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  • On two days each year, New Years Eve and my birthday, I like to pause to reflect on past and future events. Today is one of them. Generally December 31st finds me a bit morose, but I am usually able to savor my birthdays, at least those I haven't spent alone.

    I haven't had a proper noisy birthday party since my odometer turned over 50, but that's OK. Big parties bewilder me. I can get liquored up and lie down on the floor to escape the buzz. And since my ears started crapping out, interacting with a horde of people has become more stressful, especially if I'm supposedly the center of attention.

    This anniversary didn't seem special enough for us to make special plans. But it happened that a cousin from the Left Coast is in town, and he, his mate and our local cousin that they are staying with have invited us over for supper. Perfect. No planning, no invitations and RSVPs, no shopping, no cooking, no cleaning. So that's what we'll do, my wife, daughter and I.

    I am moved by Margaretta's story Gratitude to salute my family on this occasion. She wrote "What do you have gratitude for in your life? Who or what are you grateful for that you can offer a compliment? Or acknowledge the person by telling them how you appreciate them in your life." So let me say this...

    Marrying and fathering fairly late in life, the idea of raising a child stressed me. I realized that there are many geezer parents now as well as grandparents who serve as primary caregivers, but being an only child and feeling insecure about what difficulties and sacrifices might lie ahead of me, I fretted. So, I am very grateful to my wife Aygül for giving me courage to start a family. The beginning was much harder on her than me, with scary issues during pregnancy that led to a premature baby. She and our baby Deniz ended up spending the first month in the maternity ward. The compassionate care they received there helped me too.

    Three months after my girls came home from the hospital, I was laid off. Deniz was still tiny and not yet thriving, and Aygül was getting set to go back to work. My mother-in-law Safiye came from Turkey right after the birth to help out, and stayed with us on a lumpy couch for 14 months. Her cheerfulness, energy and native wisdom made a huge difference in getting Deniz up and running. For her selfless ministrations I will always be grateful.

    In three months I found a decent job and so once again became a breadwinner. I worked at that job for almost ten years, during which time Deniz grew strong and flourished. By four, she was healthy as a horse and starting to throw off sparks of artistic talent. Aygül especially fostered her creativity and made sure all her productions were dated, documented and filed, along with our family photos (still on film). I appreciate her obsessive curation more and more as time goes by.

    When Deniz was two, we went to southern Turkey for the summer, to Safiye's house. One day, Safiye, Aygul, Deniz and neighbor ladies traipsed into the pine forest behind that house for a bit of witchcraft. They spread blankets on the pine duff and had a picnic. Then Safiye presented Deniz with a basket of household trinkets – a spool of thread, a bracelet, a pen, a cup, a mallet, and half a dozen other items. The tradition is to observe which offering a toddler reaches for and picks up. The chosen object is supposed to indicate something about the child's future interests and life path.

    From that basket Deniz picked up a pen, and Safiye pronounced that she would be an artist or a writer. Everyone agreed. She soon became both, writing and illustrating her first book at the age of six. Now she's a Cowbird veteran with an audience surpassing mine! That's how it should be.

    Each of her teachers had something to offer Deniz. She grew tall, strong and graceful, absorbing what they and life presented to her. I delighted in watching her overcome her shyness and child phobias, not that she ever made much of a fuss about them.

    Today I am filled with appreciation of what life has bestowed – terrific parents, good health, a loving and capable partner, and a delightful, loving and self-possessed kid. I am told that in some cultures, people offer gifts on their birthday. This is my birthday present to my family. Thank you for a life made ever richer.

    @image: Us at Mt. Washington Hotel, Bretton Woods NH, 2008
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