This week is Gabriella’s birthday, and family came together to celebrate this past Saturday. As we do every year, we hosted another day of food and togetherness Thanksgiving weekend.
As I’ve posted about before, the day of our daughter’s birth came at us with an avalanche of shock and change. Then the geneticist diagnosed her with Opitz trigonocephaly, which portended among other ills that Gabriella wouldn’t live a year. Reaching that milestone brought joy and relief, and every birthday after reinforced our feeling of being blessed.
As is tradition in Lisa’s family, we threw her a big first birthday party, catered in a hall with over one hundred guests and a DJ. After that, we absorbed Gabriella into the normal annual cycle.
During her eighteen years at Lakeview School, Lisa would send in cupcakes to commemorate her day. While our daughter has always eaten a pureed diet, they mashed the cake and especially the icing in milk, and Gabriella loved it. At home, we have a birthday cake and light a candle and sing Happy Birthday, softly because loud noises frighten her. Then one of us blows it out and she digs in.
For years I was unsure whether she knew the singing was for her, but now I am certain she does. She became so excited this weekend that she threw out her arm, landing it in the cake, coming away with her fingers full of whipped cream, and upending the candle and snuffing it against the tablecloth, all without burning anything.
Otherwise, Gabriella’s birthday party is not much different from a typical Sunday. We bring her to the table for as long as she can stand it (often a matter of minutes), and we put on a video or lay her down with music. The food is always delicious, and Lisa purees some for her, but I struggle that she is on the periphery at her own celebration.
We’ve tried other things. One year, we had a special party for her, including a musician who sang children’s songs, but she soon became bored and the lady performed more for the other kids. Most of all, we try to shower her with attention, which makes her happiest.
She is never short on attention – she would have it no other way – but we try extra hard to dote on her this time of year. When she’s cranky, we’re a little quicker to her side, and there are more of us to do so. (These past five years, since we started nursing coverage, she has an attendant throughout the day, and she can be overwhelmed with everyone wanting to help.)
Buying her presents can also be tricky, even for us. She grew out of stuffed animals (except for a few that accompany her to bed each night) long before she stopped receiving them as gifts. She has just a handful of favorite toys. Most practical items can’t wait for a birthday or Christmas. As a result, most of what she receives are clothes, many beautiful outfits and accessories we truly appreciate.
Over time, I’ve concluded that Gabriella’s birthday, like most things, is about us as much as her. I experience relief each year that we have surmounted the early years and come through it as a family. I appreciate all she does for me a little bit more. I know pleasure at her joy when she realizes Happy Birthday is in her honor and she clicks in delight and more so when she hears her name.
Even before she was born, I decided I wanted a nickname for our daughter. Gabriella seemed such a grandiose name for a blip on an ultrasound, and neither Lisa nor I were crazy about the usual nicknames, Gabby or the Italian Lella. (At Lakeview they called her Gabby, but we’ve never adopted it at home.) I tried out several, Pumpkin and Peanut and others. After the trauma of her birth, I found I needed something unique.
She became the Peanutgirl. I created my own lyrics for songs (for example, the Beach Boys’ Little Surfer Girl turned into Little Peanutgirl), even though I don’t sing for anyone but her. Twenty-three years later, that’s still how we refer to her.
So Happy Birthday, Peanutgirl!