When Silas turned four we had his birthday party at "train park" -- a sprawling park where some old-men engineers ran a jumbo model train on weekends -- not commercial but just for the serious trainmanship of it. I remember standing in the grass, jumbo gum drops on bright cupcakes (candy land party), a handful of friends scattered around, the tangled strings of dollar kites kids were feeding into the sky, feet racing; it was a best day.
Today Maeve turned two. I've never known a two year old so aware of her birthday. This morning, she came into the kitchen and held up both hands, concentrating until all of the fingers on both hands were about half bent, and then said "uh-huh, boo," which meant, I'm holding up two fingers and am two. She blew out a pink candle in her yogurt this morning over and over, the two of us at the kitchen table, and danced a birthday dance for the lady giving samples at Trader Joe's, for shoppers nearby, for Annemarie, and everyone else who asked. Whenever anyone mentioned a present, she started humming a tuneless song, which was happy birthday to herself, and told people "mine dot," which was her way of telling them she'd had a polka dot birthday party in the park.
At age two, Maeve still speaks mostly in single syllables and more sounds than words. We rejoice at new consonants, like a T sound at the end of "hat," and congratulate ourselves on how much more she's talking, though Eden told lengthy stories at this age and Silas asked all sorts of questions while he sat on the potty. She moves at her own pace. She tries to frown a lot, even scowl, but often ends up smiling under her breath, and then laughing a little dimpled laugh just to herself. She knows when she is funny.
Tonight we celebrated her birthday at our house with grandparents, an aunt and uncle and two little nephews who live far off, and again I found my child's birthday to be a best day. Maeve born on the line between summer and fall, a both/and baby, a shock and delight, a nay screamer and charmer, she fits this line. Sunday sagged with summer heat and this morning woke to fall. The air still smells of sweet grass, but in the evenings there is smoke on the breeze and a nip of cold. We sat around the table tonight eating barbecue and cake with drippy chocolate frosting. The kids played blocks and trains and led us outside. The sun pitched gold. At one moment I stood at Ben's shoulder looking: Eden flinging herself through cartwheels in the grass, Silas gliding wild arcs through the air on the swing, Maeve on the ground busily stuffing rubber food into a toy blender, a baby nephew plopped in the grass watching and the other scooting down the slide, my parents there, Ben's dad, a brother sister, a breeze. No one was entertaining anyone else; everyone just was. Remember every part of this, Ben said next to me. And he was right, that was exactly what I was trying to do. These birthdays, these best days, these ways we mark time.