HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MEEEE!!!

In exactly one hour I’ll be 28.

This year’s birthmonth has been all about simple pleasures and appreciating the small things. Taking it slow, breathing deeply, and remembering where I’ve come from.

So I decided to compile a list of 28 simple moments that I’m glad I was alive for.

If you look at my life chronologically based on major events, I don’t have the happiest history. But when you look at it under a microscope on a day-to-day basis, there’s so much to be thankful for. And no ONE day in isolation ever seems that bad.

So here’s to simple pleasures and living in the moment. And 28 reasons I’m glad I’m alive.

28 MOMENTS I’M THANKFUL FOR

These turned out to be quite long, so I am posting five at a time. The list will run over on to June, but that’s ok. I am taking an extra day off for my birthday, so my next post (and the continuation of this list) will be posted on Monday at 11pm EST.

1. THE BEST GAME IN THE WORLD

When my sister Emma was just learning to ride her bike, I made up a game for her. I called it the “I Will Follow You Wherever You Go” Game. (creative, right?)

There was only one rule: She would bike. I would follow.

I told her that the whole entire world was there for her and her bike. I told she could go anywhere she wanted for as long as she wanted (even to China!) and I would follow her so that when she was ready to come home, she could follow me back.

Emma loved this.

I could see in her excited little eyes that she really believed her possibilities were endless. She was so little at the time that she really only ended up going around the block with lots of weaving and turning (which added adventure for her, but not much distance). Sometimes she would even bring some food and sit down to eat it, so she could (in her mind) travel much further.

I loved watching her, because it’s not often that you see the expression on a person who truly believes in endless possibilities. It taught me a lot about my own life. I learned that even if I’m always covering the same routes, an adventuresome perspective could make those journeys much more memorable. And I felt that if we really wanted to… maybe we COULD go to China.

2. RETURN TO SANTA

My parents once shared our home with a Cuban immigrant. His name was Wilfredo and he was a very big, very tall black man with only one leg. He wore a prosthesis to go out, but when he was at home he was much more comfortable hopping around on one leg.

Wilfredo and I became friends. He wasn’t “serious” like other adults. He had a real love of life and games and laughing. He would play with me and I would answer all his questions about Canada. It was like having a temporary big brother.

One Christmas we decided it would be funny to play a joke on my mom. So we wrapped a HUGE, long present with her name on it and put it under the tree. Come Christmas day when it was time to open the presents, she was so excited and so curious.

We handed her the present and she excitedly tore it open. Then she screamed and leapt out of her chair – it was Wilfredo’s very human-looking fake leg.

He and I doubled over and laughed uncontrollably for the next 20 minutes.

3. DEAR PUBERTY, I HATE YOU.

As is normal for any developing girl, I started growing hair on my legs around the time that I was supposed to.

My dad didn’t understand the concept of female grooming, so he refused to let me shave my legs. His general belief was that this would make me a whore and God would be displeased.

Every year I tried to wear pants for as long as possible. When it got too hot, I would shamefully wear shorts. I was already socially awkward to start with, so my hairy legs just further confirmed my status as a freak among my peers.

Every single day I begged my dad to let me shave them. All my pleading fell on deaf ears, until finally I annoyed him enough that he said yes – but only under one condition.

I would only be allowed to shave ONE strip up the middle of my leg. One razor strip and nothing else around it.

My dad’s reasoning was that this would show me how horrible shaving was. He told me that one strip would grow stubble so thick and so black that I would never want to shave again.

In retrospect, I struggle to understand what I was thinking when I agreed to this. Maybe I was just excited by the fact that he said yes in some way. Or maybe I didn’t really believe he would let me walk around like that. But for whatever reason – I grabbed the razor and shaved one strip straight up my leg at the very front from my ankle to my knee. Immediately afterwards my dad took the razor away and it suddenly dawned on me: I might as well be dead.

I had gym at school the next day and I had to wear shorts and play baseball. I realized that day that there IS actually something worse than a pair of hairy legs – it’s a pair of hairy legs with two strips of non-hairy parts.

