Last week was Robyn’s third birthday. It’s cliche to say it, but it’s amazing how much she has developed, both mentally and physically. Her communications skills, her savvy, and her general ability to handle situations. But as has been my humbling experience as a parent, there are times when you just aren’t prepared for what comes next and how much it will wow you. Last week was one of those times.
As any three-year-old-to-be, Robyn was VERY excited about her birthday. And, of course, we helped stoke that excitement. Right around her birthday, we planned a trip to Seattle, visiting many long lost friends while seeing all the sights (well, Cherise and the girls saw most of the sights–I was working). We made it part of the birthday. Sometimes, it’s great to have kids where this is the conversation:
Cherise and me: “Hey girls, for Robyn’s birthday, let’s go to Seattle.”
Iris & Robyn: “Yayyy!”
(Yep, no interest in Disneyland for us. No complaints from them.)
Since we’d be out of town for the actual birthday, we decided to hold a small family affair the week earlier at Cherise’s mom’s house. Robyn baked a cake with Cherise’s mom and we had the usual singing and gifts. We’re not big on gift-giving, but we also don’t restrict our family from giving special gifts. And, of course, everyone came through. Great cards featuring Hello Kitty, Dora the Explorer, and Ni Hao Kai Lan. Gifts including a pretend laptop (or as Robyn calls it, “waptop”), a special dress, and new books. My cousin and her husband got her Guitar Elmo and a Foo Fighters lullaby CD (I think that was more for me) and even our next door neighbor got into the mix with a little pony toy set. To put it mildly, Robyn scored big time. So, what gift got Robyn the most excited? What gift literally made her gasp? This…
Iris and I were on the South Park Studios website where you can create your own South Park character. After I showed her how it worked, Iris quickly said “I want to make one of Robyn and give it to her for her birthday.” She did this before she even made a picture of herself. I didn’t suggest it. Robyn was napping, so Iris wasn’t trying to include her. Iris just wanted to do something really special for her sister. Her thoughts just jumped to her sister as quickly as they did to herself. So we went through it and spent quite a bit of time getting it just right.
“Robyn loves Christmas so it needs to be at Christmas!”
“Robyn really likes stripes, so we need stripes on her clothes.”
“Robyn got a really pretty haircut, so we need to make her picture with the haircut.”
“Robyn has a favorite skirt, so I want her to wear her favorite skirt.”
Iris definitely has a career as a Hollywood director (or shop foreman). She was so excited and begged me not to tell Robyn about it, which was fine by me. We had two weeks before her birthday and I didn’t think there was any way she could keep a secret. But she did. Fast forward to her birthday when Iris hands Robyn the picture. I had never seen Robyn smile like that. I kid you not, there was an audible gasp. And it was clear that there was a combination of things going on here. She obviously loved the picture, but she loved even more that the picture came from Iris. “Sister, can you write your name on it?” Robyn wanted to be reminded about who gave it to her. She then asked me to hang on to it, as if she was afraid what might happen if she held on to it. I was waiting for a request to hang the thing at the Louvre (“Mona Lisa? Meet Robyn Anjali.”)
Sometimes, I think the coolest thing we’ve been able to do so far with the kids is keep them from being ultra-materialistic. They have their moments, but for the most part, it’s never been about “stuff”. They happily play with their Legos, even though they’re Cherise hand-me-downs that are 30-years old. When we’re at the store and they say they like something, if we say no, there usually isn’t an argument. They welcome trips to the library to borrow books as opposed to buying/keeping and, in the rare occasion where we actually buy a book, they treat it like some kids treat a trip to Disneyland. But seeing Robyn’s response to Iris’ work was more than I could handle. I mean, if you could’ve seen the smile on her face. Of course, I knew that smile. I remember that smile. It’s the same smile I had on my face in 1982 when my brother had his friend that was going to Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium pick up a genuine Oriole hat for me. I loved the Orioles and I loved the hat, but I think the reason that thing stayed on my head for years until it literally turned green because it came from my brother and what he did to get it. I knew the thought that went into arranging the purchase (and how much he must’ve hated it, being a Yankee fan) and how he was thinking of only me when he had his friend buy it. Same thing with the Hopkins Lacrosse sweatshirt he got me a couple of years later. And the Oriole foam finger. And the lacrosse stick. And dozens of other things that he got for me along the way, each one a complete surprise. I loved mom and dad, but no one kept trying to put a smile on my face like my brother. It’s a generosity that still stirs me to do the same for others to this day. If I’ve ever done anything out of the blue for you, thank my brother. He had only one brother and he made sure I knew it. And no one could’ve appreciated it more than me.
When I watched Iris put so much effort into constructing this gift for Robyn, I imagined my brother and smiled. When I saw Robyn accept the gift, I saw myself and I liked what I saw. When people ask whether Iris & Robyn get along, I hate answering “oh yes, they love each other”, because while they definitely do, they have their issues like any other set of siblings. I think we all want to imagine this perfect relationship, but when competing for attention or affection, things can get adversarial. But much like me with my brother, there’s no doubt about the true love and caring and exists between our two daughters. Every instinct Cherise and I had in deciding to have a second kid is being fulfilled. And when you’re a parent, you take every win you can get.