January 19, 2008

Seventeen candles

Seventeen candles

The word went out through text messages, instant messenger, and cell phone calls: "Candle ceremony at 10 pm."

Drama Niece came by train from Camera City. My daughter picked her up and brought her along to a meeting on campus, and then they picked up Skater Boy on their way through Traintrack Village. Quick arrived at about 8 o'clock, carrying a pillow, a quilt, and a birthday present for Shaggy Hair Boy. Pirate Boy pulled up in his truck and came in to take his usual spot, lounging on the floor by the fire. Blonde Niece came in with a silly present: a bunch of ponytail bands. (Shaggy Hair is always borrowing them from her.) Spouse came home early enough to get a spot on the comfy couch. Boy in Black and First Extra, who both had Ultimate Frisbee practice, came well after dark, but they brought with them a present: a brand new disc. Their plan, they explained, had been to stop and fill the disc with hot sauce, but the local pizza place was closed when they got there.

The birthday celebration had begun earlier: my parents stopped by while the kids were still at school to leave one of my mother's hand-painted birthday cards on the piano, where Shaggy Hair would see it first thing — and a homemade apple pie that they put safely into microwave, where the cats couldn't get at it. When I took Shaggy Hair to his guitar lesson, he kept saying how much he was looking forward to his birthday pie. When we got home, he went straight to the kitchen to grab a fork and begin eating. "I'd offer you some, " I heard him say to With-a-Why, "but it's a tradition for me to be an asshole about it."

It's still hard for me to believe that the sleepy baby I gave birth to seventeen years ago has turned into this tall young man. As I began gathering candles for the candle ceremony, pulling them off windowsills and ledges all over the house, I noticed that Shaggy Hair had broken with tradition and was sharing his pie with his younger brother. They were both on the couch by the fire, eating happily.

When we first began doing candle ceremonies with the kids, they were very young, and they'd giggle and squirm and just say a sentence or two. "I like Shaggy Hair Boy," or "I think that Shaggy Hair Boy is funny." We'd be done in about ten minutes. But the candle ceremony has expanded to include stories and anecdotes that are repeated each year, complete with tangents, side discussions, and all kinds of jokes. Shaggy Hair's ceremony this year went until midnight.

Most of the candles we use come from the monastery, so the room smelled like beeswax as each person told stories about Shaggy Hair. The little flames of light kept shifting around the room, many of the candles ending up on the oak bench we use as a coffee table. Drama Niece and Blonde Niece kept playing with candles, and Quick kept fixing the ones that went out, while Shaggy Hair did his usual game of pouring hot wax into a plate to make a weird sculpture.

When it was my turn, everyone in the room groaned and began teasing me. "Do we have to hear it again?" But of course, I am the only person who can properly tell the story of Shaggy Hair's birth. It's a dramatic one too. The Persian Gulf war had just begun. We'd borrowed a little black-and-white television from my in-laws (we didn't own a TV at the time) and were watching the news coverage of the war. I can remembering feeling kind of nauseous, going into the bathroom, sitting down on the cold linoleum, and feeling sad about the war, about the senseless deaths that were going to happen, feeling angry at the world my kids would have to grow up in. And that was when they began: the first contractions of labor.

The next day we dropped our two kids off at my mother's house and drove through a snowstorm to the birthing center, where I tried to forget all that was happening in the world and concentrate on giving birth. The contractions were slow and easy, and the sleepy baby inside me moved lazily about. The single difficult thing about that birth was that he was sucking his two middle fingers and continued to suck on them as he made his way out of my body. The midwife and I had been puzzled as to why his head wouldn't drop even after I was fully dilated (I'd already given birth twice before so it didn't make sense) but when I finally pushed him out, she explained. "Oh, he's got his fingers in his mouth." THAT explained the weird elbow placement as he came through the birth canal.

"Okay, let's move on," one of the teenage boys in the room said. They are always happy to get the birth story over with. So I talked about how smart Shaggy Hair is, how creative, how expressive. I can always tell what he's feeling by looking at his face. I love how hard he works, how disciplined he is, what a great sense of humor he has. The others in the room chimed in with their compliments. He's "sick at Warcraft" and "nasty on the piano." Their compliments were less sappy than mine, but no less sincere.

We ended with my daughter. It's always hard to come last because everything has already been said, but she came up with a story that no one else had said yet: the time that when we were camping and he was trying to get a tigertail out of a tree so he threw a metal pot into the tree. The metal pot hit a branch and came right back down on his head. Everyone loves to tease Shaggy Hair with stories like that, but my daughter also ended on the ceremony on a sincere note. She said that Shaggy Hair Boy is the most genuine person she knows. He doesn't pretend. And in the dark room, lit by fire and seventeen beeswax candles, everyone in the circle nodded in agreement.

19 comments:

Gawdess said...

I love the picture, the lighting sure, but the sense of private community that pervades it, moves me and and invites me in.

I have never heard of a candle ceremony and now, I really wish to do them.

julieunplugged said...

Jo(e) the similarities never end.

1. Though we don't use candles, we tell stories and say what we love about each kid on his or her birthday every year.

2. My third child (also a boy) was difficult to push out. He had his fist up next to his cheek! I too used a midwife (though birthed at home). Likewise, it was puzzling as my first two births had no such obstructions.

I swear you're my lost twin. :)

LOVE the candles.

jo(e) said...

Julie: We are so much alike! That's really funny about our third birth stories being so similar. I would have birthed at home if it were legal in this state .... a birthing center was the next best thing.

Cathy said...

My 2nd child sucked her middle two fingers until she was 4 years old. When she had the two fingers in her mouth, the index finger was always placed on the side of the nose in only a way she could do it.

jo(e) said...

Once Shaggy Hair had some hair, he switched from sucking his fingers to twirling his hair when he was tired. If you look closely at this photo, you can see that he is STILL twirling his hair ... which is conveniently long and curly and lends itself to twirling ....

Anonymous said...

boy in black hooked in 1 wind

jo(e) said...

First Extra: Well, I was going to use that as the title, but I figured no one outside the family would get it ....

Rev Dr Mom said...

What a great tradition.

And Happy Birthday, Shaggy Hair Boy!

Value wIT said...

Just when I can't love your life anymore, there's a Candle Ceremony. Of course, there is a candle ceremony. Just something else for me to copy,though it's always too hot in Texas for a fire; I don't have a comfy couch; my mother can't paint cards or make pies; and...well, maybe I can copy it!

Sarah Sometimes said...

I remember Shaggy Hair Boy's #13 birthday and candle-lighting ceremony! Can you believe it was four years ago that I came to visit you?

Breena Ronan said...

I love your family. That is all.

angelfeet said...

That's beautiful - and I always love birth stories. Happy Birthday, Shaggy Hair Boy.

Yankee, Transferred said...

Crying. Happy birthday to SHB.

listie said...

Happy birthday, Shaggy Hair Boy.

I love your candle ceremony.

hele said...

At the risk of repeating myself I would like to tell you how much your blog reminds me that family and friends and living is about joy.

Mona Buonanotte said...

Happy Birthday to your fabulous smart talented boy! (Of course he got that from you...!)

BeachMama said...

Another wonderful celebration at your house.Happy Belated to Shaggy Hair Boy!

Silver Creek Mom said...

What a beautiful ceremony you have there. It made me cry a tear of joy that you make their birthday so specal with such asimple thing as that. I should try that with my kids. Even though MIranda is almost 18 it's never to late to start.

Thanks for sharing this.

Wayfarer Scientista said...

what a beautiful way to get to the center of what a birthday is about: celebrating the person. If I ever have kids I'm stealing this from you, hope you don't mind.