Calm Amid the Chaos

birthday cake
Happy birthday, Ryan!

It’s true: It’s sometimes harder to notice change that occurs right in front of you. Being around my kids every day, I am aware of the changes taking place of course, but sometimes it takes an event — discovering an old box of photos, a visit from a relative, an annual event, or a milestone — to realize just how rapidly that change is occurring.

Ryan celebrated his birthday recently. On the actual day, we went out to dinner (his choice! a first …) then had our neighbors and good friends over for cake. By Ryan’s choice, we marked that gathering with a group viewing of his current favorite TV show, Seinfeld.

As will tend to happen when three tween-to-young teen girls, four parents, and an excited birthday boy share a small space, the volume in the room quickly rose to a point that was uncomfortable for me. It didn’t seem to bother Ryan.

Then the phone rang. It was his aunt, uncle and cousins, calling to wish him a happy birthday. At one point not so many birthdays ago, it was a chore to even get Ryan on the phone for a few seconds. The conversations went something like this:


“Thank you”


[Ryan hands the phone to one of us, without saying goodbye, and runs off to return to whatever he was doing before the phone rang.]

This time was different. So different. When the phone rang, Ryan asked who it was. Hearing the answer off the caller ID, he said “I want to talk to them.”

And talk to them he did. I heard him engaging in genuine, two-way conversation. He asked each of his three cousins, in turn, about their first days of school. He asked about their homework. He told them about his.

He did all this while the chaos continued around him. It did not faze him one bit.

Of course, Veronica and I were aware of the contrast to early, difficult birthday celebrations. But this change was so stark, it was impossible not to notice, even amid the noise and activity.

Finishing the conversation, he said his goodbyes and announced he was ready to watch Seinfeld. It may have been no big deal for him, but not for Veronica and me. Not after the stress and dread of those birthday parties so long ago.

Watching my son grow more comfortable with who he is and how to express himself is the greatest gift of all.


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