Over the weekend, my JB turned eight; his third birthday celebrated as a Dragovich. Each year is better than the last. His first birthday home was truly bizarre, as he’d been with us barely a month. The fear and confusion in his eyes spoke volumes. Strangers he must now call family were grinning and singing at him in some obscure language; candles in cake, shiny bags filled with stuff he looked more scared than excited to accept. He coped by rocking back and forth in his chair grabbing at his face, pulling skin, fingers in mouth, lips pulled taut then slack, then curled up into his teeth.
His second birthday, we all exhaled in relief– very little rocking, hands not as facially oriented; yet still unsure and shifty in the eyes. Though he seemed less confused on handling the gifts and attention, he remained noticeably uncomfortable.
This year, I feel we’ve arrived (I often think this, only to realize that with adoption, there’s continual ‘arriving’). He made sure to remind us his birthday was approaching—even a little counting down of days. He cared how we celebrated and even had some gift requests. But, the best gift of his 8th birthday was not given to him. It was given to me. And, though he has no earthly idea, he was the giver.
Every year, my mother asks the children what they would like for their birthdays. She graciously checks with me first for ideas, following up with them. Their answers delight her ever-studious watch of their growing personalities, quite as equally as the gifting itself.
Her and JB have had an ongoing dialogue since vacation (where we celebrated my 3rd son’s birthday) about what he might want for his up-coming day. As expected, he parroted Sam’s request to Nana, continually asking for a light saber—only red, not blue (progress). In Nana and JB’s last conversation, they had determined that, indeed, he wanted a red light-saber. Nana assured him she would do her best and he should begin looking for a package around birthday time (aka—soon after).
On birthday morning, the phone rang with Nana and Papa’s off-key, but most beautiful voices singing “Happy Birthday” through the receiver and into his ear (a tradition dating back to my growing up years—starting your birthday-day being serenaded by parents and siblings. They still call and sing to each of us; unfortunately, these days, often to voicemail).
After the song, Nana and JB had the traditional, “What is planned for your birthday,” conversation. Only, instead of much chatting, JB blurted out (in his quick-paced-to-the- point-of-incomprehensibility, lingering Ethiopian dialect), “Nana. For my birfday, I want a red light saber.”
“Okay, J…” my mom started.
“No. Wait. Nana? I want to be surprised. Surprise me, Nana,” he declared, very matter-of-factly.
Later, during a separate phone conversation, my mom relayed the story to me. As she repeated those words, “Surprise me, Nana,” something in my heart burst open, showering sparkle confetti throughout my insides. “Mom!” I interrupted (my poor mother—constantly interrupted that day). “Do you realize what a big deal this is? I mean, he is willing to live in the unknown. Trust you. Trust that his birthday is good. His life is good and safe enough to let go of some details and live in surprise!”
The reaction in my soul was instinctive. “I want to be surprised,” spoke volumes to the restoration of my sweet boy’s soul. He knows he’s safe. He knows he’s loved. He feels enough deep connection with his important people to go out on a limb with them. “Surprise me, Nana,” really means, “I know you are good, Nana. I know you have my best interests at heart. I trust you to make a good choice for me, because you choose out of love.”
When your children, by birth or by adoption, allow themselves to live in happy expectancy of surprises, praise the One from whom all trust-gifts flow. We take it for granted; the way our children live open and wide. But, such living isn’t natural. It doesn’t “just happen”. Wide, open, full living is always a gift.
Happy, Happy Birthday, my sweet, willing-to-trust, wide-living boy!