One of the greatest gifts we've gotten is to celebrate so many "firsts" with Cava. One of the most special is celebrating his life for the very first time. Last Monday was his birthday so I took cupcakes to his school. Before the kids could eat the cupcakes I handed out, Cava's teacher had them sing "Happy Birthday" to him. It was the first time Cava had ever had kids sing this song to him. As they did, I found myself tearing up. The smile on his face was, as the commercial says, "priceless."
That night, we had a small family birthday. Cava got to pick what we ate for dinner. His choice: pizza. Then, after we ate, he got to open a few small presents. I shouldn't say small because they were a big deal to him. Cava was really excited and happy that he got math workbooks (He must get this love of math from Danelle because he sure didn't get it from me).
And he was over-the-moon thrilled to get a huge Marvel Heroes art kit.
Once his presents were opened, Benjamin brought him a cupcake with a candle so his brother could blow it out. Cava had never done this before and it was only after he had that Benjamin asked, "Did you make a wish?"
"Make a wish?" Cava asked, perplexed. So Benjamin had to explain this ritual and add, "So make one now."
Later, as we were putting Cava to bed, he told us, "This was the best birthday ever."
It breaks my heart that it has taken 9 years for anyone to celebrate Cava's having been born. It saddens me because I asked Cava if they did anything special for him in Ukraine on his birthday:
"Did they sing to you?"
"Fix you a special treat? A cookie or cake?"
"Wish you a happy birthday?"
Nobody did or said anything to acknowledge the significance of the day because, for these orphans, their births were not something to be celebrated. They were unwanted and forgotten. Their birthdays were just another unnoticed day. While that has changed for Cava, I couldn't help but think of all those orphans we met for whom that hasn't changed.
Since Cava's actual birthday was on a Monday, we celebrated with a big party on the Saturday after it. When Saturday came, we were awakened by our crazy little Ukrainian who was overcharged with electrical excitement about having his very own, very first ever birthday party. Since he has been to some of his friends' birthday parties, he knew some of what to expect and he was bouncing off the walls all morning long. While he and Danelle went to go get his birthday cake, Benjamin and I began to decorate, so that when Cava got back he walked in wide-eyed wonder into our kitchen that was transformed into a Spider-man wonderland.
He ran in and hugged me tightly, "Thank you, Papa, thank you. I love it sooo much"
As the time for party drew nearer and nearer (we knew exactly what time it was because Cava was constantly checking and informing us of what the time was), he began to get more subdued and it was clear that he was getting anxious. Hoping to calm his anxieties, I sat down beside him, began to rub his back and tell him of how each of the people who were coming to his party today were doing so because they thought he was special and that they loved him very, very much.
The party started at 2 pm and by 2:15, our house was packed and ready to celebrate. First up, was crafts. Since Cava's birthday theme was Spider-man and since his birthday falls right after Halloween, I reaped the benefits of clearance Halloween items that were spider related. Our craft was making a googly-eyed spider and attaching it to a web. The kids had a great time doing this and even a couple of adults got in on the fun.
Once they'd finished their crafts, we played a version of musical chairs that involved paper plates with either Spider-man on the bottom of them or one of the villains. Music played (all Spider-man theme songs), but when it stopped the kid had to stop on a plate. If they stopped on a plate with a Spider-man on the bottom, they were safe, but if they stopped on one with a villain, they were out. The kids not only loved this game, but parents were telling me what a great idea it was and how they could use it for their kids birthdays because it could fit with any theme.
Our second game involved each kid choosing a Spider-man cup. They were each given a certain number of plastic spiders that they had to toss into the cup. With each round, they had to take a few steps back.
Once we had played games, it was on to the main event: the birthday cake.
Again, I loved hearing people sing "Happy Birthday" to Cava. This song has been sung by so many people to so many people that, for most of us, it has lost any real significance, but with Cava, the meaning is there as was the emotion. It was clear from the spirit in the room, that everyone there truly loved him.
And this time, Cava knew exactly what to do with the candles . . .
After everyone enjoyed cake and ice cream, Cava got to open his presents. All of them were "awesome" or "really cool." He loved and appreciated everything he got and was genuinely thankful for each one.
Here he is wearing a Spider-man cap, scarf, and mittens that Miss Lauren gave him. It wasn't really that cold outside, but there was no way we could dissuade him from wearing them.
Once the party was over and the guests had left, I asked Cava, "What was your favorite part of your birthday party?"
In typical Cava fashion, he replied, "All of it." And he meant it. For him, the party wasn't all about the gifts. He loved the celebration, the fact that he knew and felt the love of all those who came to tell him that he was special and that they were grateful for his life and that he is here. That was the most important part of Cava's birthday for me because it was another way that all of us repeated to a boy who needs desperately to hear again and again and again that he is loved, he is accepted, and that he is valuable.
Thank you to everyone who came and celebrated our son's life. You cannot know how deep of an impact that all of you and your friendships have had not only on his life, but our family's as well. We love each and every one of you.