Four years have come and gone since the last time Megan was present for Shelby’s birthday. By February 17, 2014, Megan had already been diagnosed with rejection, although she hadn’t been admitted to the hospital as of yet. Shelby was turning seven, and four days prior, Megan and I received the results from her bronchoscopy.
We rented out one of those “inflatable gym” spaces for Shelby, and invited all of her friends to join. It was a madhouse, to say the least...screaming, jumping, running around, laughing, and smiles from ear to ear. I distinctly remember the both of us having nervous thoughts in the back of our minds about Megan’s health, but suppressing all of them in order to give Shelby the birthday she wanted. She would have no clue, no inkling of something amiss on this day.
Going through some old texts and emails last week, I came across a conversation that Megan and I had just a day or two before the party…
Megan: Should we talk to Shelby about it?
Mike: Yeah, but let’s do it together. I don’t know how to start the convo with her, but we need to anyway.
Megan: Yeah. I don’t like this.
Mike: Me either.
That was it. We talked to Shelby that evening. We told her that “Mommy had a problem. Her body isn’t happy with somebody else’s lungs in it. The doctors can give her medicine to help, but it might mean that she needs to get a new pair of lungs, and spend some time in the hospital again”
Shelby simply stated that it was OK, and wanted to know if she could still have her party. Megan and I hadn’t quite learned how to talk to her yet, so most conversations with her were very straightforward and brief. Shelby was stoic, and very much the same. It worked for us.
Flash forward 9 months, and Megan had died. Again I reached the “How am I going to talk to Shelby?” question, and for Shelby’s part, that hadn’t changed. She was stoic, understood, and moved forward. To this day, that last time she cried about her mother’s death was the day of Megan’s funeral. She still talks about her all the time. She still has Megan’s personality traits and morbid humor.
As her eighth birthday approached, I leaned heavily on grandparents. I certainly wasn’t prepared to plan and execute a birthday party by myself. It was much more informal...effectively just the family getting together and having dinner and store-bought cake with Shelby...but it got me through that first birthday without Megan.
By birthdays nine and ten, Sarah was on the team. We were right back to planning a roller skating rink, sending actual invitations, baking creative cakes, and planning special things for Shelby to do on her birthday. Credit a ton of that (well, ALL of it) to Sarah. Her own past created a drive in her to ensure Shelby had a wonderful birthday. I sat back and simply went along with the program.
This past Saturday, Shelby turned eleven. There wasn’t a roller rink, party planner, or outside venue booked. We didn’t send any more than three invitations. Sarah baked one of her signature creative cakes (a pig this year), and my parents visited the day before, with Megan’s parents planning to have Shelby visit this coming weekend.
Simplifying, right? She’s not a “little girl” anymore...she’s a preteen.
Nope. For the first time in eleven years, Shelby had a slumber party. Three of her best friends from school would be in our house, and would actually be SLEEPING there. Given Shelby’s (and her friends’) age, I had to be on my best behaviour. I couldn’t just be a goofy dad and make a bunch of eight year olds laugh...I could actually EMBARRASS Shelby now if I didn’t mind my p’s and q’s. After cleaning the house, helping prepare food, grabbing the tent from the shed (they “camped” in the living room), and bathing myself, my role would be to let the girls make their own party, and to get out of the way as long as the house wasn’t burning down.
I like to think that I did a pretty decent job at this. Much to my surprise, the house didn’t burn down, no one got sick, and the girls were all very well behaved and respectful of someone else’s house. Nothing was broken, and the expected screaming of four preteen girls was actually just normal chatter. My worries started to fade, and I let them decide what they wanted to do.
It’s weird, but I really don’t think Megan would have done all that well with this. She very much enjoyed running the party. Making sure gifts were opened, cake was eaten at a specific time, special activities were all partaken in, and that everything went according to plan. Sarah, for her part, ensured that the ability to do all sorts of things was provided, but she didn’t try to force it or otherwise make it happen. Her largest action was going downstairs at 2:30 AM to tell the girls to shut their electronics off...they gladly complied, and stayed awake for another hour, giggling and talking in their tent.
I woke up early Sunday morning, and ensured that the girls were fed, they had gathered their things, and let Sarah sleep in a bit. It all went much more smoothly than I could have imagined.
I’m starting to see where Megan and I’s paths would have diverged, as Shelby got older. I have always been the person to let the chips fall where they may, and support the actions of Megan (and now Sarah) in something like this. This year, Shelby herself took over much of the planning. After ten previous birthdays, I am certainly ready, in some aspects, to let Shelby have her own say in what she wants. I can’t say for certain, obviously, but I don’t believe Megan would have been ready to loosen her grip just yet. She enjoyed making a fuss over Shelby’s birthday. That, Christmas, and Halloween were her three favorite holidays. She even scheduled her hospital stays around February 17th...possibly compromising her health so that she didn’t have to compromise “Peanut’s” party.
It’s almost as if Megan knew she would only get seven of them.