Last night we all settled into the family room to watch Groundhog Day, a family favorite and movie some of us have seen more than a few times. Toward the end of the movie there is a scene where Bill Murray’s character climbs up onto a stage to be auctioned off to the highest bidder during a party. Emma, who was sitting to my right with her legs folded, torso leaning against me suddenly said, “It went up, up, up high into the air. I said I can’t reach, it’s too high,” she reached her arm up as though trying to grab something. “You have to pull on Mommy’s shirt and ask for help,” as she said this she pulled on my robe. “Mommy – I need help! You have to get it down. Daddy go up the stairs to get it. Uh-oh it’s up on the ceiling. We cannot reach it. You have to reach! Reach high up. Jump! Daddy gets it! It comes down, down, down, then bump! Now we have to hold on. You cannot let go or it goes up, up, up to the ceiling, up into the sky.” Emma looked from Richard to me. The depth of her eye contact took my breath away. Her face, filled with sadness, her eyes steady seeking out mine showed understanding.
“This is incredible,” Richard said watching her. “Do you remember this?”
I nodded my head. “Oh Em. Were you sad?” I asked.
“It was a long time ago. It was a long, long time ago,” She said.
After the movie ended we sat in the living room and Emma continued, repeating the first part of the story and now adding, “You have to hold on, you cannot let go. If you let go it will fly away. You have to tie the string,” she gestured with her hands tying a string around her wrist. “You go to Gaby’s house. It’s Lili’s birthday party! We cannot get another balloon. You cannot let go. If you let go, it’s all gone. Emma so upset.” Emma touched the outer corners of her eyes to show she had once cried over this. It was absolutely astonishing to witness. The scene Emma was describing took place either last year or the year before. Her cousin Lili, who was spending the summer just down the road, was celebrating her birthday, which falls on August 15th.
There is so much to say about Emma’s words last night I hardly know where to begin. The sheer length of her sentences and the way in which she was relating and putting together a series of events was something I have never seen before, not to this degree. There was the recognition that it happened around the same time of year as now, and the comment “It was a long time ago”, both of which suggest a depth to her thinking we have rarely if ever seen as well as the understanding of something so abstract as time. I just posted two days ago regarding Emma’s inability to understand time, and yet here she was referring to an event, which occurred over a year ago and she clearly understood it was “a long time ago”. I could not imagine these were words she understood much less knew to use in a sentence within an appropriate context had I not heard her last night.
Joe, Richard and I looked at each other in astonishment as Emma continued to talk about Lili’s party and how she had once lost a helium balloon, once there at their house and a couple of times here at ours. The events were conflated, but the meaning, the emotional weight she felt as a result of loosing the balloons and how she lost them were all correct and factual.
As we climbed the stairs to our bedrooms Richard said, “Hey Emma! Do you know what tomorrow is?!”
Without turning around or with any hesitation Emma shouted, “It’s Mommy’s birthday!”
This too is noteworthy as Emma is just as likely to have said it was Folgen’s (one of my mother’s two German Shepherds) birthday or Nic’s or hers or Granma’s or my brother Victor’s or his wife Susan’s, who in fact just celebrated her birthday or any number of people who currently occupy the house. That she has been hearing about the birthday celebrations and activities surrounding today are not so unusual. What is unusual is the fact she was able to answer Richard’s question without hesitation, demonstrating she has heard us discussing the birthday planning and knew for whom they were for.
Today is my birthday. I am celebrating half a century.
Emma’s monologue last night was a gift surpassing my wildest dreams.