There is just one link left in the paper chain hanging in Puppy's bedroom. We've taken a link off every night for over eighty nights, counting down the days until his birthday. We made the chain nearly three months ago to try to channel some of the constant birthday talk that was already coming from the little guy. This birthday is a Very Big Deal. The source of much planning and enthusiasm. He could barely stay in bed tonight, so wriggly with excitement was he at the thought that his birthday was only one more day away.
Meanwhile I am busy prepping decorations and designing cakes. Wrapping presents and planning parties. And holding my breath to see if this year his first parents will remember him.
"Remember him" isn't the right phrase to use, I know. I shouldn't question that. Of course they will think of him on Wednesday; I'm sure they could never forget him any day, much less his birthday. But when a birthday or holiday passes with no card or gift or phone call, forgetting is how it seems to come across to Puppy, a little boy for whom it's so very important to know that people miss him.
Some years either Kelly or Ray will call but not the other. One year Kelly was here in person. Once there was an unwrapped box, delivered two months late, with an unsigned card and its envelope tossed in the bottom. Christmas has been even more spotty.
Part of me understands, or tries to. People can be busy. First parents have told me that birthdays and holidays can be difficult, as painful emotions and events are revisited. Maybe they think he is too young to care, although we've said as explicitly as we can that acknowledging his birthday seems to be more significant to him than anything aside from visits. But another part of me, the protective parental part, struggles when faced with a crestfallen child who sees all his other far-away relatives reaching out to him on birthdays and at Christmas, and notices who is missing. Notices and asks why. Asks me, who has no good answers.
I know not every child notices the way Puppy does, or as young as he started to. Firefly is closing in on her second birthday and couldn't care less about gifts or who they are from (she chooses to see everything in the world as hers for the taking). But not Puppy. As soon as he began speaking, he could tell you who gave him a certain item. He remembers long after I've forgotten something was even a gift. He thrills at mail addressed to him. He keeps his birthday cards in a special cabinet and looks through them from time to time.
We're only on our fourth birthday. I keep telling myself that. There is time for new patterns, for these few years to just be a blip. I'm trying to be hopeful. I'm trying really hard. And also thinking about how I'll talk with him this year if nothing comes.