Birthdays

January 21 will be here soon.  It’s a big day for some people.  Many famous people were born on January 21. 

These include:

Charles V, King of France, born on January 21, in 1338

Ethan Allen, a famous American general, in 1738

John C. Fremont, “The Pathfinder,” in 1813

Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, the Confederate General, in 1824

Christian Dior, fashion designer, in 1905

Dick Winters, of Band of Brothers fame, in 1918

Steve Reeves, a body builder and actor, in 1926 (He played Hercules in the movies and inspired a certain Sylvester Stallone.)

Jack Nicklaus, one of the greatest golfers ever, in 1940

Placido Domingo, the famous Spanish tenor, in 1941

Hakeem Olajuwon, the great basketball player, in 1963

Ashton Eaton, Gold Medal US Decathlete, in 1988

and, among many others…

Ryan Semendinger, future chiropractor, in 1994.

Yup, next Saturday, January, will be Ryan’s 23rd birthday.  Our first child will be 23.

***

Through the fortune of calendars, and college breaks, and good happenstances, My wonderful wife and I have always been able to see our kids on their birthdays.  In all this time, even with our children growing up and getting “big,” we haven’t missed one.  Ever. 

It’s a special joy for us to spend our children’s birthdays with them.

This was simple, of course, when they were little.  On those days we worked hard to make each and every birthday special.

And they were!

As the kids got older, we still made the days as memorable as we could.  And they were great.  We all have wonderful happy birthday memories.

But this year will be different…

For the first time in our lives, we won’t see Ryan on his birthday.  He is away at Life University in Marietta, Georgia.  As crazy as I can be, as willing to do the impossible as I might be, there isn’t any logical way we can get to Georgia next Saturday just to say Happy Birthday to our son.

This will be the first time we’ve ever “missed” any of our children’s birthdays.

And it is kind of sad.

A phone call will have to suffice.  But it sure ain’t the same.

***

I’m a planner.  I always look ahead to dates on the calendar.  I try to know what is happening when, long before it happens, as best as I am able – at least with the things I have control over.

Our calendar for 2017 is already filling up.

When I started inputting dates and saw that we wouldn’t see Ryan on his birthday, it saddened me.  It also made me wonder if we’d see the other boys on their birthdays.  As I shared, we’ve never missed any one of our children’s birthdays.

Ever.

I then saw that Alex will be back at college on his birthday in April.  We’ll miss it by a day as he’ll be home (and going back to college) the day before.

And then (How Is This Possible?!), Ethan’s birthday, in October, comes in the middle of the week.  He, too, will be away, celebrating his first birthday at Lafayette as a college student.

After seeing our children on 59 consecutive birthdays, in 2017, we’re going to miss all three.  (I feel like Joe DiMaggio the day his hitting streak stopped.)

YIKES!

Is this what they call growing old?

As children mature, and grow up, we give them roots and wings.  From 1994-2016, at least in regard to birthdays, there were a lot of roots.

2017 brings the wings.

And I don’t like it.

***

I remember bowling alleys and pizza pies.  Lots of pizza pies.  Movies and popcorn…followed by pizza pies.  I remember ballgames and a singer who came to our house, play-doh and play dough (the homemade kind).  Birthdays meant parties, restaurants, sugary cereal, pumpkins, trick-or-treating, a hay ride, and lots and lots of pizza.  I remember presents, and smiles; kids and candy; and fun.  Lots of fun.

Birthdays were fun.

Our kids’ birthdays formed the backdrop of every year.  As spaced out as they were throughout the year, there always seemed to be one to look forward to.

“What do you want to do for your birthday this year?” we’d always ask.

We tried to make each birthday magical.  I think we did.

In their famous song Birthday, when the Beatles sang the words, “It’s my birthday too, yeah,” I think they were saying something profound (even if they didn’t quite know it.) When we celebrated our children’s birthdays, the days were magical for them, but, because the days were so special for our kids, they were also magical for us, as their parents.  In a way, those days were also our birthdays.  They weren’t really, but the “specialness” of the day for our kids, made the days just as special for us.

When we give, we receive.

When we create wonder, we get wonder.

When we love others, we are loved.

When it’s our child’s birthday, it’s our birthday too.  (Yeah!)

***

I think when your kids are ten-years old, there is a sense that their childhood will last forever – even if yours didn’t.  (I surely wanted my childhood to last forever…)

Time passes.  Our kids grow up.

***

Nothing lasts forever.  As much as we try, we can’t change time.  It marches ever forward. 

As this happens, it seems we get less hair and more wrinkles.  In spite of our best efforts, our legs and backs ache just a little more.  Glasses become more a part of who we are than an accessory.  (Did I mention the balding?)  We have to watch more of what we eat, when we eat, and how much we eat. 

We learn we can’t eat pizza for every meal, every day, all the time, always, even if we want to.  And I think I still want to.

Soda gets traded for unsweetened iced tea – or water.  They aren’t the same.

Things that came easily, don’t come as easily any longer.  I wonder how many more years I can play shortstop on a competitive level.  I know balls scoot by me that I think I could have caught in year’s past (but maybe my memory remembers me as a better ballplayer than I really was).  It’s getting to the point where I’m almost 20 years older than the youngest players in my league.  It’s hard to make-up for that age difference. 

I don’t think I’ll ever approach my personal bests anymore in any races.  I’m a full hour slower in a marathon on my best day.  The words “fast” and “Paul” don’t go together like the one may have. 

I guess it’s called growing up.  It’s definitely called growing older.

I’m not sure if I like it.

I’m pretty certain I don’t.

***

And, all of this reminds me of a simple fact that, really, is one of the most important things that we need to keep in mind as educators – childhood is fleeting.

Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Superman…at some point they all become less magical, less real, and less… super.

But when they are The World, boy are they something!  They are magic.  They are wonder.  They are life – and life is spectacular.

With us and all around us are children who have this sense of wonder.  They believe in Santa.  They believe in Mickey.  They believe they can be anything and everything (and maybe they can).  They are Lenape Indians.  They are astronauts.  They believe they are the people they dress up as on Halloween and on Storybook Character Day.  They believe they are writers and musicians, artists and mathematicians.  They think they are experts and heroes, superstars and legends…

And they are.

Because that’s what childhood is.

Childhood is magic.  Childhood is being everything and anything.  Childhood is possibility and possibilities.  It’s birthdays and presents and pizza and hamburgers.  It’s smiles and love and happiness and pizza.  It’s cake and cookies and ice cream and pizza.

It’s wonder and magic and awe.

And it all goes too fast.

Childhood goes too fast when it’s our own.

It goes even faster when it’s our kids’.

And, because of this, as educators, it’s our job, and it might be the most important part of our job, to keep that magic alive for the children who are here in our schools today.

This is because, for children, childhood will never end.  In their minds, they’ll play and imagine and wonder and eat pizza forever.  And I hope they do!  All they know is childhood.  And as we look back and want some magic and wonder of our own, and a never-ending supply for our own kids, we must be certain to give it to the kids who are kids today. 

School should be a place where childhood never ends.  We must continue to foster an environment that celebrates wonder and magic; love and empathy; imagination and creativity.  We need to maintain the wonder that is what childhood is all about.

We must do this because it goes too fast.

One day these children won’t be children.  One day, they’ll be us.  But before they get there, let’s all, always, and forever, continue to make each day a day of wonder.

And joy.

Let’s always remember to make every day at school as magical as a birthday is, and can be, when you are a child.

***

They say it’s your birthday,

It’s my birthday too, Yeah.

They say it’s your birthday.

We’re gonna have a good time

I’m glad it’s your birthday…

Happy Birthday To You.

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