I wanted to crawl into a hole and set myself on fire.

It was so beyond humiliating that nobody even made fun of me. It was just way past that. People kind of looked at me, and I think they were scared. Only a mental deficient would do this to their own legs.

I walked around this way for a couple of days, and then I decided I’d had enough. I didn’t understand at the time that my dad was all about control and intimidation, and this really wasn’t about shaving all. So I braced myself for the worst punishment of my life, and took a razor to the rest of my legs.

That single act for me represented true bravery, and I think that was one of the first moments in my life where I really took a stand for what I knew was best for me. I was scared of my dad, but I was ready to face him anyway. I walked out of that bathroom expecting a full-blown fight.

My dad, who never really paid attention anyway, didn’t even notice.

4. I KNOW KUNG FU!

In elementary school I had a love-hate relationship with a boy named Ryan. He was mixed (black/white) with olive skin and the biggest, most piecing green eyes. I would have really liked him except for the fact that he bullied me horribly. In retrospect I think he might have had a crush on me – that’s how bad the bullying was.

He would do things like snatch my glasses off of my face during recess and run away. I would chase him, half-blind until I couldn’t see him anymore. Then I’d have to wander around squinting, looking for a teacher.

I was also one of the first girls in my class to need a bra. So he would sit behind me during story time on the carpet, grab the back strap of my bra and snap it violently and continuously against my back until I had red marks.

Once in gym class I happened to be on his volleyball team. He was irritated with me because I was having trouble serving the ball over the net. He yelled, “Pretend it’s my head!!” I did. And that was the end of my volleyball serving problems. He just laughed.

It was the middle of winter one afternoon during recess and I was hanging out near the football stands. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Ryan suddenly charging towards me. I knew he was planning to knock me down – not the first time.

It was too late to run so braced myself and ducked just as he threw his body weight towards me. Somehow in a turn of events that I still cannot understand, we aligned in such a way that he rolled off my back and flipped through the air, landing flat on his back behind me, right into a snow bank.

He immediately jumped up, his eyes wide in horror and demanded, “HOW DID YOU DO THAT??”

I didn’t know what to say. I was pretty shocked myself – it was a total accident. I just stared at him and asked if he was ok, but he wouldn’t talk to me. He assumed I had been trained in some kind of deadly martial art.

He ran away and never bothered me again.

5. THE COURAGE SONG

I never got tucked in a child, but it was something I instinctually tried to do for my sisters. When you’re a kid it’s a very uncertain world, and you’re scared of a lot of things. Or at least that was the case for me.

When my sisters would become scared, they would come find me. At night they would crawl into my bed and I would comfort them. But when I was scared, I had nowhere to go. I learned not to look for my parents because I would often discover we were home alone (before my stepmom), and that would frighten me even more. So I would literally just hug myself and sing myself to sleep.

Today sometimes people ask me why I am so brave. I don’t actually know, but I think it might have something to do with this song.

This is a song that I heard on a cassette tape (remember those?) that I checked out for myself from the library many years ago. It was a story about a bear named Patches who was scared of everything but he learned to have courage. There was a song that he sung, and I must have only heard it a few times (eventually the tape had to go back), but for whatever reason it stuck.

I sung it to myself and to my sisters for years, and to this day I still remember every line. I’ll probably sing it to my children someday. I have searched for this song everywhere now that I realized how imporant it was in my development. I can’t find a trace of it anywhere.

It goes like this:

Rainclouds are never afraid of the wind

Though they don’t know which way they’ll blow

Rivers fill oceans where they’ve never been

Though they’re not afraid to flow

And I know that I can be brave

A heart full of courage is never afraid

And I know that I can be brave

Cause courage is how brave hearts are made

The moon and the stars always come out at night

They’re never afraid of the dark

So if I’m uncertain of things I don’t know

I just need some courage to start

And I know that I can be brave

A heart full of courage is never afraid

And I know that I can be brave

Cause courage is how brave hearts are made

Have a great weekend everyone! See you back here on Monday.