16 years from the day of birth.
16 years to struggle, to laugh, to triumph, to worship.
Dark morning, lit by a full moon (it must be in her honor — God is kind like that), by heaps of candles in the hallway outside her bedroom door.
White pumpkins, jars of flowers, gifts because we love her.
Laughter, gratitude, the Aladdin soundtrack blaring (because she loves it), pecan sticky buns baking — JOY.
Dresses that twirl, hair like a princess, singing around the piano. Song after song, the ones she loves best, the whole family in harmony, louder louder louder.
Church parking lot framed with golden leaves drifting, lacrosse players doing whatever the heck lacrosse players do — then a glimpse of Grandpa! The car erupts in shouts of glee and surprise, and then Grandmarme is seen and the Birthday Quail barely waits for the car to turn off before she leaps out and flings herself into their waiting arms.
The day could stop here. It would have been enough.
But God never stops. When He stops, we will stop. Never. Not until He takes back our breath.
Friends of our hearts fill tables with beautiful cupcakes for her after we have worshiped full-hearted and strong. Hugs, gifts, laughter, love.
Time with grandparents that will stay with their hearts until they are grandparents themselves.
A bead shop — a magic portal for a girl given to craft, who despite the shaking of limbs since before she could stand, has an astounding ability to grasp the tiny, the delicate, the breakable, and wield skill upon it. She peruses, she is wise, she is gentle. I am undone by the sight. She can speak, in her laborious stutter, with the owner of the shop. They talk shop. I learn.
Drives on birthdays require treats. We oblige.
The Quail do not realize we are taking a ferry until we are right up to the terminal — they have been busy looking out the window, laughing, watching, waiting in anticipation for whatever we have dreamed up. We have been dreaming about this for months. We dreamed up her life from a hospital bed — we dreamed too small. Eyes pop, knees bounce.
We smell the sea air, we panic when the ferry rumbles. The horn blows, a birthday Quail startles and drops her birthday coffee on the Beloved’s shoe. She feels bad — he is delighted for yet another tangible memory, to etch itself on a mind that so often betrays him by dropping memories. He won’t forget it, the sound of her laughter. None of us will.
Across the Sound, we take off our shoes and wiggle our toes in the sand. We beachcomb, we giggle at a seal looking for its dinner, we watch the mysterious creature, the barnacle, reams of them lining sea shells, sucking in sea water and spitting out what they don’t want. The sun begins to lower… soon her moon will be back, huge and full and deep orange, the same colors of the leaves outside the hospital room where she was born — 4 pounds, 4 ounces. She brought change. We went into the hospital in summer, young parents who thought we were just going to become parents. We came out to autumn, advocates.
A creperie, the car smells wonderful as we wind our way home for final presents, goodnight hugs, birthday blessings on her head. Quail and parents alike fall into bed.
Faces rest on the breakfast table. Eyes are hauling heavy luggage this morning. Armpit cuddles last longer this morning (I remember when that 16 year old was small enough for cuddles like that… in a blink, this will be over), laughter is sleepy. Now begins the aftermath (God’s gifts are like that too — blessings are also burdens, responsibilities, signposts pointing you to the Giver. The gift was never where you were supposed to stop).
Happy Birthday, Quail the First. All glory to God.
(Please give Quail #1 heartfelt wishes…and tell her I was on that ferry recently and about jumped out of my outfit with the horn blew, too!)