Coffee and Conversation: Birthday Desires, Past and Present

Grab a cuppa and a comfy seat, and let’s chat a while.

It’s Monday again – time for Coffee and Conversation.

Today’s Topic: Birthday desires, past and present, and what lies beneath them….

When I was six, my family was driving on an interstate highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living their lives, lives as important to them as mine was to me.

I wanted to see what those lives were, and to share my own…

Here, each Monday, I strive to reach that understanding through offering ideas and tidbits from my life. Settle in for a while, and share something of yours.

Today, I am forty-four years old. I like the number; the two fours fit together nicely, and it feels welcoming, this place between forty-three and forty-five.

Four days ago was the tenth anniversary of our son Elijah’s death. He was 12 days old.

Since he died, I haven’t wanted any kind of party-type celebration of my own birthday. The two dates are too close together. It’s a classic case of “you can’t get there from here.” I tend to be in a more contemplative place. Instead of a celebration, I take account of the journey I’ve made over the last year, and where I would like to go from here.

This year, PBS has been showing The Buddha.This teaching on desire spoke to me.

I’ve known that feeling! I’ve walked through stores with money in my pocket, but too little in the budget, looking for something new with the quiet desperation of a empty-lunged drowning woman sinking below the surface.

It was as though I could fill the emptiness and jagged edges of my soul with some thing that would heal all my hurts, sorrows, and furies.

It didn’t work any better than filling my lungs with water would. I was still drowning.

When I was a child, I wanted many things for each birthday. Or, I thought I did.

What I wanted , really, was something I had never had, or felt – power in my own life. I wanted, more than gifts chosen by others, an allowance, so that I could have money of my own – the means to get and do things I wanted.

On a journey of self-healing…

I wanted to be able to make choices:

  • to not eat sauerkraut.

  • to have a dog.

  • to stay inside and read all day, even when the weather was beautiful,

  • to take my book outside.

I wanted freedom, and equality:

  • I wanted my brothers to do the dishes and set the table,sometimes, instead of my sister and I doing it because “we were girls.”

  • To take out the trash even though I wasn’t a boy.

  • To stay up all night, sometimes, reading, writing, and delving my own depths.

  • To watch intriguing shows neither of my parents liked, – M*A*S*H, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and my nirvana, when I could sneak it –Star Trek.

I wanted things that would feed my soul:

  • My own voice, and the freedom to use it.

  • For my interests and passions to be taken seriously, not scorned or ridiculed.

I needed to feel safe from:

  • Screaming,

  • Hitting,

  • Harsh punishment,

  • Shaming,

  • The too-frequent spontaneous combustion of too many tempers and far too little peace.

I find solace, beauty, wonder, and fulfillment in nature.

I also wanted:

  • To learn what, when, and in the way I wanted.

  • To be accepted just as I was, with no labels attached.

  • To not be shamed for my failures.

  • For others not to claim ownership of my triumphs.

  • To own my own life – and, like many kids, I didn’t.

I transferred the unmet longings onto Breyer‘s horses and Black Stallion books and baby dolls and stuffed animals, Barbies and bicycles, and myriad other things that never filled the need.

It’s taken me nearly all of my forty-four years to learn that I wanted all these things, and to start learning ways to finally meet these deep desires. I’ve still got a lot to learn…but life today has a vastly healthier, easier feel to it.

I ordered a new printer this week – The kids have been using the one we have, and it’s seen some wear and tear. I plan on editing two novels beginning next month, and I wanted a new one that will be up to printing out several hundred pages, and ready for scanning stacks of old-style film photos I’ve been meaning to get to for years.

As I’m learning to heal my hurts and meet those old needs, largely through raising and living with two children who, at 9 and almost 12, have owned their own lives for years, now, the nature of my desire is shifting from wanting to have things to fill my empty places, to wanting things that serve my life and passions.

And it feels lighter, freer, and more fulfilling!

Which could be the biggest and best gift of all.

Do you take account of your life periodically, on your birthday or at other times? What are your biggest or most valuable personal victories? Do you have unmet needs from your childhood? Have you learned ways to meet them, as an adult?

Grab a fresh cuppa, and join the conversation in the booth below!

And on across the bridge leading to next year….


  1. We share a birthday! I turned 46 this year. I remember that sensation as well of watching cars at night and realizing that each one had sentient beings within. One of the gifts I discovered over years is that what I want and what I enjoy are not irrelevant to my life.

    • Happy belated, Margaret, and I hope it was pleasant.

      The memory of those headlights and the people attached to them has stayed with me all these years. It was a powerful realization.

      I love that you’ve found the gift of passion’s value in your life. I am hoping to provide for my own children a life that never loses sight of that, so that they can live lives that fulfill them, all their lives.

      I’m happy that you stopped by! =D

  2. I do take stock. On my birthday, at the new year, even at the end of trips. I think being a teacher reinforced this tendency of periodic evaluation, but I’m happy about that. Somehow listing the pros and cons, the steps forward or back, the to-dos or as-yet-unfilled wishes, gives me the illusion of control over life. I know it’s an illusion, but it’s still a pleasant one that keeps me feeling positive and hopeful. Great post, SJ. And happy birthday!

    • Gretchen,

      i think you may be right about the teaching connection. We unschool, and I need to report quarterly to the local school district on what we have done during the last three months. I feel that that regular evaluation tends to predispose me to do the same in other areas of my life, too.

      I’m happy, because it does help me to focus on what I am getting right, and what doesn’t suit me any more as I and my life evolve.

