Thursday, August 31, 2006

Happy 29th Birthday, Mol!

Last night I was invited to a surprise birthday party for my one and only daughter Molly who turns 29 today. It was organized by her girlfriend Tibi and her friend and housemate Tamara and we gathered in the kitchen of their rambling old Santa Cruz house to hang crepe paper, arrange flowers, and lay out fruit and chocolate treats while she and Tibi ate dinner at a nice restaurant downtown.
Besides the small group of her closest friends, Molly's parents were special guests. I haven't seen all that much of her mother, Cici, in the five years that we have been divorced, and sharing the honor of celebrating the birth of our daughter felt a bit awkward. But the focus on Molly filled the empty spaces and there was much laughter as we rehearsed how we would greet them when Tibi brought Molly into the house. Finally the car lights shone in the driveway and we hunkered down in dark silence as footsteps came down the hall.


Molly stood in stunned silence, her hands fluttering around her face, tracing the smile that threatened to break out and fly around the room. "oooohh," is all I recall her saying. Then, when her voice returned, she told us that she had never had a surprise party before (her mother and I looked at each other, trying to remember childhood parties which may or may not have been surprising). She went around the room to hug everyone who came.

We feasted on rasberries, wine, chocolate and watermelon. Cici remembers eating alot of watermelon when she was pregnant with Molly and credits this with her daughter's addiction to the big fruit today. The watermelon was fresh and sweet.
I gave Molly my small present first, a copy of Sharon Salzberg's book, Loving-Kindness: the Revolutionary Art of Happiness. Several years ago, I had given her the Buddhist teacher's book Faith and Molly said that she was finally reading it and appreciating Salzberg's insights. I thought the classic book on loving kindness meditation was a suitable followup.

A little later I pulled out her big birthday present, an Apple G4 iBook. Molly has wanted a laptop computer for some time now, and after returning from Argentina I started looking online and eventually started bidding for one on eBay. The first half dozen or so I lost in the final minutes of the auction when someone invariably came along to trump my bid. I realized that to win you needed to act quickly. Last week I had my eye on two and their auctions were ending about the same time. But I failed to see that I'd won the first and bid up quickly on the second, winning them both. I chose the fastest one with the most memory for Molly and updated all the software. Her mother and I paid for a little more than half the cost of the computer. When I presented it to her, she hugged the white laptop like a newborn babe. That's my daughter!

After the food and presents, we all circled around Mol and appreciated her with stories. Samantha remembered working with her at the Herb Room ten years before and several friends recalled how Molly always greeted them with warmth and love. A couple met her in the performance group Urban Rennaisance and were awed when they heard her sing. "She opened her mouth and out came this incredibly beautiful black voice." It was so good to see Molly's beauty and strength through the eyes and words of her friends.

I remembered the day Molly was born and how her mother and I watched so carefully for signs of labor that we went to the hospital too early and had to pass the time with pizza and massages and tea with Godmommy Ann. Her water broke while we were lying on the floor of the house in Harvey West Park, right on the oriental rug, and we rushed to Community Hospital where Molly was born in the birthing center, in a room with a large brass bed. She came out with a full head of dark hair (which quickly turned blonde and stayed there) and I gave her a bath in warm water to ease the transition from womb to world. The three of us spent the night in the brass bed and went home the next morning to begin the loving relationship that continues today.

I remembered swinging with Molly in our hammock outside when she was a week old. And I remembered our trip across the country when Molly was five and how I tried to impress her with the Grand Canyon, arriving at dawn to the accompaniment of music by Bach on the tape deck. She got out of the car, took a look, and said: "It's just a big hole." Molly was born with a deep strong voice. She and I appeared together in Mountain Community Theater's youth production of "Fame" when she was perhaps eight; I played a music teacher and she channeled Bette Midler in singing "Wind Beneath My Wings" which brought me to tears at every performance.

But, as I told her friends, our relationship has not always been a bed of roses. Molly was always head strong and determined. We clashed often as she was growing up. I stood by helpless as she struggled with weight issues and Bell's palsy during puberty, and I often felt like an outsider, watching the circle of supportive friends gather around her and seeing with envy the close relationship she had with her mother. Molly's courage in the face of adversity was astounding. Unsure of what I had to offer, I tried unsuccessfully to teach her the joys of research when she was home schooled, and I surrounded her at home with recorded music of all kinds. The academic example failed, but I think she benefited by absorbing music into her very bones. And it was Molly of all my four children who heard the siren call of spirituality and has followed some of the paths I have taken in my long search for the divine.

And finally, at a concert last week where Marina sang songs from the 1940's and 1950's, Molly and I danced. Following the example of her mother, she has always been involved in movement, from yoga to African, Brazilian and other forms of dance. When she was a babe in arms, I used to dance her to sleep. Now, as adults, we danced together, twirling around the polished wood floor at the Pacific Cultural Center, and it was delightful.

Molly, I love you. Happy Birthday!

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