January 22, 2016
Tonight my family celebrated my uncle’s birthday. Let me tell you something about this uncle of mine. He’s into his fifth decade and has survived more than most ever need to: a wicked divorce, the deaths of both of his amazing parents, significant health issues (this one should count for several), and the estrangement of his only child from his family.
And yet here is another glorious anniversary of life. Here is another year to celebrate taking deeper breaths, taking time to enjoy company, and making up for lost time with more hugs.
As we sat down for a feast of barbecue ribs, baked mac n’ cheese, grilled green beans, and strawberry salad, a certain ten-year-old boy that I know pretty well decides that he’s not going to eat dinner. He doesn’t like ribs and, therefore, will be in the other room pouting about it for the remainder of dinner; just in case anyone wants to find him, he makes sure to huff and puff regularly.
I decide this is going to be one of those times where I try to stay out of it. I tell him to come out and join his guest for dinner. If he doesn’t want to eat, OK—whatever, more for me!—but he needs to join his company.
He comes out to the table, still pouting, and clearly turns his back to the table. We’re talking some high-brow, really mature behavior. Classy, even. His face looks odd: still boyish but definitely too old to be hanging such sad features. He looks like a tween circus clown in training, sans rainbow pants. It’s, frankly, an embarrassing look. He eats no food.
After dinner—including wonderful discussion, dessert, and birthday melodies—we all decide to go a basketball game across town. Not long into the game, I get the shock of the evening: Ethan’s hungry.
“Well,” I say, “You chose not to eat your dinner. I’ll bet you are hungry. But you made a choice not to eat, so I don’t know what to tell you.”
“But, you’re my mom,” he protests. “Don’t you care that I’m hungry? Don’t you care if I eat?”
It’s like someone taught him manipulation strategies, which I wouldn’t put off as completely implausible. But today I’m tired, I’m over it, and it’s not working.
“Yes. I do care. I cared at dinner when you made the choice not to have food. You picked that outcome; not me. So, now, it’s really not my problem. It’s yours.”
More whining and more complaining ensues as we get ready to leave. In a scuffle of people, he drops his iPad flat onto cement… on the screen. I choose not to say much; at this point, it’s best I’m quiet. I shouldn’t yell in a crowded gym.
But I don’t want to be quiet. I want to tell him that there are so many choices that we have every day—so ever many choices. We have the choice to eat dinner. We have the choice to responsibly place our belongings in a safe place. We have a choice to celebrate our birthdays. We have a choice to help out a neighbor with her snow shoveling. We have a choice not to say a mean comment to someone who likely deserves it (because we deserve better than to say it).
We have a choice if our bellies rumble or if our bellies are full. Every day. And it’s not about the food; it’s about the people with which we surround ourselves, the love we hold in our hearts, and the pieces of our lives for which we maintain focus.
So let me tell you about this uncle of mine again. He’s survived organ failure. He has several beautiful grandchildren. He has thriving relationships with all of his siblings, three of which live in the same town as he does. He has a exceptionally sharp-witted and beautiful wife with whom he’s spent nearly fifteen years. He almost always has a happy, jovial demeanor no matter what day or state in which you find him. Finally, and perhaps most importantly for him (and us), he has a fascinating and rich faith in God.
He’s living with his belly full. I want to live with my belly full, and, so, I shall strive to always eat what’s for dinner. To always take in that company. And to always, always celebrate my birthday.