I celebrated my 37th birthday this past weekend. I was struggling with it for two reasons. First, for half the year I thought I was turning 36, and for the remainder of the year, I was convinced I was going to be 38—so it was a literal struggle to remember how old I am. Counting up from my birth year doesn’t help because I’m terrible at math. So I usually just get Paul to tell me my age.
Second, 37 is really, REALLY close to 40, which is the first “older” age when you’re a kid that you can’t actually ever imagine yourself being. I still can’t. I think I’m mentally hanging around 32. While I was explaining all this to a friend of mine, she pointed out that nobody in her family ever knew the ages of either of their grandmothers, and she remarked that it’s just as easy to turn younger as it is older, so I decided that for this year, and maybe the next three, I’d just be 35.
My birthday was perfect: I didn’t get to sleep in (ahem, Kate), but my nephew and his girlfriend were up visiting so Paul, Netto, and I enjoyed a nice breakfast with them. I opened presents, we finished up our costumes, Netto and I visited my sister and niece at an anime convention and admired all those fantastic costumes, Paul got his Ragnar weave, we trick-or-treated with our closest friends, and we spent the evening with my brother and sister in law at a Gatsby-like party (not Gatsby-themed—more like, there was this elusive wealthy dude who wandered through the massive crowd of people he didn’t know looking for something or someone, which upon reflection was probably not Daisy but instead his missing tchotchke, since how can you possibly have a house full of strangers and not get your stuff stolen?). The following day, my family gathered at our house and we had fried chicken and cake and I opened even more presents, and then the evening was spent watching Disney movies with my boys and my bestie (and her boys and her ween), all of us cuddled in a pile of pillows and blankets.
But let me tell you about these presents. My bestie, siblings, and in-laws showered me with all the things I love: kitchen gadgets and décor! Hair, makeup, and bath goodies! Shoes! Accessories! Books! Champs! Dishes! And lovely cards with heartfelt sentiments. I felt spoiled and pampered. They did all this on top of coming to visit—I love having a house full of my favorites.
This was enough. It was truly more than enough.
And then my mom did this: She gave me two quilts. The first is a baby blanket my grandmother hand-stitched at the age of 90. She gave it to my mom to give to me when we had our first child. Though we do not—and will not—have a baby, we do have our first child, our exchange student Netto. If any child is worthy of the presentation of this quilt, it is he. Netto is kind and thoughtful, gentle and giving; he is funny, and curious, and so, so intelligent. He is everything we could have wanted in a child, and we’re so lucky to be hosting him.
The second is a quilt my mother made of my late father’s shirts. On it are appliquéd three white doves. The dove is at once a symbol of the Holy Spirit, of peace, and of ascension. It can represent atonement, sacrifice, and the suffering of others. The dove is a great navigator and messenger. It is pure. The three doves, for me, represent the past, present, and future.
They form a triangle—the strongest bond—over the fabric that once cloaked my father’s body. With his death came great sacrifice and suffering—and, perhaps, a sort of atonement. The doves remind me that he is protected but free. I will blanket myself in his clothes, which are in turn blanketed with peace and purpose and the promise of good things to come.
This was enough. It was truly more than enough.
And then Paul and Netto did this: I was given 4 gifts. The first, a sleek laptop case because Paul understands how I appreciate a good bag. The second, an album of exchange memories—only a third of the way full—from Netto. On the inside cover, a picture of the three of us hugging, and a quote from one of the sweetest movies: “Ohana means family. Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten,” because we will never forget Netto and the memories forged with him.
The third, a bottle of perfume—a scent unique for me, created in secret, in our home, by Paul and Netto. It’s a musky blend of sandalwood, lavender, rose, and ylang ylang—earthy and exotic and something I would have absolutely chosen for myself. They know me so well, they understand my senses. They named it Juntos—Portuguese for “together,” because that’s what we are—their gift for the strongest sense, an oil for my skin, a fragrance blending with my own so that I can walk in bloom of us.
And the fourth. Oh, the fourth. When Paul and I first met, he carved for me a bear out of soapstone. It is representative of us and our journey together. Every time we witness a major event, a milestone of sorts is to be attached to it. The first was an arrow, representing the beginning of our relationship. For nearly 16 years, the bear went without another stone—not because nothing happened, but because life happened, and we neglected the recording of time.
This year, Paul and Netto gave me three stones: A crescent moon of alabaster, a heart of heart-pine, and a triangle, carved solely by Netto, of soapstone. The moon represents the loved ones we lost, the time we had with them, and the fact that they’re always with us—like the moon—just out of reach; the heart is for the present—our union, our marriage; and the three sides of the triangle represent the three of us—a new family, the strongest bond, the future and all the adventures we will have and the memories we will make. All these stones were placed in a wooden box, given to me by another exchange student Noor, that is covered in carvings of Arabic words for mother.
My heart is full. My boys are the best. My family, both blood and otherwise, is my rock.
So I’ve decided to be 37 this year. It’s been a good year. The best, really. So good, I may even be 37 for the next three.