      I’m not as much into any attempt to control my life as I am in knowing where I am in it, and the shape of where I want to go…

      Thank you so much for stopping in to share. Thus far, it’s been a good 44th year. =D

    • Thanks for taking the time when you really didn’t have the time! =D

      And thanks – there’s still a lot I want to do with all three blogs – it’s daunting, but a little at a time, I am getting to it without letting go of my writing.

      Saving up for my first year of webhosting….should have it by the end of the year! It’s scary-exciting!

    • Deniz,

      Thank you! I love hugs. Reading outside, at this point in my life, often makes my head ache a little, but I manage.

      I do not forbid my children to take books outside, but they seldom do. They’ve lost one or two favorites in the rain, and, even though we replaced them,the sight of those forlorn pages in the yard stops them wanting to take the chance.

  3. Happy birthday (belated)! I got rather contemplative about my life when I hit age 40. I like my 40s very well: I’m more sure of myself, I have some of my own kinks worked out, my family’s in a good place, etc. But I did feel like it was about a halfway mark in my life and time to take stock.

    That’s actually when I started writing.

    I know it’s been a while, but I’m still sorry for your loss. I only know what a miscarriage feels like, not losing a child. I’m sure it still aches at times.

    Best wishes with your novels!

    • Julie,

      Thank you! It was a lovely day, with a few kinks thrown in to balance things out.

      I’ve always tended toward introspection, but, like you, it intensified with the arrival of my forties.

      Iv’e been writing since I was 7, but I got serious about it at about 40. Not coincidentally, the kids were 8 and 5 that year, which made it a lot simpler to complete my first NaNo, because they were independent enough not to need my focused attention throughout the day.

      It feels wonderful, to own my dream.

      Elijah is always with me, and there is always a certain amount of sorrow in that. Still, he has been a catalyst for so much healing and change in our lives. If he hadn’t been born, and if he hadn’t died, I might still be parenting the way I had – and there was a lot of rigid control and harshness in it. I don’t think I would have had the courage and strength to make the huge changes I needed to make to shift us to an unschooling life – and that has been a huge gift, for us all.

      I’ve had two miscarriages, and they bring their own kind of pain. I grieve with you for your lost little one.

      Thank you for sharing, and for the well wishes. I am looking forward to this editing. Now that I have a cohesive idea of how my separate projects weave together, every step is exciting!

      Although these two are, thus far, the last in the series, and so they won’t be published for some time, they are the first completed drafts, and so they will be revised first. The advantage is that they will be ready well before their eventual “turns” at publication, and I can practice on them. By the time I’m ready to edit the first book in each series, I will have some experience to utilize. =)

      So happy you stopped by!

  4. Thanks for sharing – I empathised with alot of that. I’m still learning how to meet needs. Not so much of my childhood as I was very lucky, but my adult self feels like a broken toy some days. I’m learning to try and get her back on track. It’s difficult becasue she has less free time and more responsibility than my child self and it’s hard to balance all the things that must be done with those that I want to do. (Like writing, and writing).
    Enjoy the new printer and have a very happy birthday.

    • Debbie,

      Our culture, as a whole, doesn’t seem to give people many tools to meet their needs, and, too often, seems to be a part of the problem.

      Traditional school requires even the smallest of children to curb their impulses, and to set aside their needs – for freedom of movement, to do what fires their passion, to eat when hungry and use the bathroom whenever they need to, without asking for permission, for being able to interact freely with others they are drawn to, regardless of age, to trust their own instincts rather than wait for an adult to tell them what’s next.

      The bulk of parenting advice, too, is geared toward manipulating children to do what the adults want them to do -but there seems to be very little attention paid to whether what the parents want is something the child can give, if it’s in the child’s true best interest, or instead for the parents’ pleasure or convenience, or whether the parents have the skills to raise their children.

      In my case, one of my parents was abandoned and severely abused. The other was likely also abused.

      They had three children in 3.5 years, with all the frustrations that can go with it, and very few skills acquired during their own childhoods.

      For me, the abuse was less severe, and there were times of love and laughter,and some valuable lessons and skills imparted…

      But they couldn’t instill skills they didn’t have. I began my own parenting journey as a tyrannical, broken child of a parent. I can’t undo the damage I’ve caused, but, in learning how to be a partner rather than a dictator in my children’s lives, I have not only given them the understanding that we can get better at things, if we commit ourselves to do that, and if we are honest and open about the lack.

      They will be kinder, gentler parents, because of what I have learned, if they have children.

      And, in seeing them thriving, happy, confident, and self-possessed (oh, MY, are they self-possessed!), I see what life is like in a family where peace is the goal. And that helps to heal the broken little girl inside me.

      I hear what you are saying. I have an idea that might or might not help. It’s about how we see things, and how we talk about them.

      When we began unschooling, I read a LOT. Sandra Dodd suggests that we really consider what we are telling ourselves we MUST do. For instance, MUST we work? Couldn’t we choose to be homeless? It’s a stretch, but it helped me to see where I am making a choice to do something, and that helps me to feel better about doing them.

      Another thing I do is to reframe things that tend to feel like burdens, and to reframe the way I approach them. For instance, cleaning house feels like a drudgery and a chore, and I inherited a tendency toward martyrdom I am still getting the hang of defusing.

      So, these days, I don’t do housework. I hometend, instead, which feels sweet and friendly. And I wash my dishes with detergent I love the smell of, and it feels like a spa. I also tend home in small bursts, between writing sessions.

      I don’t know if any of that will help you, but, even if it doesn’t, please know that I am rooting for you! ❤

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