"My birthday is just my FAVORITE day," Jane chimes Thursday morning. Freshly nine years old, she dithers from the bedroom, her walk-on-the-ball-of-your-foot stride the perfect engine for the day. "And everyone else's birthday," she adds, "just because we get to be together."
We titter through the house, her in a flouncing blue party skirt, me in the grown-up damask version. At each turn she's leaned on an elbow, a perennial smile tugging her face upward.
"Momma, I love you so much," she shakes her head deliberate and intense, but wide and happy as the whole sky. We shuck breakfast into the dishwasher whip cream and drips of plum syrup not withstanding. "I don't care what we do as long as we hang out," she says.
We tie the morning into some semblance of a bow and then head out on a date, the July sun a warm infusion between car and coffee shop, bookstore and clothing store.
"So how would you describe Daddy?" I say as we dally over cinnamon rolls, hers with a birthday candle plucked from the center.
"The perfect man," she says with nary a pause. "And you the perfect woman. I can't think of anything else." Earnest, unself-conscious, she turns to the formidable roll, pliable, cinnamony.
"Here want me to cut that for you?"
Unrolled like sheeting, I press my fork into the nape of the roll and release a full square of bread.
"Here, you have some." Mine long gone as if it were an eighth the size of hers, she rips a strip off the sweet cinnamon bread and gestures toward me. She grins, immovable. It's delicious.
We skitter on, hand in hand, the July heat an embrace between each shop, the green grass outside the bakery, balmy around the edges of our flip-flops. We slow, let the moments take longer.
At each stop it's the same: we're together. Hands linked, eyebrows up, everything is a pleasant surprise.
"Are you having a good birthday?" I ask as we head home, me piloting the suburban full-speed down the city's biggest arterial, she directly behind me.
"'Course," she says, "Why wouldn't I be? I'm saved. Even if I was in prison I'd be having a good day."
There, that sunlight so yellow and bright, her eyes so blue, the palest shining blue, I see it, sharp, as if the silhouette of every feature: Contentment. The substance of riches. It feels like walking on water.
4641. "Mom, I'm looking at your tomatoes for you," Myra chatters while I weed. "They're looking good," she says, "Some of them are looking dead."
4642. Jack converts his bed into a fort for the summer.
4643. Strawberries! We pick 1.25 gallons on the Holland homestead. The kids trim and clean the berries themselves.
4644. Currants. We pick 2 1/2 quarts of currants in the afternoon sun and then recline with popcorn and Bob Cornuke's The Search for Mt. Sinai.
4645. Ice cream scoop. I get a new ice cream scoop, heavy and long like a crowbar with wings.
4646. Grammie takes Jane on a date. They carve out the whole middle of a day, visit over books and pottery and summer burgers.
4647. I purchase a new pair of Reef flip-flops for 62 cents.
4648. Jane turns nine.
4649. The lovely whirlwind of a birthday party, many conversations spinning at once, children loping across the yard, the boys embroiled in a wrestling match, grown-ups reclined on the grass and around picnic tables it's the perfect culmination. And then everything settles. Jane cradles her new Bible to her cheek. "This was my best gift of all," she says.
4650. Then Craig heads to camp, the speaker this year. He preaches his sermons to me and my eyes well with tears. Worth. He tells of our great worth and the fearfully awesome greatness of God.
4650. "Daddy leaves such a big hole," Jane sobs. "I'm just afraid we're going to fall apart."
4651. Craig gets me the audio book of Seven Men for my birthday. We listen to it while he's gone.
4652. The Brothers Karamazov.
4653. We break into volume two of The Story of the World. "Mom," Jack says, "I really like that new Story of the World. Yesterday when I was folding laundry I was listening to it, and I could barely work it was so interesting."
4654. My mom stops by while Craig is gone. Two whole days wisp by like a gentle breeze. I note again the immeasurable worth of life experience and a woman ahead of me in the journey.
4655. Dan and Cerissa stop by with the kids and make our night perfect, beyond perfect. The bonds of family and friendship mingle. We all rejoice for the goodness of it.
4656. We all band together and make each day good and solid under our feet.