We celebrated a birthday this past weekend, and it was spectacular. I watched a little girl move with ease throughout the day, knowing she unapologetically was the complete focus and center of attention. This small person knows who she is, and with a keen sense of herself, gracefully shared the bounty of her birthday with family and friends, alike; all the while basking in the uniqueness of entering her seventh year.
Probably one of the most interesting aspects of the occasion was reflecting on how clear and detailed my memories are of the year in which I turned seven. It was 1954, and looking back, I recall with fondness those days of change, which included adding “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance that we said everyday at school, Walt Disney’s show, Disneyland, becoming a Sunday night fixture on our TV, construction beginning on his theme park in Southern California, also called Disneyland, and my mother discovering a new item in the grocery store called Swansons TV Dinners, giving us something to eat that was easy for her, and had some flavor for us.
And for me, I remember a time of awakening. Things started to make sense, as I had begun to reason and understand the world around me. Actions and consequences had become easy to figure out, even though I preferred keeping as low a profile as possible as a student in the classroom and as the middle child at home. My relationships with adults aside, I realized a new found stature in my standing with classmates, because I had discovered physical activity was beyond fun, and despite my thin, frail appearance, I was exceptionally coordinated and very fast. Children chose friends then, as they do now, for fairly surface, obvious reasons, and being good at sports and the assorted games we played during recess and lunch definitely impacted my social life in a very good way.
Actually, school had become a heady experience that year. I had friends, structured activities, and positive reinforcement for being an excellent student, although I kept that secret, because there was room for only one really smart child in my home, and that position belonged to my older brother. But, in my seventh year, I was becoming acquainted with myself, and I liked me.
And what could have made that year, and specifically that seventh birthday more complete? Oh yes, it was the gift that had been dreamed about and waited for with every bit of this young girl’s patience and ability. I received my JC Higgins balloon tire bicycle, sky blue and white, with a brown leather seat, and the shiniest handlebars and spokes I had ever seen. It was beautiful, and I believe, to this day, no gift before or since made me happier. That bike was the means by which I experienced my first taste of freedom, the exhilaration of speed, and rush of facing danger, sometimes conquering it and sometimes coming out the other side bloodied and bruised. No matter, I had wheels, and they opened up more world to me than I had known before. I was on my way, and nothing could hold me back.
I mulled over those events of my seventh year, as I watched our birthday girl play party games with her friends and family, smack the daylights out of a butterfly pinata filled to the brim with candy, open gifts a child in 1954 never would have dreamed of, and blow out candles on her blue birthday cake, that was topped with a ring-tailed lemur. Yes, encouraged to make as many decisions on the details of her birthday party as she wished, we were shown just how creative and far one can reach with imagination and a healthy dose of confidence; streamers, balloons, tiaras for girls, pirate hats for boys, chicken nuggets and tater tots to eat, and one chocolate cake, please, with strawberry center, blue frosting covered with flowers and butterflies, and topped with a fuzzy white ring-tailed lemur wearing a cap.
In comparing seventh birthdays, separated by fifty-nine years, there were two things that stood out, which I will hold dear for the rest of my days. The first is children really have not changed. They laugh, share, play, love and trust with hearts eager to embrace each moment, filled with energy and enthusiasm, unhampered by the extraneous nonsense with which grown ups clutter life. Second, children, given the opportunity to grow into and as an authentic person, without judgement or criticism, inherently know what genuinely makes them happy.
And, having seen firsthand the unparalleled joy a ring-tailed lemur on top of a birthday cake can provide, I highly recommend just such a topping for anyone who has forgotten how much fun it is to celebrate another year. Maybe in recapturing that happy moment when we gaze upon our heart’s desired gift, or blow out the candles atop our cake, we can rediscover our seven year old self, the one who would love to jump on a balloon tired bike just once more, and ride fast. It is easy; we just need to remember where we parked it last, and be daring enough to take it for a spin.