My stress level is high, we are juggling too many things right now and, at the same time, trying to keep up with the full schedule that is daily life. The sounds of voices drift into the kitchen, laughter punctuates the waves of sound here and there like the roar of the ocean, like a seashell held to the ear. A sound that could lull me to sleep if I had a moment to close my eyes. I am bouncing between dining room table and kitchen sink, collecting plates, rinsing forks, sweeping crumbs into my open palm. We’ve gathered to celebrate Eldest’s fourteenth birthday, Hubby’s family tradition of Sunday birthday parties. Dinner has been served, and we’re moving on toward the cake.
I am tired, that bone-tired that washes over you and wraps you up and pulls you down. This is the third time in one week I have done this dance between counter and stove, table and sink, the flow of guests washing through the house and I love it and it fills the house with joy and today, just today, I am tired enough to let it wash over me, rather than join in the flow. The bustle of people, the noise of talking, the party around me is like a river flowing and the sound of it makes me want to lay my head down, here on the kitchen counter, and fall asleep. I see Baby bobbing from guest to guest, Toddler laughing as Eldest holds him on his hip, Youngest snuggling in an Aunt’s arms. Hubby joins me, sets two carafes of decaf coffee on the expanse of our oak table, begins to deal cups and saucers out like cards: Royal flush, two-of-a-kind, full house.
I bring over the cake, which looks a little like I feel: the top layer has settled and slid slightly off kilter, giving the whole thing a tired look. Or maybe it’s just me. The ebb and flow of conversation continues around me, I am floating like a rubber duck in an endless sea. The cake is on the table, I hold a box of candles in one hand and there is something important happening here, something I should be awake for and then suddenly Hubby is there, he breaks away and for a moment everything comes into focus. We wash up on an island, just the two of us, looking at each other over this tired birthday cake and I say, “Should I put on all fourteen candles, or just one since there are getting to be so many?” and he smiles, and the moment grows suddenly clear. It’s as if the clouds have parted and the sun shines on us there on our little kitchen-table island, and we are there in the moment together and the party flows around us while we just look. We look at the years that the cake represent and it’s not tired any more, it’s life well loved and it’s years that held colicky nights and days spent holding small and sticky hands and it’s three-a.m. wrapped in blankets sitting out in the night air to chase away croup and it’s laughter and tears, it’s evenings by the fire playing cards and nights snuggled together reading books and it’s prayer and fear and joy and love and fourteen years of water under the bridge. We feel it all without words in that island-moment, all the love and joy that is a gift, a gift.
“Put them all on,” he says. “There are not that many years left when they’ll all fit.”
And I do, I put all fourteen candles on and wonder how I ever questioned the need to see all fourteen bright flames glowing.
We call the party in and the rush closes over us like water and I hold on to that island moment, when it was real and it was bright and I am blessed, so blessed to be present in the glow of fourteen years of life.