“The people you love will change you
The dining room windows are dark, their rain-streaked surface an imperfect mirror on the scene of a mother wrapping presents after bedtime. The bedtime is Luci’s, the mother me, and the occasion my eldest daughter’s third birthday. The gifts are modest and traditional—a ball, some books, a rag doll—and earlier today I went out to secure wrapping paper and decorations for her “party,” a gathering of family tomorrow at my parents’ house in the mountains.
My party prep had been vague, at best. I had visions of those cone-shaped hats when I went to Fred Meyer, not expecting (or enjoying) the pre-Thanksgiving crowds at the store. That was my only goal: weird paper birthday party hats for my family to wear. I thought they would make Luci smile. Alas, such hats were not to be found. Instead, I ran headlong into a party aisle filled with branded… things. Napkins, plates, noisemakers, all with various characters on them, only a few familiar to me. At the very front was the Frozen stash.
My almost-three-year-old safely asleep, I set to work wrapping the presents and twisting the streamers across the dining room windows and table. I go a little wild and make a streamer fringe for Luci’s chair. I made a Happy Birthday banner last week, but you can bet we’ll be using that for everyone’s birthday, forever, so it’s not purple. Everything else, though, is some shade of purple—royal, lavender and violet.
Except Luci loves purple, and I don’t love party planning. And, as I decorate the dining room and wrap the presents, I know that this is going to work really well for both of us. My daughter has a purple-themed party, and I bet she’ll like it.
Conventions are hard to escape. It’s far easier for me to sink into common features of my identity in Christ—beloved, redeemed, provided for—than to figure out how I fit into some seasons of life, and how it’s fine not to. As a new teacher, I constantly felt like I was playing school, fearing the day that someone would come in and say “a real teacher would…” before revealing one of my many shortcomings.
I have a vague memory from college of friends deciding, midway through some house party, that they wanted to drive to Canada, just because. I was invited—these were my best friends, after all—but I surprised even myself by saying no. I was disappointed, not that I didn’t go, but that no part of me wanted to. Try as I did, I couldn’t muster up any enthusiasm for a three-hour drive in the dark, for a weekday dawn in Vancouver, for the long return trip down the interstate. I wanted to be the kind of girl that wanted to. That girl, I thought, was more interesting, was more properly a college student, than I was.
A few life stages later, I recognize the feeling enough to name it, that gap between who I am and who the anonymous “everyone else” like me seems to be. I recognize Ideal Mom enough to sometimes laugh about her, rather than cry about how I don’t measure up. Sometimes I check the boxes—I love baking and sewing, and like everyone else I asked for an Instant Pot for Christmas—and often I don’t. I’d rather read the New Yorker than take a nap, and I’ve never listened to a podcast about parenting. I not only don’t plan elaborate birthdays for my children; I don’t want to, at all. And I still love my girls fiercely, still listen to Disney music for hours in the car because they like it.