Another birthday. Dad would always ask me on my birthday, “What did you learn this year, baby girl?”
What did I learn, this year? Oh, so much! And it’s what I’ve known all along. Family is more than those under the same roof: family is made of those individuals we move through time with, sharing affection the way we share meals, jokes, stories, and songs.
Berry spent the afternoon learning to play “Happy Birthday” on the guitar.
“It ain’t easy!” she said. “This song is so dang complicated. Let’s sing Frere Jacques instead! I got that one down. Or Down in the Valley.”
As soon as Charlie got home, he texted all our friends to let them know the party was starting.
“By the way, Mae,” he said, “Grades are in, and I got an A!” Even more reason to celebrate!
Charlie’s grandparents came from the island. We didn’t get a chance to visit much. Carlo spent most of his time out in side garden with his neighbors from the island.
Every birthday, my dad would also ask me, “What did you give this year?”
What did I give? It doesn’t even feel like giving when it just comes out naturally.
I gave Charlie a lot of time.
Berry and I have stuck by our original decision to let him pursue his interests. He’s become a musician. We gave him so many days and nights when he could practice all day. Now he’s composing. Given a choice, he’ll always turn to his violin.
When I hear his talent, it would be so easy to pressure him to be a professional musician, but Berry and I have both decided that we’ll just support him in going the direction that he wants to go.
My dad’s third birthday question was, “What do you dream for the coming year?”
I dream of warmth. This love inside me–I’m not damming it up. This year, I dream of letting this warmth spread like sunshine, wherever it wants to go.
I watched Berry meander through the party crowds, gathering the dirty dishes. When she’s helping, she’s happy. That’s one way of spreading the warmth.
Paolo’s mom made a side comment to me in the kitchen. “Seems to be an abundance of young single men here, mãe de meu neto.”
I guess she didn’t like to see her son, the father of her grandson, there with our other single guy friends.
“To my sister!” Berry called as the party was winding down. Everyone cheered, and I felt, suddenly and surprisingly, shy. I’m usually one to just laugh and deflect the attention. But feeling all eyes on me, including the eyes of Paolo’s parents, made me feel like a five-year-old again, and I darted off to the bedroom, hoping for a few moments alone to collect myself.
I ran into Paolo instead–or rather, into his arms.
“Mae,” he whispered, “you are to me always meu Mae.”
“Can you stay awhile?” I asked Paolo. Suddenly, I had this wish for us to be a family, and I could hardly wait for the guests to leave, so it would just be Charlie, Paolo, Berry, and me.
Paolo and Charlie talked about music–not futebol, but Berlioz.
I love to watch Charlie talk with his dad. I enjoy tracing the genetic patterns, seeing my dad’s nose on a face shaped like Paolo’s. But even more, I love the warmth in Charlie’s eyes.
Charlie’s stayed best friends with his dad. I wonder if they’d be this close if Paolo had lived with us during Charlie’s childhood, instead of just down the street. Because Paolo had his own home and his own life, separate from ours, I sensed a respect and a tenderness that existed between the two that the pressures of daily life never had a chance to erode.
And that same tenderness exists between me and Paolo, too. When I don’t have years of resentment built up over piles of dirty laundry, or morning breath, or forgotten bills, all I have instead for the father of our son is gratitude and love. Feeling this is the best birthday gift.