Happy Birthday, Sunshine!!

P1030694 2Today, Sunshine turned 17.  So full of excitement.  Promise.  Hope.

She could barely wait to open her cards and presents.  Trinkets of how much people love her…some of them people she doesn’t even know.  Reminders of how much I am loved as well.

As she read all the words written to her, I know it didn’t compute that so many were thinking of her.  But she could barely open each of the cards fast enough.  She poured over the words.

We went for coffee and to look for white Converse shoes—her birthday present from me.  We were unsuccessful with the latter, but we still had a wonderful time together.  She told me more about her future plans.

She is so seventeen.

She is so me.

She has a plan.  She has figured life out, leaving room for some of the maybe’s, but still with strong opinions on the way things should go from here on out.

All I could hear in my head were echoes of my own teenage plans, shouted angrily at my father, “Katie and I are going to get an apartment together the SECOND we turn 18!!” and his sarcastic response of, “And what is your plan for paying the electric bill?”

The words were dancing on my tongue as I listened to her.  And I gained a new understanding of the parental pain behind the words my father spoke.  As a teenager, the negativity struck me as unsupportive and unloving.  Since then I realized I just sounded like a petulant girl…how could he not be annoyed with me?  Now, I see the deeper truth behind it: as the parental listener, you are running horrific scenarios in your head of all the things that could go wrong, and ways this precious child could slip away into something terrible.

And in Sunshine’s case, many of the worst-imaginable things could come true.  I was really never in danger with my threats.  But for Sunshine, these aren’t threats.  She did not show the same privileged petulance I did as a teen.   She was simply evaluating the options in front of her, and all of them have deep flaws.  She is picking the path that seems best to a child who has been acting as an adult for far too long.

And so I remained silent.

It has only been five days, and already I love this girl so much that I would lay down everything I have for her.  Thinking of life without her is terrifying.

But that day was not today.  Today was a day to celebrate a teen allowed to be a teen.  We celebrated with joy in the moments that we have.

We met at an American restaurant (Ruby Tuesday’s) with all the other hosting families and the chaperone.  Three languages bounced merrily against easy laughter.  Selfies abounded.  Good-natured teasing revealed the depths of our bonds. P1030701 2

Sunshine whined of my paparazzi qualities, then proceeded to take pictures of herself with Picassa in the bathroom—a discrepancy I loudly protested.

Sprite told Sunshine they got her perfume for her birthday because she smelled bad and they wanted to help her out.

The chaperone told us about her experience American caroling, where they tried to sing “Feliz Navidad.”

Sprite mocked his host-sister’s facial expressions, and she simply sing-songed the name of a pretty girl in her class he admired back at him.

Rules that chafed teen desires were lamented by all.

We were loud and boisterous and happy.  We were family, celebrating one of our dear ones.

P1030721 2And then we went ice skating and had cake and presents and a fantastic evening.

The three host moms sat together in the stands, sharing snippets of a bond here, a secret shared there.  All the time watching, drinking in those we love as they skated below us.

It was a moment of joy, where none of them needed to worry about those back home, or what might be in their futures.  Where we resolved to live in the present moment.  Where we simply lived and loved and laughed together.

There is no distance that can pull this girl, these children, from our hearts.  And it was a joy to celebrate that on her special day.

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