Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Birthday balloons for me

On Sunday we had Grandpa over for dinner to celebrate (1) everyone finally testing negative, (2) my birthday, and (3) Grandpa's birthday. Rachel made a spice cake with browned-butter frosting, topped with homemade salted caramel for me and a peach crisp for Grandpa. We didn't use any candles because the idea of blowing on food that other people are about to consume feels anathema right now. 

The kids (and Andrew) made up some birthday balloons for me, which I'll record below...

From Alexander:

Muvr I LV U

This is an acrostic for "MOM," which reads

Mother I love you

Why is there an A instead of a final M? Well, because all the best names have A in them and Alexander couldn't understand why we would have A (the best letter) in DAD but not in MOM. That doesn't even make sense. So MOA it is. Like the Museum of Art. Or Mom. Obviously.

Also, obedient is just about the only word my children can think of for the letter O. 

Zoë's acrostic is:

Mother of 6 kids

She also notes that I should have a "happy (late) birthday" since we completely missed my actual birthday. I told the kids this means that I'm actually a week younger than I seem to be (because that's what happens when you postpone birthdays). 

In order to be original (yet another good o-word, children), Zoë also wrote an acrostic for MOTHER:

Mom with love
Everlasting love
Ray of sunlight

See how she came up with "observant" for o? Very clever. You should have heard the conversations surrounding the letter o and what else begins with o other than obedient. 

Benjamin, to no surprise, wrote an acrostic:

Math helper
Obedie Observant
Mother to us all

I like how he crossed out "obedient" mid-word in order to write "observant" (it's observant of me to notice that, isn't it?). It was not very original of him since Zoë had just come up with observant, but I suppose it's only obtuse to point that out. 

Miriam wrote:

Number-1 Mom
You're so phenomenal

She went with my name in order to break out of the MOM poems, so she wins originality points there, but not as many as Rachel, who forewent the acrostic form altogether. Rachel wrote:

Happy birthday, Mom! You're such a good teacher and mom, and you're so patient, kind, funny, supportive, and ambitious. I love you!

Just kidding! I found a second balloon that Rachel wrote. It's an acrostic. Surprise!


Andrew had fun with his acrostic:

talEnt &

He concluded his poem with a (?), which was probably a good move. He also said "HBD" because he is a minimalist. He also wrote the following:

Your ambition is like a bird with wings. Lots of wings. Happy Birthday! —Me

This requires the telling of a story from years and years ago. A decade ago, to be exact. Rather...because I'm not being very exact was a little over a decade ago. I know this because at the time of this story I was hugely pregnant with Benjamin. Andrew had just finished the coursework for his second master's degree (excessive, I know) and would be leaving soon after graduation to be the TA for the Ghana study abroad before we packed up and moved across the country to start his PhD studies at Duke. In between Ghana and moving we would have a baby, which we did, though that baby would come at the wrong time (silly kid). 

Anyway, the family knew these were our future plans and they were supportive...ish. Some were more supportive than others. But that's fine. You can't please everyone all of the time, right?

And graduate school is kind of inconceivable if no one has really done it in your family. It just sounds like an illogical undertaking. 

I remember when my my former brother-in-law Billy's sister's husband was going through grad school. (Did you follow that connection? Basically, my brother-in-law's brother-in-law; the man married to my brother-in-law's sister...only now that brother-in-law is an ex-brother-in-law. But the story stands.) Their family could hardly fathom it either. I remember my sister saying, with a bit of derision, that he must think he's a professional student or something. A perpetual student, uninterested in actually providing for his family. They scrimp and save so he can do nothing but go to school. What a royal slacker! 

I didn't understand it at the time, either. So I nodded along. That is weird. He already had a bachelor's degree. The master's degree was understandable, I suppose. But now he's gone back for more?! While his children starve?!*

*His children were not starving. But, I mean...they were probably just scraping by. I know this because, well...we've been there. 

Anyway, last I checked he was a full professor at Dalhousie University. So...turns out he had a plan all along! It was just not a plan anyone understood because no one we knew had ever gone that route before!

And then suddenly I found myself married to a man choosing a very circuitous version of the same route! Recall that we were approaching his graduation from his second master's degree program. And that our plan was just to...go get a PhD. Cool. 

So, I sat beside Grandma Sharon at the graduation. And she peppered me with questions about our future (the answers to which she already very well knew!) and I did my best to explain (and defend) our decisions. When I got to the part about Andrew starting his PhD program, she sniffed, and said, "That's more school, you know?"

"I...know that," I said. "Yes."

"Has he thought about getting a job?"

"Well, I mean, the thought's crossed his mind, sure. You know that he'll get paid to go to school, right?"


"Yeah. I mean, it's not a lot, but it's more than we've ever made before."

"So he really is a professional student."

Sure is, sure is! 

"But has he thought about getting a job?"

Anyway, I surmised from our whole conversation that she did not approve at all of his trajectory. I'm sure she considered it a tragic trajectory. Here he'd gotten his bachelor's degree and had wasted four more years on master's degrees and instead of jumping into the workforce he was...going to waste 5 or so more years on a PhD. Enough playing around! Get a job already!

My interpretation of our conversation (that she was not wholly supportive of Andrew's career path) was affirmed when she handed him a card after his graduation. He opened the card, pulled it out of the envelope. The front had a lovely picture of a bird soaring amidst some floral something-or-other. He opened it to reveal embossed golden script:

"Intelligence without ambition is like a bird without wings," a quote attributed to Salvador Dali.

Under that was a little note Grandma Sharon had written herself. I can't remember what it said, precisely, though I have the card saved somewhere. From my memory it was something like "good luck with your future, lots of love, etc., etc., etc." It's possible she said something about hoping that he finds a good job someday. Whatever the case, it's something that's we've been laughing over for years because it was very clear that although Grandma Sharon was doing her best to be supportive, she absolutely did not feel supportive of our path. (And she somehow found a card that could communicate her ambivalence).

And that's okay!

Not everyone will always understand or agree with the choices you make. That is an impossible ask. 

Grandma Sharon communicated her displeasure at our choices. But she also communicated her love by attending the graduation, by signing her card "with love," and so forth. Later she'd mail a beautiful crocheted blanket to North Carolina for Baby Benjamin.

Unfortunately, she didn't live to see Andrew graduate, but I'm sure she's pleased that he's finally got a job. It's a good one. It's one that he loves. It provides for us all. It's challenging and fulfilling. It uses both his intelligence and his ambition. 

But we'll never be able to not hear that quote without also hearing passive-aggressive undertones....


  1. You came up with two more o words: original and obtuse! I am glad you got your birthday balloons after all!

  2. If Alexander called you "Mama" he'd have not one, but TWO As to fill for you since the best names have A in them. :)

    I love the Grandma Sharon card story!