to the bottom.
My Aunt Konnie, the one who helped raise me and my sisters, has been hospitalized for a month due to complications following a near-fatal case of septicemia from a staph infection. I went up to see Konnie in Duluth after she first got sick, but the kids couldn't go into the ICU. So my dad and sister, Sara, took my kids and my sister, Sabrina's, kids down to Park Point to play while Sabrina and I visited Konnie.
The kids had a blast. This was their first visit to Duluth. They played by Lake Superior and on the playground at Park Point. They got to watch a ship go under the lift bridge. As we were driving into Duluth, Dan got to see the iron ore piles from the mines. (Right now, he wants to be a miner when he grows up.)
Even though the trip to Duluth was for an unhappy reason, the kids' reaction to the trip made it more enjoyable. The whole way home, Dan and Monika talked about how beautiful Lake Superior was, how cool the mines were, how awesome the transformer bridge was, and how much they wanted to live in Duluth when they grew up.
On Halloween day, we were told that Glen's youngest cousin, Darin, 17, had died following an accident. The news was crushing, to say the least. The last thing I wanted to do that night was take our kids trick-or-treating. But, they couldn't comprehend our loss, and I didn't think I could explain why we weren't going trick-or-treating after talking about it all week. So, I wiped my tears away, got the kids into their costumes and took them trick-or-treating, for their sake. By the end of the night, their excitement had rubbed off a little and left me feeling a little better.
Last week, when the snow started falling, our dread multiplied with every one of the 12 inches. Like many other central Minnesota farmers, we were not ready for this much snow. As Glen said to a friend, each day since it snowed, we've fallen another half-day behind. Right now, it feels like we'll never get caught up.
But as much as we curse the snow and the extra work it has made, it's hard to ignore how much the kids enjoy the snow. They've been making snow angels and building snow dinosaurs with icicles for spikes. There are little people tracks in the snow all around our yard. I've been trying to see the snow through their eyes and appreciate the beauty it brings to our landscape. Hopefully, once we get caught up a little, I can make some time for snow fun for myself.
I've been reminded of a couple lessons this month: Birthday cakes are important, no matter your age. Make time for the small celebrations in life. Let your children's joy buoy you up when you feel more like sinking. And never keep more than 25 candles in the house.