Today is Cohen’s 5th birthday. I made myself go to bed at a decent hour last night so I wouldn’t be grumpy in the morning. It worked. I actually woke up before the kids (well, I woke up as Sophie walked in our room– but Cohen was still asleep.) I asked Sophie if she wanted to give Cohen the present she had bought him. So I scooped up the presents and Ellie and we walked down to Cohen’s room to sit on his floor until he woke up. (It was pushing 7, he was due to arise any minute.)
One eye slowly cracked open from just above his comforter. “Can I open my presents after I wake up?” I smiled, thinking he sounded like a teenager. But then he became a little boy again and said, “I’m going to wake up in 39 seconds.” And then he proceeded to count to 39 aloud. He rolled out of bed and opened up the present from me and Jacob first. I was nervous he had his heart set on something else (he changes his mind daily about what he wants), but the opposite was true. “I love helicopters!” he cried, “This isn’t small at all!” (I had warned him his present wasn’t that big.)
Then he proceeded to open Sophie’s gift. Sophie had insisted on buying him giant green “hulk” punching gloves. I told her that she was going to get pummeled with them, but she wanted to get them anyway. Cohen opened her gift with similar enthusiasm. (We made it about 4 hours into the day without an injury.) But even after she was punched, they continued to each wear one glove and yell “Hulk Smash!” at each other. After Cohen opened his presents his face lit up with another big smile as he discovered the streamers we had hung from his door. “You made it a cave!” he cried.
We made our way down to breakfast after Cohen asked me to help him pick a “birthday” shirt. (He decided to go with his blue striped football shirt.) I utilized Jacob’s suggestion and cut his toast into a “5” since we didn’t have anything that special to eat for breakfast. “Hey– what did ya” Cohen started as I handed him his plate. Then he laughed and said “Hey, it’s a 5!” And he did that smile of his that is kind of humble and embarrassed.
He reminded me to pack his donuts and apple juice for his birthday snack. I dropped them off at school and pulled around the parking lot. Christmas music was playing in the car and I thought, “This is my life. Thank you.”
When I picked them up they wanted to go out for lunch, but I told them Cohen could pick where we would go out for dinner. I also appeased him by saying he could pick whatever he wanted from the pantry or fridge for lunch. As soon as we walked in the kitchen, papers from pre-school were thrown upon the counter. Cohen found a small plastic bag with a schedule of the pre-school’s Christmas events and a candy cane. He had the candy cane in his mouth as he proceeded to line up strawberries, melon, oyster crackers, wheat thins, english muffins, grapes, and a jar of canned pineapple on the counter for his lunch. (I write this so I can remember his favorite foods.) “I even put out the butter!” he said proudly (for the English muffin.)
The candy cane somehow cracked. I discovered Cohen on the floor using a dust pan and brush to sweep up his mess. He is not angelic like this all the time, But that is the kingdom cracking through his heart– that was an image of the creation he is growing to be. A creation of care and responsibility and goodness.
We ate our lunch and I kept my eyes open as I prayed. (I am reading the words of an author who suggests that when Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is “at hand” it means more of something like “the kingdom of heaven is right beside us” instead of something “awaiting” us.) And when I looked at my kids as I prayed I felt God was just a little more present, a little more in the atmosphere around my head instead of just inside it.
He ate his lunch, requesting more English muffins and grapes. He face-timed with Jacob and told him proudly that three people had already called him on his birthday. (Gaga Jayne, Patti, and Papa Gary.) He and Sophie found the ribbon I had been using to tie goody bags together and wrapped it around the entire house. He watched Octonauts and Wild Kratts and played with his helicopter. We baked two birthday cakes and Cohen insisted on cracking the eggs (he did 2 of the 6– I’m not that brave.)
Jacob came home and we asked Cohen about where he wanted to go for dinner. He went back and forth between Wendy’s and McDonald’s. I breathed a sigh of relief because he did not say Chuck E Cheese and he did not say some place expensive. We dined- in at Wendy’s and Cohen and Sophie played with their kids’ meal toys before they ate. Cohen asked “Can I play with your toy Sophie?” and Sophie replied, “Sure! Can I play with your toy too, Cohen?” Jacob and I made eye contact and smiled because the pleasantness of that exchange was something very rare and sweet and beautiful. And I saw Jesus’ kingdom as they shared (I know, I know, they will be pummeling each other with hulk gloves again tomorrow.)
We went home and the kids ate ice cream and took baths. We started getting ready for Cohen’s kid birthday tomorrow. I brought Ellie up to bed and grew despairing and frustrated as I saw the new piles of dirty clothes in the bathroom. I muttered angrily to myself, “Just pick up what you drop!” I sat down with Ellie in the dark in the rocking chair. I fed her and rocked her and breathed. I wondered why I was so angry. I said Thank You.
I went back downstairs. Cohen proudly showed me how he had drawn his own dart board on the easel for the target game we are playing at his party tomorrow. (It had the number 50 in the middle, a 22 in a corner, and a 25 on the top.) We went upstairs to work on more decorations. I criticized Jacob for his inability to decoratively hang streamers, but when I asked Cohen if he liked them, he said yes, so they remain.
I tucked Cohen into bed. I sang “busy day” and prayed and thanked God specifically for Cohen. (Cohen was spinning his toy animals around in his hands, I am not sure if he heard me.) I asked him what the best part of his day was, and he said opening presents. I asked him what “2+3” was and he counted his fingers and said 5.
5 years ago today a new creation came into the world. For the past 1825 days, that new creation has been growing and changing. Each day I see more and more glimpses of the creation I believe God is gently guiding him to be. There are glimpses of a leader– of a boy who naturally commands the attention and respect of others. There are glimpses of a protector– of one who desires to keep people safe. There are glimpses of genuine humility– of one who fiercely rejects any undeserved praise. There are glimpses of an utterly compassionate and sensitive heart– of a boy who laughs with joy when his sister is about to get a present or winces with pain as his baby sister is about to get a shot, Of a boy who felt uncomfortable and burdened as we walked through the Lincoln museum and attempted to explain history.
For Cohen, the past 1825 days have been the beginning of a journey in which God is gently molding and nudging him into becoming His creation. His life– just as my own life– is the ebb and flow between this old and new being. For me, this ebb and flow is represented often by selfishness to selflessness, despair to faith, and frustration to peace. I see Cohen moving from stubbornness to willingness, from immaturity to wisdom, and from anger to compassion.
Each day is a microcosm of this life-long journey. I yell, I make amends. I throw cardboard in the garbage, I take the time to rinse a glass to put in the recycling. I think bitterly about someone, I see someone else as a person God loves. I gossip, I listen and speak truth. I forget to call a friend on her birthday, I write a sincere thank you. I serve myself, I serve God and the people he loves.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
There was a new creation 5 years ago, and there is a new creation today. And tomorrow. And probably forevermore.