Birthday celebrations

Our family has a trio of birthdays in February. Yesterday was the birthday of our nephew, the first-born of his generation in my wife’s side of the family. Her parents had five grandchildren. He was the first. Today is my wife, Susan’s birthday. Tomorrow our eldest grandson turns ten. Three birthdays, three generations. It gives us a perfect opportunity to think about the passage of time, the process of aging and the differences of perspective of the generations of our family.

Our nephew is a high school English teacher. His early adulthood was filled with wonderful adventures and a lot of travel. After he graduated from college, he lived in Korea for a while, traveled in Australia, explored Central America. He returned home from his travels, earned a Master’s Degree, and went to work as a teacher. We, of course, are biased, but we believe that he is one of the best of the best teachers. He genuinely cares about his students. He loves the subject material that he teaches. He invests a lot of time in keeping up with his career and providing the best education possible. His wife comes from an adventurous Korean family. She is not the only one who lives abroad. She has a sister who lives in the Netherlands. Together they have kept their love of travel and adventure alive. I like to tease him about the date of his birthday. A few years ago they traveled around the world, flying from their home in Oregon to the Netherlands, from there to Korea and then back to the United States, heading East on each major leg of their journey. I say that because he only crossed the International Date line going in one direction he only actually lived in 364 days that year, meaning that his birthday is now February 6 instead of February 7. He claims that he had enough long days on that trip to make the number of hours add up high enough for him to retain his birthday. It is a fun family joke.

I’m always fascinated to hear about his life and his teaching. Right now his school district is not allowing any in-person teaching. He teaches his classes via video conference. Students in his classes attend two one-hour sessions via computer each week. When they were face-to-face, he had five class periods each week with each class. That means that he has had to revise his curriculum. Instead of teaching Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet he now teaches selected scenes from the play. He has added more poetry, but decreased the amount of fiction required. Adaptation is the key to being a teacher these days, but he is aware of how much is being lost during the pandemic. His students will have had less instruction during their high school years. They will have missed some important literature and some lessons that he has tried to incorporate into the education of other students.

Like our grandson, whose age tomorrow will be measured in two digits, Susan turns the corner into a new decade with her birthday today. We keep saying that we have expected all along to live this long - we just didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. The years have been very good to us, filled with family and love and meaningful work and lots of adventures. A serious health scare 16 months ago has remained us how precious the time we have is and how fragile our existence in this life can be. Fortunately, we were the beneficiaries of excellent life-saving medical care and live in a generation with incredible medical technologies and brilliant doctors who have been well trained in the wisdom gained by generations of healers. Had we lived a generation earlier she likely would not have survived. Celebrating her birthday is filled with joy for us as we fortunate and privileged we have been. Every day is a bonus and a treat for us. We don’t need to be able to go to a restaurant for a special dinner to celebrate. I can cook a meal for two this evening and we have a very busy day planned for tomorrow, so we’ll be in bed early. Tomorrow our daughter and her family arrive at the Seattle Airport after having lived in Japan for several years. Actually, for her it is today - she’ll be coming back across the International Date line and gaining back the day she lost when she crossed it going the other direction, so it is already tomorrow for her. You can count on us to be eagerly waiting at the airport when they clear customs and are able to meet us. That will be the best birthday present this year. Her son, the youngest of our grandchildren, is now 19 months old and we are so eager to see them face to face. She and her son will quarantine in our home for two weeks before traveling on to their new home in South Carolina. It is a long way from here, but at lest it is on the same continent. We knew that travel and living in far away places would be part of her story when she married her Air Force husband and they have not only enjoyed the adventures of their travels, but given us wonderful adventures to visit them.

And tomorrow our grandson turns 10 - a birthday of Lego bricks and bicycling and model airplanes. The family celebration of his and Susan’s birthdays has been delayed because of the arrival of our travelers from Japan and the fact that his father has several evening meetings this week. We’ll have a grand party on Valentine’s Day - Sunday - for everyone to celebrate. We asked him what we should have for our dinner that day and he suggested that we need only prepare two foods: lots of corn dogs and an all-you-can-eat ice cream bar. I think there will be a few other menu options for the rest of the family, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he sticks to his eating plan. His life gives us a pretty good measure of a decade. We can easily remember his birth and so we have a sense of all that has happened since - and it has been a lot!

There is much to celebrate at our house. We are in the midst of a week of joy upon joy. If I sneeze this week and anyone says, “God bless you!” I’ll have to respond, “God does. God does.”

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