Last year, I gave in to the infamous Chuck-E-Cheese birthday party that seemed to be the hot ticket for 5 year olds. I offered so many other choices: a sleepover, backyard bounce house, or even a dinosaur party. But Charlie could not be swayed. He wanted to experience the Chuck-E-Cheese ticket blaster, obnoxious games, and amazing pizza they serve (not!).
Even after I gave into his request, I had several friends comment, “Rebecca, really? This is so not you to have a birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese for Charlie!” Truth be told, it was completely out of character for what I viewed as an appropriate party venue for my soon to be 5 year old. I believed in something crafty and at home, like his Star Wars fourth birthday complete with build your own light sabers and themed food. Or an educational party like his third birthday where we rode the train to see The Very Hungry Caterpillar at the Children’s Theatre. Still, I booked the party, sent the Evite and that was it. Honestly, it was the easiest birthday party planning ever. It was so easy, it made me feel guilty that I wasn’t doing enough and, once again, I fell victim to that Pinterest pressure, mom guilt we all place on ourselves.
I have been reflecting a lot on Charlie’s 5th birthday this week for obvious reasons. It was the last birthday we were able to celebrate with him here on Earth; it’s yet another milestone in this year of firsts for our family; and I wonder how we will get through each birthday we have to celebrate without him. But mostly, I have been thinking about how precious his birthday party was on that March evening last year. We celebrated Charlie in the way Charlie wanted, doing what made him happy. I think about Charlie that Friday evening playing games with his friends, laughing and smiling. And I remember being thankful that I listened to Charlie and not my inner mom saying, “No! This is not what he really wants. I clearly know best.” Because in fact I didn’t know best in that situation, Charlie did.
Charlie’s childhood wisdom was a great reminder to me that it’s not where you are or what you are doing, but who you are with that brings us joy. All of my themed parties, crafts, and educational ventures were nothing compared to the simplicity of spending time with his friends and the people he loved. He cultivated that love and friendship in the environment he wanted to celebrate his birthday in and it was clear that all of his friends felt it as well. Charlie, age 5, parented me that night.
I think we can all learn from childhood wisdom. As adults, we are so concerned with the perception people have of us that sometimes we forget to just be ourselves and live in our truth. Children can school us in this if we stop and watch them. They live their truth everyday. I know Charlie did, and I couldn’t be prouder of that. Charlie is one of my greatest truths. He has taught me so much and continues to teach me even from Heaven. I hang on to the words he spoke after his party that night, “Thank you Mommy and Daddy. That was the best Birthday ever.” How I wish I could say to him, “Buddy, you are right. It was the best! I’m so glad I was there with you.” Happy Birthday, my sweet Charlie!