In 1996 my daughter died, and I entered what I referred to “the year of firsts.” Every holiday, every birthday, ever “just because” occasion was like this huge, stake-through-my-heart agony of grief and loss. And every single one of them, I though next year would be better, because it would not be the year of firsts. And it was mostly better, if only for the familiarity of having gone through it once.

Since that time, we have had other years of different firsts, and not all are about losses. This year is our year of firsts without M’s father, and despite being estranged from him for several years, it still looms large on M’s horizon of holidays and events throughout this year. But last year and the year prior was about new additions to our family – A and K – and how we are expanding our celebrations and traditions as an extended family.

Next month is my birthday and mother’s day, and while I do not celebrate either occasion, my birthday is being discussed to become An Occasion for the purposes of celebrating mother’s day. It is a new thought, the idea of being feted by my children in this way. Unfortunately it is also one that makes me extremely uncomfortable, which in turn makes me feel like an ungrateful, un-gracious not-nice person.

But I have been completely honest with the kids – I’m simply not cut out to be the center of attention this way. However, if we wanted to expand it to include other mothers in the group – A’s mom, K’s mother-figurea, G/C’s paternal grandmother , heck even G/C’s dad’s sister and her children/their cousins – that would be great. It’s a chance for extended family to gather together and share a meal. We have offered our home for the setting, and we can bbq and relax and enjoy our new concreted backyard. It may even be warm enough to use the pool, or M and I could fire up the heater and make it warm enough to enjoy the pool.

K in particular seems a bit disappointed. She enjoys planning events and such and my reluctance to be unduly celebrated has dampened her enthusiasm. But we talked about it, seeking ways to balance my social anxiety with her desire to do something special. Cake works for me! I think this is her year of firsts with us as well, because she and G are now established as a co-habitating couple. As a potential in-laws, M and I are not that hard to work with or to impress, something she is still learning. We’re happy to purchased the chicken or burgers of whatever the kids want to prepare; we can fire up the bbq and the G can demonstrate his grilling skills. We have come to a tentative division of labor – we will get the meat and prep it to bbq. C/A will do a crockpot of baked beans,chips, and breads. G/K will do salads and another side dish. M will make pie, and the cousins will bake cookies and/or cupcakes.

A few of my friends find it odd that I would invite my former in-laws/sister-in-law to my home for such an events, but for us it seems pretty normal. We are all grown-ups and have remained loosely connected and cordial through the years. G’s oldest cousin is K’s best friend, and coincidentally her boyfriend also went to school with G and C. They still call me “Aunt Janelle” even though I have been legally divorced from the family for more than a couple of decades. It’s all good, and I think once the official date has been selected it will be a good afternoon event.

Now M and I just have to decide on what grill we want to buy and actually purchase it. Nothing like a deadline to inspire us to get busy buying.

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