Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The "Two" Candle Looks Back, and a Little Bit Forward

Since I never throw anything away (there is a container in my laundry room to save drier lint for compost, and that I think that pretty much says it all), of course I save all birthday candles, decorative or numeric. Last week, I had occasion to consider that little recycling policy, and how it might play out in the future.

The candle in question was the “two.” I first used it for a quick light-up-and-blow-out the year Emma turned two, the year she was crazy about Barney (although she now denies it, but I have photographic evidence). Then it made an appearance when Mary Katherine turned two, which was, I think, the year when everyone in the house suddenly realized that she had won us over with her “Go Mary” sweetness. The person we’d all seen as an intrusion had suddenly become indispensible.

I lit the “two” as a part of a double-digit pair when Emma turned 12 and declared herself a “Two Teen.” And just last week it was dug from the bottom of a bag for Mary’s 12th birthday, an occasion marked by a gaggle-of-girls salon visit. It was a glamorous day that featured plenty of sparquins. (Mary’s new favorite word, recently coined.).

Every feast, at least in our family, requires the significant labor of a pre- and post-party House Elf. Everyone loves to put up the balloons, but only I seem to be around when they have to come down, as they did this past Monday. As I was collecting and storing all the feast decor (how many “Happy Birthday” banners does one family need?), I picked up the four-times-lit “two” candle and thought about the next time that I’d use it. It would be, I realized with my mighty slow English-major powers of numeric observation, when Emma was turning 20. And then I realized that, mid-February in 2015, she’d be away at college, and not celebrating in this house at all. No impossible cake demands (“Checkerboard, but in my school colors. And sprinkles, but can you pick out all the pink ones?”) No custom word search puzzles, made by me. No thousands of pictures plastered all over by the trudging House Elf. It would be a birthday with a gift mailed a week before, a phone call and a posting to her Facebook wall.

Well. The two candle and I sat down for a moment while I thought that over. I had used the candle for toddlers who were driving me crazy. I had used it for tweens who were driving me crazy. And the next time that “two” came back into service, I would be done with all that, the day-to-dayness that is so much a part of my mothering, and onto another phase of my life, and theirs.

Not exactly hit with a ton of bricks, I felt more like I was receiving a friendly nudge of melted wax and frosting, telling me that yes, it’s difficult to be the constantly toiling Birthday House Elf, especially with their birthdays a day apart (poor planning, I know, talk to the Chinese government and my uterus). But in five years, I’ll be down one kid, helping the second one to plan her escape, and what will be left will be a bag of half-burned number candles. Perhaps I'll start holding little birthday ceremonies for whatever dog is still alive then, or, more pathetically, a cat.

Happy Birthday, Fluffy. Here’s a “two” candle stuck in your bowl of Friskies, and may you have many more to come.

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