The Birthday of Unexpecteds

Another round of birthdays is currently in full swing at my house. As I prepared gifts, cakes, and decorations to celebrate my kids’ birthdays and make their days special, I reflected on my own birthday and how the past few have been filled with unexpecteds. I don’t usually make a big deal out of my birthday, no big parties or crazy adventures (I’m not big on attention or fuss), but I do try to mark the occasion in my own simple way.

Two years ago, I made plans to celebrate with my kids and mom by going on an outing to my favorite coffee shop and nearby park (working around several nap times, of course). Later in the day, I would enjoy some “me time” while my husband watched the kids. Like I said, my celebrations are typically not flashy. About two days before my birthday, my husband was offered a job interview. This was very exciting news as we were about to enter our fourth month of unemployment. The interview was a three hour drive away and would take place on my birthday. I knew I would have to adjust my “me time” plan, but was hopeful that the rest of the day’s simple festivities could still happen as intended.

The morning of my birthday arrived. It was a perfectly crisp, incredibly colorful fall day. The type of weather that could’ve won a best-of-autumn award. I was enjoying the beauty of the day with a delicious cup of coffee when I heard my son, who was a toddler at the time, get out of bed and pad quietly in his footie pajamas to where I sat. He crawled into my lap and I reveled in his sweet snuggles. I was feeling so grateful. Then I felt a slight sense of dampness through my clothes. Realization sank in as I noticed his entire outfit was soaking: he had wet through his diaper (those 12-hour diaper promises apparently mean nothing as far as my children are concerned). I started the process of getting him into clean, dry clothes and began my system of checking his bed for anything that might have been caught in the accident. And let me tell you, things were caught in this accident. Tag blankets, soaked; his favorite stuffy, soaked; his other favorite stuffed animal, decently wet; sheets and pillow, practically dripping. Then I discovered the final and worst part, a large puddle on the mattress. Y’all, mattress protectors that indicate they’re waterproof must mean they can withstand a sprinkle, not a flood. My birthday had started with a potty disaster! My mom and I spent the morning researching ways to get urine out of a mattress and worked diligently to clean the stains and smell. This took a considerable amount of time and effort but I was hopeful the planned celebratory outing might be salvaged. It wasn’t until we neared and then passed my infant daughter’s morning nap time that I disappointingly conceded my plans were ruined.

When a morning starts this way, you can pretty much guess how the rest of the day will go. I spent the next part of the day wallowing in my emotionally dramatic pity party, which wasn’t the party I had anticipated. I was quite disappointed that even my small plans to celebrate were so easily waylaid. In keeping with the day’s theme of “things not going according to Wendi’s plans,” both of my kids decided to skip their afternoon naps. Meaning that my opportunity to break up my misery with some quiet time was shattered. I grudgingly decided to take the kids outside and at least allow them some sunshine, although, I was clearly in no mood to enjoy the weather.

I was so caught up in my emotional spiral that I almost missed the moment of unexpected joy amidst my day of unexpected disappointments. Colorful leaves had fallen off the trees and carpeted the yard and we listened to the soft crunching sounds as we walked through. I decided to rake a pile of leaves for my son to jump in, which he enthusiastically proceeded to do. My daughter and I watched him laughing and throwing leaves in the air. At that moment, I realized this was definitely not the afternoon I had planned, yet here I was, completely filled with joy as I watched my toddler giggling in the leaves while the sun warmed my face. It was indescribably perfect.

My mood started to shift slightly, but part of me was still determined to continue my grudge against the fact that my birthday wasn’t going my way. However, later, my second moment of unexpected joy arrived. My daughter was sitting in her infant walker playing with a toy when she accidentally dropped it on the floor out of her reach. My son, ever eager to be helpful, retrieved and returned the toy to her. The toy accidentally slipped to the floor almost immediately and my son, unfazed, picked it up and handed it to her once again. Suddenly, it became a game: my daughter intentionally dropped the toy and watched as her big brother picked it up and handed it to her, exclaiming “Oops! You dropped it!” to which was met with the most wonderful, hearty belly laugh I’d ever heard from my little girl. This game went on for several minutes with her infectious laughter starting even before my son had handed her the toy; I started laughing so hard tears were rolling down my cheeks as I watched. That’s how my birthday of unexpected disruptions turned to provide some unexpected moments of pure joy.

As I thought about this previous birthday, I reflected on life plans and how they often don’t occur the way I originally planned. I’m usually determined to make sure my carefully organized plans happen and am disappointed when they are (often) pushed off track. Here’s the key, where I realized I’m wrong: I’m determined to make sure my plans happen. Truth is, there’s no realistic way I can make sure my plans happen exactly the way I want. That’s how life goes: I daydream, I organize, I make plans, I anticipate, and then, usually in very anti-climatic ways, life doesn’t follow 100% the way I want. Sometimes I’m bitter about getting short-changed in my carefully laid plans and sometimes I find grace to move forward and accept the unexpectedly beautiful and joy-filled moments that come even in the midst of my disrupted plans.

Wendi, her husband, and their two kids are currently perfecting their best “ya sure you betcha” accents, having recently relocated to northern Minnesota. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters and a member of the podcast Moms Who Wine.

*photo credit: personal photo taken on an autumn day*

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