Happy Birthday, Kid

On this day, many years ago, a miracle occurred. A rock that gravity had captured, spinning, around a ball of gas, spun once more and, on that rock, colors washed across the lands and seas that had formed, illuminating the skies and warming the air. Waves lapped at the shores, flowers opened, and a baby was born and that baby was you. And though the woman who gave you life couldn’t keep you, you meant enough to her that she found you a place where you would be safe and cared for until that day when your parents got on a plane and flew around the world and came to where you were and chose you out of all the other babies, to go home with them, to make you part of their lives, and we all got to meet you and fall in love with you, and welcome you into the family, and watch you grow.

When you think about everything that went into that baby, it’s pretty amazing. Cells met and merged and split and split again and again and again until something emerged that the woman’s body recognized as a baby, and then it made a place for this baby, a place where a baby would be safe and fed and could grow and form into a little person. And after about 9 months, you started to feel that the shape that the woman had created for you no longer fit, and you pushed to get out.

You emerged into a world that was cold and loud and scary and unprotected and where, instead of drawing on nourishment constantly from the woman’s body, you has to wait to be fed, and your body felt discomfort. It must have been a horrible shock.

When your parents brought you home, they started building a shape for you, a shape that would keep you nourished, and safe, and help you build relationships, and feel good about yourself. This shape started simple: eat your dinner, don’t touch the stove, place nicely with your sister, learn to do things on your own. As you grew, the shape grew, too: don’t eat too much candy, don’t play in the street, get along with others, go to church, do well in school, learn to skate and ski and play the piano, persist until you feel good about what you can do.

And it kept growing, this shape, as they started to see where you needed more support and to think about your future, and what you would need to survive in this cold, loud, scary world that they had experienced so much more of than you had: meals are more than food, they are about getting together with others; protect the roof that is over your head and the things under that roof; respect your elders and the work that they do for you; find a path for yourself in school, apply yourself; try new things and explore who you are.

Sometimes the shape that our parents create for us feels safe, a familiar place that we can go back to any time, and know we are protected. Sometimes the shapes feel tight and threaten to squish us, maybe they’re too tall or too thin or too short. Maybe they push us in directions that we don’t want to go in. Sometimes we feel like this is our fault – if only we were taller, or shorter, or thinner, or more muscular, or smarter, or we liked reading or sports, or we were louder or softer, or other things that make us look more like the shape our parents planned for us. Sometimes we feel bad about who we are because we don’t fit easily into the shape our parents picked out for us.

When people get to be about your age, or a little older, or a little younger, suddenly they – like the baby you were – want to burst out of the shape that their parents have provided for them and find their own shapes. You find, when you do burst out, that the process is painful: without the shape to protect you, the world is colder and louder and scarier in ways you never could have imagined. You try on different shapes to see how they fit, some that work, some that don’t. When you are around your parents, they can’t help but look at you through their shape and see what doesn’t fit. You grow bolder about asserting your shape: maybe you try on wilder shapes, shapes that look nothing like the shape your parents built for you, shapes with sharp edges and spikes, in colors they never imagined. It can seem like every conversation with your parents becomes an argument about shapes: your shape or mine. You reject their shape wholesale. They try really hard to accept your new shape but they can’t help but try to squeeze it here and there to fit back into their shape, a shape they believe will keep you safe and happy. Sometimes it feels like every word they say – even Hello – feels like an assault on your shapefinding, even if it isn’t meant that way.

Everyone goes through this in some form, no matter how well they seem to fit into the shape their parents designed; sometimes the rejection is loud and disturbing; sometimes the rejection is soft and they sneak back into the shape when they visit home, and the parents don’t even realize that they’ve left the shape behind when they leave the house again.

Eventually – it could be months from now, it will probably be years, sometimes it’s decades – you realize that some of the things in your parent’s shape might be worth integrating into your shape. You create a shape that allows you to take care of yourself, that will keep you safe and nourished; that will let you find your place in the human community, and find a partner to accompany you on the journey of life; you come to realize that your shape is awesome and deserves all the love you can give it; and realize who you are and what your purpose in life is.

Then the struggle over shapes will start to fade. Oh, even when your parents are in their 90’s like Lolo and Lola, there will be some shape that they want you to fit into – the little things may fade and big ones will remain: school over personal relationships, working hard at a good job that allows you save for the future, family above all else, being kind to others and respectful to your parents and grandparents. I also have to warn you that, every now and then, one of the little annoying parts of their shape will poke you, no matter how old you get and how certain of your shape: don’t slouch, clean your room, you should lose a little weight, be more like your sister who is so good at faking her way back into the shape when she’s back home.

This is what life is about: figuring out what your shape is. No one tells you this but you have your whole life to figure out what your shape is. Although it feels urgent right now – the old shape is too tight and the world is cold and loud and scary without a new shape to protect you – you don’t really have to figure it all out right now. Try things on, let them go, your shape will grow with you.

Focus on exploring the parts of your shape that will keep you safe and nourished, part of a community, feeling good about yourself, figuring out what success means to you, what to keep from your parents’ shape, what to let go. You will come to recognize your parents’ shapes and where they are stuck and where they, maybe, could bend a little, to be more like your shape in some ways.

Meanwhile, remember: you are a miracle, and we love you.

Even if you are a pain in the neck sometimes now.

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