A Special Birthday Awakening: January 26 2016

Family Photo

Today is no different for the Mahmood family from the standpoint of daily activities; wake up to my morning alarm, jump into the shower, start preparation for another day of work adventure and Shania gets ready for her school: gloves, headband, cap, Kumon envelope and her backpack with her collection of button pins.

My emotions, however, are all jumbled up today; partly sad, partly confused, partly worried and tense. It’s my 49th Birthday. It should be a special day to celebrate life.

Three reasons, this is a special birthday for me:

  • Last year of my rockin’ forties started today
  • Last time I saw my #1 role model, my dad, was exactly 49; my age as of today
  • For the first time in my 49 years, the first person I met on the first day of my life, my mom, isn’t going to call me; I won’t hear that “happy birthday baba” message or song to celebrate our mutual, life-exclamation kinda event!

Text, FaceBook and Linkedin messages started pouring in, the night before, wishing me a warm and wonderful birthday.

I am grateful that hundreds of people, from five continents, thought about me on this day. Reminded by their app or not, I think it’s a nice gesture. This is the symbolic recognition, affirmation and celebration of another milestone that I woke up on the right side of grass.

I turn my phone off and start the day.

Morning meetings later, I still don’t feel celebratory. A friend invites me to lunch and we get a chance to catch up. The sun and warmth (helped by a glass of wine) brightens up the day.

In the evening, Shania and I enjoy a nice Bangladeshi dinner (from our favorite corner restaurant in Cambridge) accompanied by a nice Malbec, and some artisan crafted salted-caramel gelato (coconut based!)

As one of my routine evening events, I sit back and watch Anderson Cooper on CNN; as I am chatting with a friend, I learn of some very sad news. A friend’s daughter, in her early twenties, is in the hospital with a very difficult illness.

Electricity jars my brain; I have been so worried about myself and all the “things” that were happening or NOT happening today. I was concerned that my 49th birthday was not super celebratory!

Drowning in my self-pity, I was completely losing sight of all the things I am celebrating and mile-posting today.

First, I won grand lottery of life on this day; born to one of the most distinguished and educated couples (of their time) in Bangladesh which set in motion, for an amazing and relatively privileged life of great education, friends, travel, love and kinship that less than 1% of the world can enjoy;

Second, two amazingly loving daughters, whose world revolves around me; yes we had a tragedy in our lives five years ago – but we have all come through – healthy, happy and most importantly, together. They are my North Star and keep me focused on what’s important;

Third, a super-smart, loving sister and her family, who support me, no-questions-asked; takes care of me every day and lets me know in her gentle way that at the end of the day, we are family;

Fourth, an awesome, ‘exclamatory’ career stretching five continents, working with super-smart people, solving awesome puzzles every day, beating the competition, kicking ass, celebrating and making life-long friends along the way;

Finally, understanding and having the ability of enjoying my sources of happiness; a boat ride on water, a good glass of wine, some culinary discovery in a town square, a good cup of gelato, a delicious book, searching for lighthouses in Cape Cod, endlessly lying on a hammock (of course with a drink and a book), singing in the shower, a gentle hug from a close friend….. sipping life, one sip at a time.

Another 49 years? Why not?

What if that’s only 1 more day? It is, what it is. I have no control over that.

I am grateful.

I am grateful for the 211 Facebook messages, 43 texts and a few dozen Linkedin greetings today. Life’s not made with numbers, it’s made with moments. And I have great moments, and great memories.

I am grateful for my 49 years and can’t wait to enjoy what’s in store next.

I missed your call today, Mummy; I know wherever you are, that smile is always with me. Papa, I haven’t seen you for 30 years; but I remember the dream xylophone you brought me on my 3rd birthday, and I know you have magical presents stashed away somewhere, like you always did! At some point, somewhere, I will see you both again and celebrate the gift of my life.

In the meantime, for a few more years, I will celebrate it with Daiyaan, Shania,  Atiya and all those that have extended their hands or their love, on this beautiful earth.

Cupcake Eating Jan 2016

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The Celebration of Half-Birthdays!

Every morning we wake up, with the renewed possibility of doing, learning, singing and loving more, than yesterday. During our individual journeys, we take little steps, that deserve kudos – or big milestones, that deserves a big slap on the back!

However old we become, however high we rise, we still like to believe in the celebrations of life and its eternal mysteries.

Celebration of birthdays has always been a big deal in my family – much more so than any particular religious rites or rituals; I remember my childhood birthday parties; elaborate with balloons and delicious cakes, hide-and-go-seek games and pinning-the-tail on the donkey. My favorite birthday present was, when my uncles or aunts came to visit us, in our far-away hill-top residences of Chittgaong.

Since my first-born’s first year, we agreed that birthdays take way too long to return, and we wanted to celebrate her life, more often. Hence, we created  “half-birthdays” and started celebrating! They have never been an elaborate affair. Sometimes it’s a just a small cake or a nice dinner wherever the birthday girl desires. Sometimes we had friends or family to celebrate with us. Last year, for my seven-year old’s half birthday, we built a cardboard castle that she and her friends had the best time decorating – while their parents and I had the opportunity to sip some good wine and make an evening of it.

Shania and her friends built a cardboard house for her half birthday 2011

This year, I told Daiyaan, that since she turns 18 next year, this is her last “half-birthday” as a before she turns an “adult”. I make a reservation at a decent Asian fusion restaurant in Las Olas and invite a couple of her best friends to join us.

About half-way through the day of the actual intended celebration, I get a text from her that she really doesn’t want to go out tonight and doesn’t want me to spend the money on a fancy dinner; I respond with a 😦 sad face symbol) . I remember her first half-birthday at Merrimac lane – with her Godparents (Abdul and Fazilah) and a cake!

As the day progresses, we keep chatting, and I realize that something has changed her mind and I guess our dinner is back on schedule.

We enjoy a wonderful dinner, filled with Sashimi, Sushi, Asian style tapas and green-tea ice-cream, On the way back home I ask Daiyaan, what made her change her mind, to help us celebrate this occassion.

That afternoon, she got a text from one of her closest friends, that the doctors have told their family that this is most likely their Dad’s last holiday season with them.

Hearing that, my daughter, on her own, realizes how important celebrations are and that, just because we can celebrate together now, is no longer a “given”, every year.

Daiyaan and I at her half birthday celebrations 2012

One cannot force a celebration on anyone. But it is important to recognize every day, that it can be a new beginning – a new life.

The fact that we have lived another “half-year” – I believe, is worthy of celebration. It doesn’t have to be a “super-duper” expensive party – with gifts and champagne. It can be a simple dinner, where we sit back and acknowledge the true gifts of our lives and simply look forward to enjoying every day and every night of the future.

Life, is too short to miss ‘Half Birthdays’!

Daiyaan’s Half Birthday 2012