This post is dedicated to John, Sister’s fiancée. Good Luck, Brother.
Let’s head back to the morning of March 20th, 2003 for a moment, shall we?
Craig and I have been married for six months. Chase, our firstborn is five months old. Just skip the math and stay with me here. I’m home on maternity leave and spending my days alternating between the ecstasy and despair that accompany caring for an infant. I’m a little worn out.
But on March 20th, 2003, I wake up renewed and refreshed and tingling with excitement. Because as soon as I open my eyes, I remember: It’s my birthday. MY BIRTHDAY. I lie in bed and wait for the surprises and festivities and celebration of me to begin.
I wait. Then I wait a little longer. I look at Craig sleeping soundly and think, Ooooh- this is gonna be good. He’s still asleep! He must’ve been up all night preparing for my big day. Can’t wait.
Still waiting. Staring at Craig.
Craig opens his eyes, turns to me and smiles. Happy birthday, honey. I bat my eyes and smile back.
Craig gets up and stumbles to the shower.
I stay in bed. Still waiting. Waiting patiently.
He comes back in twenty minutes later and says, “Can I make you some coffee?”
I say, “Um. Sure.”
I climb out of bed. I put my hair up and throw on a little make-up so I’ll look nice in the pictures Craig’s sure to snap of me when I emerge from the bedroom and see all my balloons and flowers and perhaps the string quartet he’s hired to play while I eat the fancy breakfast he’s prepared.
I take a deep breath and fling open the bedroom door with much birthday gusto. I prepare my most surprised face.
Turns out there was no need to prepare. I am surprised. Because there are no balloons. No quartet. No nothing. Just Craig. Smiling, hugging me. Happy Birthday, Honey. Gotta go. See you for dinner tonight?
Craig leaves. I sit on the kitchen floor of our teeny apartment wondering if perhaps this is a practical joke. I open the front door to see if he’s hiding there with all of my friends whom he’s flown in from the ends of the earth to yell SURPRISE! at me. No friends. Nothing.
I sit on the couch, shocked. I am misunderstood, I am unappreciated.
Please understand. Growing up with Bubba and Tisha, birthdays were a big deal. They made the world stop on my birthday. You never knew what would happen, but you knew it was gonna be good. Tisha would bring us breakfast in bed with flowers and gifts and prizes and out-of-the-ordinary things would happen all day. One time in high school Bubba and Tisha sent roses to my fourth period history class with a card that said “from your secret admirer.” Nobody was allowed to get flowers delivered to class. But Bubba knew people. He also knew that those flowers would make me the most popular girl in school for the day. And they did. I walked around shrugging my shoulders when people asked me who they were from- glancing nonchalantly in the direction of the captain of the football team. Who didn’t know my name. But still, anything was possible on my birthday.
Let’s just say that the morning of March 20th, 2003, I did not feel like the most popular girl in school. I did not feel like anything could happen. I kinda felt like nothing was going to happen. Defeated, I sat down on the couch with my crying baby and turned on the TV.
The news anchor announced that America had officially declared some sort of war.
WHAT??? I yelled at the TV. ON MY BIRTHDAY?????
And that was IT.
I called Craig at work. He didn’t answer, so I hung up and called back immediately, which is our bat signal for it’s an emergency. He answered on the first ring, “Hi, What’s wrong? Is everything okay? Another fire???”
Whatever. So, I had set the apartment on fire the week before. Twice. Firefighters had come both times. Blaring their sirens and holding their big hoses and wearing their big masks and costumes and everything, which I thought was a little dramatic of them. I mean the fires weren’t that big. So Craig was still a little jumpy. But I don’t want to talk about that right now. Please, Monkees, for the love of God, try to focus on MY BIRTHDAY.
Me: “No, husband. There is no fire. It is much worse than that. You should know that I have cancelled my birthday. Today is no longer my birthday.”
Craig: “What? Why?”
Me: “Because it is already 11 am and nothing extraordinary has happened to me yet. Except, apparently, some sort of war. I hate this day. And so it is not my birthday. Cancel it in your brain. Tomorrow is my birthday.”
Craig: “Okay. Ooooookay. Should I cancel our reservations and the sitter for tonight?”
Me: “No. No you shouldn’t, Husband. We will still go out to dinner tonight. But it will be a working dinner. Bring a pencil and paper, husband. Because tonight I will be holding a seminar for you about my birthday expectations.They are many and they are specific, so you will want to wear your thinking cap. Also, find a sitter and reservation for tomorrow night, too. Tomorrow night will be my birthday dinner. My birthday is tomorrow. Consider it a second chance. You are welcome. See you tonight, Husband. For the seminar. “
And we went to dinner that night. And I explained to Craig how growing up, my parents showed their love by making a big deal out of special days. And by paying attention to what people really wanted and cared about and then offering thoughtful gifts. And by creating special traditions. And so that’s how I learned to accept love. And how when Craig didn’t do that, it made me feel panicked and unloved somewhere down really deep.
And Craig explained that he loved me very much. And because he loved me, he wanted me to feel loved. But he said that sometimes it’s hard to know what makes a person feel loved best. So he thought it was kind and wise that I figured out what made me feel loved and shared it with him. He said he was grateful. It made him feel safe, like I would help him through this marriage thing instead of being secretly resentful.
The Love Seminar worked for us. It lasted four hours. There was some crying and lots of laughing and talking about how hard it is to come from two different families and try to make a new one. And how impossible it was to read minds and hearts. How wonderful it was to just hear what the person you love needs and learn how to do it.To set each other up for success rather than failure.
The next morning, on March 21, 2003, my temporary birthday, Craig walked into our bedroom with hot coffee and bagels covered with pink candles. He sang to me and asked me to make a wish.
When I peeked out of the bedroom I saw posters covering the walls of our apartment. They said, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HONEY! I LOVE MY AMAZING WIFE! The posters and balloons and hearts drawn all over them. Boys can’t really draw balloons and hearts, by the way. Ridiculously cute.
I squealed and Craig beamed. I kissed him goodbye and he said he’d call soon. Every hour, in fact.
I peeked into Chase’s room and saw that his crib was decorated with blue streamers.
I went pee, unrolled some toilet paper and little sticky notes fell out of the roll, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY BABY!”
Teamwork. Love takes teamwork, I think.
These days, Craig is known for his skill at celebrating special family days. He takes pride in it. He is a master. Legendary. I can’t tell you how many times a friend has said to me, “You are so lucky. He is amazing.”
And part of me wants to say, “Lucky? Whadyathink he fell out of the sky like that?”
But instead I say, “I know. He is. He’s amazing.”
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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